Monday, June 8, 2009

Harry Reid Abandons Maglev for DesertXpress

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Some VERY welcome news from the LA Times:

U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader and an ardent supporter of high speed rail systems, said today he no longer favors construction of a maglev -- or magnetic levitation -- train between Anaheim and Las Vegas.

Instead, the Nevada Democrat said he now favors a conventional high speed train between Victorville and Las Vegas -- a privately funded venture that is farther along in the planning process and cheaper to build than the maglev proposal, which has been studied for almost three decades.

“I”ve been working on this for 30 years," Reid said. "We’ve gotten nowhere. Maglev projects have been abandoned around the world. It’s time to stop talking and start doing something.”

One year ago today I posted one of my first criticisms of the maglev project, and in the 12 months since I have frequently called for Reid to abandon the maglev project and throw his considerable backing behind the much more realistic DesertXpress steel-wheel HSR proposal - which the Senate Majority Leader has finally done. Reid cited financial reasons for his decision:

Citing a recent Government Accountability Office study, Reid said he had lost confidence in the maglev project, which the report stated could cost up to $40 billion -- far more than originally estimated.

“Maglev is not a priority for me anymore,” Reid said. “We need to get people moving. The I-15 is not working.”

After the Republicans hammered him for asking for HSR stimulus funds for the train, Reid had a lot of incentive to drop the insanely expensive maglev plan. Now he is well-positioned to direct some (although probably not more than "some") HSR funds to the DesertXpress project.

This doesn't mean the maglev project is completely dead. It's just mostly dead. The Southern California Association of Governments still backs maglev, but I am doubtful how long that'll last. With Harry Reid switching to DesertXpress that means the Nevada political establishment will as well. And SCAG will be left alone in backing a maglev project with 20 years of history but no future at all.

The US needs a rail modernization project, not a great leap forward into the technologically and financially unknown. Until we've got steel wheel HSR up and functioning on the key corridors in the USA, maglev is going to have to remain a dream.

32 comments:

Jay said...

I just drove thought that way(I-15) last week.During that boring drive I was thinking how cool it would be if they could make a "Union Station" of sorts in say..Barstow.This is a pipe dream for sure, but if you could have a station with CAHSR, the extend the San Joaquin line out there, and the Metrolink and tie it all in with the DesertXpress, that would make for one well used station and a HUGE economic engine to the area.
This shows how boring the I 15 drive really is, and I for one will be glad to take a train.

Frank said...

This project would be a legitimate one if they at least proposed to connect the line to the CASHSR/Metrolink station at Palmdale. Even if CAHSR doesn't get built or built fast enough, they would at least have the Antelope Valley line to shuttle people to the Desert Xpress. A committment to Palmdale would address most of the criticism and ridicule that this project has been getting.

political_i said...

Hallelujah! He came to his mind! Now can we get a public donation to get it all the way to LAUS?

Spokker said...

More love for the steel wheels is always good.

jim said...

jay - i like your barstow idea. it would be nice to have san joaquin service go that far. - you have no idea how many people I sell ticket to for the 13 hour san francisco to las vegas trip. I always say, "are yousure you don't want to fly?" but off they go on that long ass bus ride. I can't bear the thought of those people making that trip. I wouldn't do it if it were the last vacation on earth.

Rafael said...

@ Jay -

why not shoot for a HSR from SF/Anaheim/Sacramento/San Diego direct to LV?

@ jim -

some people just have a fear of flying and can't/don't want to drive that far.

Anonymous said...

More to the point, why don't we put a Las Vegas in California. Why are we so determined to support Nevada?

Anonymous said...

The other anonymous is right - it's insane to spend any California money on a project to send our gamblers to Nevada.

Schwarzenegger wants to push offshore drilling but ignores casino gambling. You have to wonder if the system is terminally corrupt when you see LV interests obviously buying off California politicos.

Alon Levy said...

California's not spending any money on HSR to Nevada. The privately funded Desert Xpress consortium is.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't mind spending a bit of money to hook the Victorville area into the SF-LA HSR spine at Palmdale. That's a good move for regional mobility, as the Victor Valley is a sprawling nightmare that could use some electrified passenger rail to help reduce dependence on automobiles.

For Victorville to Vegas, though, CA shouldn't be spending a dime on that. Leave it to Nevada, the feds, and DesertXpress.

jim said...

California should just annex Nevada and put all our revenue producing sins there. Brothels, gambling, legal drugs, 24 hour bars, move all our trailer parks up there, a few nuclear and solar power plants storage facilities, and anything unsightly. I always thought god put Nevada next door so we'd have a place to put all that stuff.

Adirondacker said...

I was thinking how cool it would be if they could make a "Union Station" of sorts in say..Barstow.

Jay if they connect with HSR in Palmdale or someplace else like Mojave they don't need a Union Station at all. The Desert Express could continue all the way to Los Angeles or San Diego. Or all the way to San Francisco or Sacramento. Metrolink passengers could just cross the platform at Palmdale ( or Sylmar or Burbank ) San Joaquin passengers could just cross the platform at Bakersfield. All they need is a wye along the main line between LA and SF.

Deacon said...

I got lots of love for CAHSR and I hope the wheels start turning in a hurry. I still think that the 'Desert Express' should be connected to CAHSR somewhere.

I'd like to think that there could be a revenue sharing scheme seeing as the two are from 2 different states. So when the ticket originates in California thats CAHSR money when the ticket originates in LV thats Desert Express money or vise versa.

The key in my mind at least is to get either one of these operational ASAP to prove that rail is a viable alternative/addition to our other forms of transport.

Ben said...

Desertxpress says that they want to connect to CAHSR in palmdale, but I understand their reluctance to do so until it becomes a relality

Andrew said...

@Jim: I know you're being facetious, but California is too big of a state as it is.

jim said...

@Andrew. Yes you are right on both counts. It would make a good place for all our storage needs though.

I do hope dx connects to chsr Palmdale would be okay I guess but not the great for Northern California. Id rather it connect at Mojave from the north and victorville down the pass to an Ontario connection to serve the southern cal folks because think about it, from LA the indland empire and eventually the san diego branch a connection via ontario -15-victorville makes the most sense while norcal makes sense at mojave. Palmdale is a compromise for both that will add travel time for everyone. Of course it doesn't preclude a future CHSR branch in the future that connects at a different point - but if we were gonna go all out for the future the best plan is a mojave and a victorville -15-ontario.

jim said...

just look how out of the way san diego to las vegas is via the CHSR route from san diego to Palmdale.

Peter said...

Obviously connecting the DX from Victorville directly to Ontario would serve large portions of LA and SD far better than a connection at Palmdale. The problem is simply money.

A direct connection to LA means going through the Cajon Pass. There already are 3 freight lines and 8 (I think from google maps) lanes of I-15 going through the pass. The freight lines are heavily speed restricted due to grades and sharp turns. Basically the surface of the pass is completely congested and would never work for HSR. That means the only choice is a 5-10 mile long tunnel going right through it. That's not terribly long, but the tunnel will be crossing the San Andreas fault underground, which will add lots of complications. This will probably be on the order of $5-10 billion to build. However since this only serves SoCal you'd also want to build the Mojave/Barstow connection at the same time.

Palmdale to Victorville on the other hand is absolutely trivial to build. It's 50 miles of completely flat nothing. Given DX costs, this should be on the order of $1 billion.

A Palmdale to Victorville connection is an extremely cheap, quick, and "good enough" solution that should be done soon. From NorCal a direct line from Mojave to Barstow would only cut 10% of the SF->LV travel distance. It'd be fairly cheap and easy to add, but I doubt there will be enough traffic to justify it. For SoCal a tunnel would cut about 25% of the travel distance. If there's enough SoCal traffic to justify it (which I don't doubt) and someone comes up with the $billions needed for the tunnel (who's paying, CA, NV, or DX?), there's nothing stopping it from being added later.

jim said...

i agree with what you are saying except why is it that everyone thinks that only southerncaliornians go to vegas? There are just as many people up here that go to vegas. Do you think we are living in a cave up here? Theres a huge vegas market up here. you southern californians need to stop shrugging off norcal. so just knock it off. LA is not the center of the universe. In fact I can promise you that northerners are far more likely to embrace a HSR trip to vegas than southerners. They are going to drive there even if you run the train right up their butts.

jim said...

you all better snap out of it and bring that thing to mojave... or we WILL turn off the water and take away your iphones.

jim said...

in fact forget the train. just stay on your own side of the mountain.

jim said...

quicknote for rail fans... hey you know that movie Pelham 123, well you know the original, from like 1974 is on comcast on demand. Ive always remembered that movie. So I watched it, its a total crack up - suspenseful but also funny. Those were the days. Im sure the new one they made won't be as good.

BruceMcF said...

Frank said...
"This project would be a legitimate one if they at least proposed to connect the line to the CASHSR/Metrolink station at Palmdale."

If it goes ahead with the proposed private funding, or even with a mix of that and support from Nevada, all that they have to do is to ensure that it will interoperable. If the line as proposed is put in place, and the first stage of the CA-HSR is in place, the spur connecting the two, coming off the CA-HSR line at Mojave, is going to happen.

So long as the interoperability is locked into place, there's no need to rush the alignment of the connection between the two.

Peter said...

So I just thought of an interesting alternative: how about instead of building only Victorville/Palmdale they only build Barstow/Mojave. The 2 lines are about the same length (50 vs 60 miles), so would cost about the same. From SoCal going through Barstow is about 15 miles longer than going through Victorville, so almost completely inconsequential. From NorCal it's about 50 miles shorter, which is significant.

The only downside I see is that DX doesn't have complete plans for a Barstow station yet. Also until (if) a Cajon Pass tunnel was built, Victorville would be a dead-end line instead of being integrated into the rest of the system (there'd be no Victorville->LA connection).

Alon Levy said...

Peter: the difference is more like 25 miles, not 15. The problem is that even Palmdale-Victorville will have trouble competing with cars for the market between the Inland Empire/SD and LV, because of the roundabout route. Mojave-Barstow will be worse. On the other hand, if the plan is for the maximum speed on Desert Xpress to be only 240 km/h, then the runtime from points south should be about the same, with the greater distance canceling out with the smaller distance traveled at low speed.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

I don't get your point. Any connector between CA HSR and DX would be between Mojave and Barstow (hwy 58 / BNSF corridor) or else between Victorville and Palmdale (via UPRR rail corridor).

Either way, it would be possible to run direct trains from SF/Sacramento to LV via appropriate (mutual) trackage agreements.

Devil's Advocate said...

A victorville-Palmdale extension of the HSR definitely makes sense and would be crazy not to consider. To downtown LA it would be only 30 mi. longer than through Cajon. And to San Fernando Valley even less. But why would somebody take the HSR from Northern California to Vegas? Those who nowadays drive is because are either afraid to fly (not many) or are simply trying to save money and share to cost of driving if they're travelling in a group (that would not change with the train). You can fly to LAS from any Bay Area airport or Sacto in 1 and 1/2 hours for about $200-$275 r/t on any weekend (less on weekdays). A train would not be cheaper (Paris to Marseille, or Madrid-Barcelona which are over 200 miles shorter, are at least 90 Euros one way) and would need well over 4 hours to cover the 550-600 miles. Even considering the extra time necessary for airport check in requirement, the train would not be competitive compared to flying from Nor.Cal. The best market for this line would be from the central valley (FNO, BFL), where airfare to LAS is higher and distance is ideal for the HST (300 mi to BFL, and 400mi to FNO, more if via Victorville-PMD). The question is whether these cities in the central valley would have sufficient volume of passengers to LAS to justify the investment in an extra connector Mojave-Barstow to cut the extra 50 mi. to go through Palmdale-Victorville. I agree that a tunnel through cajon would be expensive to justify. Going through Palmdale may be not a bad alternative. Stopping the DX in Victorville and hope that people would take a bus or drive to it is very optimistic. If I have to do that and go through the hassle of transferring from bus/car to train, I might as well drive all the way (or take a bus all the way), or simply fly from any LA area airport. The ticket is often under $150 r/t (therefore probably similar to what a HST would charge) and all you need is one hour.

jim said...

Saying "why would bay are people take the train tovages when they can fly is like saying wahy would bay area people take the train to LA when they could fly" Of course we would take the train, if we had it. I mean for real, and do you have any idea how many interantional tourists visit san francisco, and that they all want to also visit vegas, and how amny california ril passes ( which include vegas) we sell there's a market here. there just is.and its logical to continue from bakersfield on highway 58 to barstow to 15 to vegas for all of us who are north of the tehachapis. I'm looking out for "actual customers" the ones I know first hand about. There's a market. And its very disappointing to have to turn so many away as well when they find out how long it currently takes to get there. Like I said before, I currently actually suggest to them that they fly instead, and they krinkle their noses at me and say, "where where else can we go instead" So I send them to yosemite. Which is better for california of course, but I need some better options for these people.

jim said...

and if you look at yoru google maps everyone you can't deny my origianl point that ( and ill take palmdale rather than nothing at all but) the palmdale route is convenient to no one. The distance from LA proper is minor but the trip from the vast majority of the rest of socal is way out of the way versus VRV. -I-15. By using palmdale we are inconveniencing everyone - north and south by an extra half hour or more. But whatever. Just stop pretending like only 12 people live north of the tehachapis and we all drive around in model t fords.

jim said...

Saying "why would bay are people take the train tovages when they can fly is like saying wahy would bay area people take the train to LA when they could fly" Of course we would take the train, if we had it. I mean for real, and do you have any idea how many interantional tourists visit san francisco, and that they all want to also visit vegas, and how amny california ril passes ( which include vegas) we sell there's a market here. there just is.and its logical to continue from bakersfield on highway 58 to barstow to 15 to vegas for all of us who are north of the tehachapis. I'm looking out for "actual customers" the ones I know first hand about. There's a market. And its very disappointing to have to turn so many away as well when they find out how long it currently takes to get there. Like I said before, I currently actually suggest to them that they fly instead, and they krinkle their noses at me and say, "where where else can we go instead" So I send them to yosemite. Which is better for california of course, but I need some better options for these people.

jim said...

osrry bout the double post. havent had coffee yet.

Andrew said...

Until we've got steel wheel HSR up and functioning on the key corridors in the USA, maglev is going to have to remain a dream.

A very attractive dream, maybe Maglev could be used exclusively to connect Large mega International Airports to City Centers, non-stop, point to point, no transfers in between; you want to Transfer than its up to you to find the connector at your final destination.

I am sure Maglev will also still be considered for Very High Speed Freight service, though I am not as familiar with it.

Funny side note: Word Verification for this post:
untrain - LOL, oh never mind it was untrian - stupid dislexia

-Maybe its trying to tell us all something :-D