Remember that whole Las-Vegas-to-Disneyland maglev concept that Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev) is still pushing because it's supposedly "more Vegas"? While he's been making waves in Congress, private investors have quietly pursued an alternative based modern non-compliant multiple unit trains trains running on dedicated tracks. Diesel-electric option would run at a top speed of 125mph, whereas an electrified version could run at 150mph (top speed is currently limited by the lack of FRA rules, not the available technology). Note the faint overhead catenary in the above picture, with nary a pole in sight. Or a second track, for that matter, but perhaps that is only needed at one or more points along the route.
The big idea is to relieve congestion on I-15 and at McCarran airport in Las Vegas so folks in Southern California have an easier time getting to Las Vegas. The investors had become disillusioned with prospects for public funding for a fast a rail link. The hardest part is securing a viable ROW through Cajon Pass, which is heavily used by rail freight and includes a crossing of the San Andreas fault. Therefore, the current plan simply calls for the line to terminate at a giant new parking lot northeast of Victorville. Southern Californians would drive there, park and take the train the rest of the way.
This then is DesertXPress. FRA has announced the closing date for public comments on the draft EIR/EIS: May 22, 2009. Before then, there will be three more public hearings on the project.
- Las Vegas Area
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89118
- Barstow Area
Wednesday, April 29 2009
5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
1511 East Main Street
Barstow, CA 92311
- Victorville Area
Thursday, April 30 2009
5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Green Tree Golf Course
14144 Green Tree Boulevard
Victorville, CA 92395
From the California point of view, there are a number of pluses and minuses here:
- PLUS: private companies are funding an HSR line (standard gauge steel wheels)
- PLUS: final nail in maglev coffin (at least on the California side)
- PLUS: congestion on I-15 should ease quite a bit
- PLUS: diesel trains require far less fuel than cars at the same occupancy rate
- NEUTRAL: SoCal-Las Vegas not part of federally designated California HSR corridor
- NEUTRAL: no stop in Barstow (limited water to support population growth)
- MINUS: project not integrated with California HSR
- MINUS: project not integrated with Pres. Obama's smart electrical grid
- MINUS: tracks (and OCS, if any) not designed for operation at 220mph
- MINUS: max. gradient 4.5% (vs. 3.5% for California system)
- MINUS: only limited relief for McCurran airport in Las Vegas
- MINUS: requires people to drive out to Victorville and park there
IMHO, there would be a lot of value in getting SoCal-Las Vegas included in the officially designated national HSR corridor for California as soon as possible. Sure, the Republicans would have a field day (for a day) but it's still the smartest thing to do.
First, it would establish that HSR out to Las Vegas shouldn't be a completely separate project, even if the tracks won't join up right away. That would give USDOT (i.e. Ray LaHood) some leverage to force integrated planning.
Second, the designation would make the tracks through the desert eligible for federal HSR dollars, which could fund the wider curves and tighter geometry tolerances required for future operation at 220mph. The DesertXPress sidesteps the thorny issue of the endangered Desert Tortoise by hewing close to I-15 east of Barstow. Nevertheless, some opposition from at least Indian gambling interests in California is likely, though siting the western terminus at Victorville makes the train less of a competitive threat.
Third, early electrification of the line would make a whole lot of sense if phase 2 of the project included a nearby HVDC power line to carry renewable electricity from the Mojave desert and Nevada to population centers in (Southern) California. But please, don't put a big solar farm and a relief airport next to one another.
Fourth, an early connection to the California network would do more to relieve McCarran airport, since 30% of its flights are to or from California cities that will be served by California HSR. At peak times, e.g. during major conventions, Las Vegas could leverage Palmdale as a relief airport, provided LAWA doesn't hobble it with a solar thermal plant right next to the runways. At 200mph cruise speed, travel time would be just over an hour. Fully leveraging California HSR and Palmdale airport would eliminate the need for a new Ivanpah Valley relief airport between Primm and Jean in Nevada, not far from the BrightSource's Ivanpah solar thermal power plant on the California side.
Sixth, project integration would permit both sides to pool both political clout in Congress and purchasing power.
The tricky part is figuring out how to integrate the projects. A spur off the SF-LA-Anaheim starter line at Mojave would make a lot of sense, but DesertXPress may not be interested in going anywhere but Victorville. A connector from there to the phase II spur between LA and San Diego is theoretically possible and would give San Bernardino an HSR station. We'll see.
Early electrification of the DesertXPress line would be excellent but it's something their web site has not previously mentioned. Note that CHSRA is currently planning its own, electrified test track in the Central Valley (part 1, part 2), which will become part of the starter line and spur to Sacramento.
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