s the Inland Empire of Southern California continues to swell in population and industry, one county stands out above the rest when it comes to taking action to keep up with the growth.
That jurisdiction is San Bernardino County, nestled between the bright lights of Hollywood and the Nevada desert. Not only is this SoCal county preparing for the future; it’s laying the foundation for how people will move about for decades to come.
Connectivity in San Bernardino County is about to take a major leap forward as Brightline West, a 260-mile high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, takes shape.
Scheduled to open in the next five years, this elevated, electrified train promises to be a game-changer for the 2.2 million residents of San Bernardino County, a 20,000-square-mile area that stretches from just east of LA to the Vegas suburbs on the Nevada border.
Ben Porritt, senior vice president of corporate affairs for Brightline West, says the new train “will be competitive with anything you see in Asia and Europe.”
Brightline West will connect travelers from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in just two hours and 15 minutes via a route that is two times faster than driving. The zero-emission electric train will reach a top speed of 180 miles per hour and remove 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually by taking 3 million cars and trucks off the road.
Connections to California’s Metrolink and a planned future line to California High-Speed Rail in Palmdale will make the railroad service even more versatile, along with three planned stations in San Bernardino County: Rancho Cucamonga, Hesperia and Apple Valley.
Brightline West is a high-speed rail line that will connect travelers between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in two hours, 15 minutes. Stops in San Bernardino County are planned for Rancho Cucamonga, Hesperia and Apple Valley.
Courtesy of Brightline West
Attracting a crowd has never been a problem for Southern California. Moving people from Point A to Point B has long been the challenge, especially as the SoCal population has swelled to 24 million. Over the next 30 years, the Inland Empire, a two-county area including San Bernardino and Riverside, is expected to double in size. That’s where Brightline West comes in.
About 50 million one-way trips are made annually between LA and Vegas. About 85 percent of these transits are made by car or bus. At full operation, Brightline West estimates that 12 million one-way trips will be made each year on the new rail link.
“Visitors realize they can stay in Greater Ontario and, using that as their home base, experience mountains and deserts, visit iconic amusement parks, or dip their toes in the Pacific Ocean.”
— Michael Krouse, President & CEO, Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau
“This will transform transportation in Southern California and Las Vegas for generations by providing a fast and efficient connection that gets people out of their cars, reduces traffic congestion and decreases air pollution,” said Fiona Ma, California state treasurer.
Porritt adds that “we are excited about our partnership with San Bernardino County government and the San Bernardino County Transit Authority. The Rancho Cucamonga station solves the last-mile barrier; and with a direct connection to the Ontario International Airport, we’re making that final mile of connectivity as simple and convenient as possible.”
Electric Train Propels Jobs
Brightline West benefits San Bernardino County in many ways, says Porritt. “First, the development of the system is a huge job creator,” he notes. “It’s a $10 billion project that creates 35,000 jobs in the construction phase and another 1,000 permanent jobs upon completion. More directly, we are creating something that is faster than driving and more economical than flying. From a business perspective, taking a two-hour train ride versus a five-hour car trip is more productive and comfortable. On this high-speed train, you can safely work on your phone and email. If this is a leisure trip, it’s like starting your vacation early.”
The project is being funded with tax-exempt private security bonds from Nevada and California, meaning the taxpayers of San Bernardino County are being spared the brunt of the cost. Plans call for the service to use Siemens Valero high-speed trains in a system that generates $1 billion in tax revenue annually.
• There are over 6,200 hotel rooms in Ontario and Rancho Cucamonga — the largest concentration of hotels in the region.
• A 500-room hotel and conference center are being constructed in Ontario.
• Annual visitor spending in Greater Ontario pre-COVID-19 was $75 million; the area is on pace to match that in 2023.
Porritt says the project timetable calls for a four-year building period. “We’re hopeful to be operational before the 2028 Summer Olympic Games in Los Angeles,” he says, adding that if all goes well, there could be room for additional expansion.
“The truth is that once you do one of these, the second one gets easier, and after that, the third one is even easier,” he notes. “Our experience in Florida lets us look into new markets. We believe in the business model of city pairs that are too short to fly and too long to drive. No question, we will look at other markets.”
Toyota Arena is a multi-purpose arena in Ontario, California.
Courtesy of Greater Ontario CVB
The 75-mile-long Florida Brightline opened in 2018. In 2022, that rail line, connecting travelers from West Palm Beach to Miami, attracted 1.5 million riders. It currently has three stations open in South Florida. Eventually, that line will take riders all the way to Orlando.
Porritt says the company sees its Southern California rail link as one primarily providing long rides. Having a station in Hesperia will help people from the High Desert region of San Bernardino County get over the Cajon Pass, he adds.
Conventions Drive Visitor Traffic
Serving large groups of people has never been a problem for San Bernardino County. The Greater Ontario Convention and Visitors Bureau (GOCVB) has been doing that for decades, notes Michael Krouse, the organization’s president and CEO.
“During the pandemic, our region did better than any other location in California due to our great outdoors,” he says. “We were discovered as a place offering all the metropolitan amenities without the crowds. Our hotels in Greater Ontario may have had a loss of visitors, especially international ones, but the recovery has been amazing. Our occupancy is up.”
Both the Ontario Convention Center and Toyota Arena are “booking more content than ever,” he adds. These include concerts, sporting events and other family shows. Three of the biggest are the Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion, Comic Con Revolution and Creep I.E. (Inland Empire) Con.
Krouse says that Creep I.E. Con, a show for fans of horror film and TV, is “a new event that is growing by leaps and bounds. This year marked the second time the Ontario Convention Center hosted this February event. We hosted over 30,000 people this year. The 2024 convention will be a two-day event. Fans love it, and we are proud to help the producer create a new event for everyone in the region to attend.”
A husband-and-wife team came up with the concept for Creep I.E. and pitched it to the GOCVB, says Krouse. “We liked the idea and it became an instant hit,” he says. “It was so popular in its first year that we ran out of space to accommodate all the vendors who wanted in.”
Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion, the region’s largest event, is an annual gathering of street rods, low-riders, convertibles and wicked Woodies. A salute to the All-American highway, this year’s event will take place over a weekend in mid-September and draw classic car enthusiasts from all over, says Krouse. “The Route 66 Cruisin’ Reunion is celebrating its 10th year. We have nearly 1,000 classic cars and over 250,000 people who attend this family-fun event on historic Euclid Avenue,” he says.
Krouse says the area has many draws. “Location and weather are always a top reason to visit the heart of Southern California,” he says. “Visitors realize they can stay in Greater Ontario and, using that as their home base, experience mountains and deserts, visit iconic amusement parks, or dip their toes in the Pacific Ocean.”
He adds that “our airport and freeway system provide visitors with easy transportation. Once the Rancho Cucamonga Station is completed, with the high-speed Brightline West trains, we will have even more ways to easily move about.”
This Investment Profile was prepared under the auspices of San Bernardino County. For more information, contact the County’s Economic Development Department at 909-387-4700. On the web, go to www.SelectSBCounty.com.
Ron Starner is Executive Vice President of Conway Data, Inc. He has been with Conway Data for 22 years and serves as a writer and editor for both Site Selection and the company's Custom Content publishing division. His Twitter handle is @RonStarner.