America's rail system has long paled in comparison to the bullet trains of Japan and France's Train à Grande Vitesse. But now, historic new federal funding could finally bring high-speed train travel to the US.
In December, the Biden administration announced $8.2 billion in funds will be allotted to 10 passenger rail projects across the US. Two of the projects receiving the largest investments are new high-speed trains in the West that will be among the “first world-class high-speed rail projects in our country’s history,” the White House says.
With top speeds of 200 and 220 miles per hour, the two lines would be the fastest passenger trains in the country, far outpacing the current fastest train in America—the Amtrak Acela. That train, which runs between Boston and Washington DC, currently reaches top speeds of 150 miles per hour (Amtrak's next generation Acela trains, which begin rolling out in 2024, will reach slightly faster speeds of up to 160 miles per hour).
The new projects would bring passenger trains in the US one step closer to high-speed rail systems in Europe and Asia. “When I ran for president, I made a commitment to build a world-class, high-speed rail worthy of the United States of America,” President Biden said in remarks announcing the funding. “To put our nation back on track with the fastest, safest, and greenest railways in the world. And at long last, we’re building the first high-speed rail project in our nation’s history.”
Not only will the new trains slash travel times compared to driving and help reduce traffic on some of the nation's busiest roadways—they'll be cleaner too. The two train lines coming to California will be electric, making them an environmentally friendly alternative to flying or driving, the White House says.
“The tide has turned for high-speed rail in America,” Andy Kunz, president and CEO of US High-Speed Rail said in a statement. “Electrified bullet trains will transform the nation’s transportation system—reducing congestion, helping end our dependency on fossil fuels and advancing the fight against climate change. ”
Brightline’s new California to Nevada high-speed train will receive up to $3 billion in government funding to help build an intercity passenger rail system between Las Vegas and Rancho Cucamonga, California (a city in San Bernardino County about 37 miles east of Downtown Los Angeles). Brightline says its station in Rancho Cucamonga will be located right next to the city’s Metrolink commuter rail station, allowing for connections into the heart of Los Angeles.
Reaching speeds of up to 200 miles per hour, the new train will take just two hours—nearly half the time it takes to drive between the two cities. Most of the 218 miles of tracks will run in the median of Interstate 15.
Like Brightline's first trains in Florida, which run at maximum speeds of 125 miles per hour between Miami and Tampa, Brightline West will prioritize a comfortable passenger experience both on and off the train. The company is known for building modern rail stations complete with bars, passenger lounges, free Wi-Fi, grab-and-go food for purchase, and quick security checkpoints. On board, there will be free Wi-Fi and power outlets at each seat, as well as a snack and beverage service.
Because the trains will run on electricity, the new project will avert about 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and remove millions of cars from the road each year, according to the White House. The rail line is expected to serve 11 million passengers annually.
Brightline West is expected to break ground in 2024, and the project will take an estimated four years to complete construction, putting the train’s debut in 2028 (at the earliest).
Central California Valley
Another passenger rail project, called the California Inaugural High-Speed Rail Service Project, will receive up to $3.07 billion in government funding to bring high-speed rail service to California’s Central Valley. Tracks will stretch 171 miles from Bakersfield to Merced, stopping in Madera, Fresno, and Kings/Tulare along the way. The goal of the rail corridor is to connect smaller towns in the middle of the state with bigger cities in Northern and Southern California.
Eventually, the larger train project will link Los Angeles and San Francisco (and the cities in between), offering a high-speed rail journey that would take under three hours.
The trains will reach speeds of up to 220 miles per hour, and they’ll be all-electric, powered by 100% renewable energy, according to the White House. “These bullet trains will make travel quicker and easier, bring housing closer, create new jobs and economic opportunities that would otherwise be out of reach, secure cleaner air for our children and help save our planet,” former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents California’s 11th Congressional District that includes San Francisco, said in a statement.
Construction on the high-speed line has been happening in fits and starts since 2015, but travelers will have to wait several more years before exploring the Golden State by bullet train: Test runs on the Central Valley portion of the rail line aren't expected to start until at least 2028.