Private railroad operator Brightline has started modestly-high-speed service in South Florida, and has agreements in place to start Los Angeles to Las Vegas service by the end of the decade:
Launching with no federal help, the modern debut of private passenger rail connecting two major metropolitan areas will come to fruition when Brightline riders arrive in Orlando from downtown Miami. The Federal Railroad Administration expects to sign off within days, triggering a three-week testing period before Brightline carries passengers. The company will then set its sights on a $12 billion high-speed railway from Las Vegas to Southern California, a massive undertaking that could put trains traveling at 300 km/h on America’s tracks by 2028.
After operating much like a commuter service through South Florida, the Orlando station will be the nation’s first non-Amtrak passenger train connection between two metro areas in four decades — a project with nearly $6 billion in private investment. Although not a true high-speed operation, the Brightline Florida service will surpass speeds of 200 km/h in some areas — the nation’s fastest train outside the D.C.-Boston region.
Five years after Brightline opened its 67-mile service between Miami and West Palm Beach, passengers fill the five-car trains for sporting events and festivals while commuters use it to get to jobs. Students receive discounted passes for educational excursions.
Brightline uses business tycoon Henry Flagler’s original Miami train station and his Florida East Coast Railway, built in the late 1880s. The station had fallen into disrepair and was surrounded by parking lots. The raised platform is now the hub of 1.5 million square feet of development, with office, commercial and residential spaces built by Brightline’s owner.
The 425 km electrified rail line from Las Vegas to Rancho Cucamonga, where it would connect to downtown Los Angeles via commuter train, is estimated to cost $12 billion — three times the price tag envisioned in the mid-2000s. Brightline submitted a 4,000-page application in April for a $3.75 billion federal grant from the infrastructure law.
If you can get from LA to Vegas in 2 hours, you can charge more than the airlines charge, but you can also charge less. That's about the same distance as Paris to Lyon, which the TGV currently makes in about that time, for about €50 in second class. And an electric train over that distance produces a fraction of greenhouse gasses per passenger than a car or airplane.
Notice that this can only happen with massive Federal subsidies. But that's exactly how all major transportation projects work in the US. Remember the Interstate Highway System, that provided some $500 billion (2023 dollars) in subsidies over 35 years for cars? Not to mention all the other road projects that gave us the ugliest infrastructure in the history of the world.
I hope people use these trains. And I'm really waiting for my 40-minute Chicago-to-Milwaukee train.