Monday, December 22, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger + Jim Gibbons = Maglev to Vegas?

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

So claims the Las Vegas Sun:

For over 20 years, boosters have dreamed of and lobbied for a train that could travel from Southern California to Las Vegas at 300 mph.

The proposed magnetic levitation train line linking Las Vegas and Anaheim, Calif. — attacked by critics as a multi-billion dollar pipe dream — has gained new life.

Near the bottom of a news release detailing Gov. Jim Gibbons’ meeting last month with President-elect Barack Obama was the announcement that Gibbons and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had agreed to move ahead with the high-speed train project.

“Arnold and I agreed to jointly work together on the project,” said Gibbons, who is planning to travel to Sacramento to talk with Schwarzenegger about it.

The train, Gibbons argues, should be a candidate for federal economic stimulus money.

The rest of the article goes on to discuss "pork" in the stimulus bill and how infrastructure stimulus should emphasize projects with lasting value. We agree, of course, and HSR is one of the best possible examples of infrastructure that provides both short-term stimulus and long-term economic value.

The question here is, does Harry Reid's maglev from Anaheim to Vegas count toward that goal? Maglev is a notorious form of vaporware on an intercity scale - the cost is enormous and no project to build intercity maglev has gotten off the drawing board. That hasn't stopped Reid from getting $45 million from Congress to study maglev to Vegas, even though a competing firm has a more realistic plan to build conventional steel-wheel HSR from Victorville to Vegas. Reid dismissed the Desert Xpress plan:

Reid has criticized that project because he doesn’t think people will drive from Los Angeles to Victorville and then board a train to Las Vegas.

What Reid apparently doesn't realize is that it's a mere 50 miles from Victorville to the planned HSR station at Palmdale Airport:

So wouldn't it make sense, Senator Reid, Governor Gibbons, and Governor Schwarzenegger, to link a Vegas HSR line to our existing HSR plan - using the Desert Xpress model, merely extended west across the flat Antelope Valley desert from Victorville to the Palmdale Airport station? That would solve the cost issue, provide a direct train connection from LA to Vegas, and even could help logroll both Nevada's and California's HSR needs into a single plan.

I have to confess I've never believed that HSR to Vegas is a particularly high priority for either California or the United States as a whole - there are other corridors that have a greater need for HSR. But if Nevada and their powerful Senator are bent on HSR to Vegas, let's do it the smart way, the right way, instead of wasting millions on a maglev train that will never get built.


Anonymous said...

Rafael suggested in an earlier comment that the LV "spur" should connect to the CAHSR network at Mojave instead of Palmdale. Supposedly this would better serve Northerners at little time cost to Southerners.

James said...

Would there be an advantage to make the Mojave/Palmdale to Las Vegas line as the CHSR test track? It may be easier to build in the open desert than to solve the Fresno ROW issues before getting the test track up and running. Nevada would share the up-front costs. Less of a noise problem. Two states asking for Federal funds.

On the other hand, a central valley test track would better serve the long term needs of the CHSR system. It seems to me that the commuter branches serve society better than taking people out to Vegas to lose their money.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Something to debate, I guess. My thinking is that we might as well save $$$ by using an existing station facility (Palmdale) instead of building something new at Mojave. I doubt the time loss would be that huge for folks going to Vegas from NorCal.

James said...

On second thought, HSR should only care about moving people, not what they do with their money when they get there. Lets join Nevada and leverage our interests. Get the test track up and running while working out the details of the other parts of the system.

James said...

The run through the Disneyland station and on to LAX!

BBinnsandiego said...

California HSR would be forbidden from participating in a line to Las Vegas. The ballot measure specifically states that the first line be from LA to SF. Vegas to S.California would have to be a separate venture.

It would be a good thing to get Reid into the high speed rail game. He is after all running the Senate. But in the big picture linking Disneyland to Vegas Casinos can't rank very high in our nation's transportation priorities. This proposal looks more like pork than progress.

Loren said...

I almost couldn't believe it when I saw it. Maglev???

Maybe someone can talk some sense into Senator Reid and convince him to support an approach like the DesertXPress. It would be slower, but based on a very successful technology.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ Dec 22 -

I did indeed suggest ditching both Desert Xpress (based on 125mph diesel trains) and maglev (for which there is no ROW in the inland empire and down to Anaheim) in favor of a spur off the California system at Mojave. Trains on that would be electric and run at up to 220mph.

Here's the obligatory map.

My reasons for this suggestion were that it

(a) adds interstate commerce dimension to California HSR, making it something Congress is supposed to spend money on. Senate majority leader Reid is from Nevada, so it would add a powerful ally in the quest for federal dollars.

(b) will ultimately connect most of California to Las Vegas, though San Diegans may prefer to keep flying. Relieves congestion on I-15.

(c) does not require an additional mountain crossing into the LA basin, therefore no tunneling and no major seismic fault issues in Cajon Pass. There may be a case for running a Metrolink train or two beyond San Bernardino to Barstow on Friday evenings to meet up with HSR there (return service on Sunday evening).

(d) puts Palmdale within 1:10h of Las Vegas. That means it could act as a relief airport for McCurran during conventions etc., such that Nevada could avoid construction of the Ivanpah Valley Airport (IVP) near Jean. About 1/3 of all traffic into and out of McCurran is with cities that will be served by California HSR.

(e) allows Nevada to repurpose the money toward overhead catenaries for the spur plus an HVDC distribution line to bring renewable hydro and solar power from Nevada to California. The land currently allocated to IVP could be used for a solar thermal power plant large enough to run the entire HSR system in both states. Nevada has a lot fewer muddle-headed environmentalists than California, so getting permits there is much easier. Renewable electricity is an important argument to counter the economic one powerful Indian gaming interests in California will be making.

(f) allows much of the EIR/EIS work already done for Desert Xpress to be re-used, only the section between Barstow and Mojave would need to be added. This entirely private consortium might be willing to chip in the tracks such that the state of California ends up paying $0 for the spur

(f) greatly reduces the technology risk for both states

(g) allows the two states to pool their purchasing power for HSR line engineering, trainsets and maintenance contracts

(h) creates the option of delivering high speed cargo including extra-fresh foods and flowers to Las Vegas resorts, further relieving traffic on I-15.

(i) Viva Las Vegas trains could feature a "High Roller" class with live entertainment, cocktails, first-class at-seat meals etc. in addition to touch-screen LCDs for video on demand and getting tourist information about your destination. Late-night trains could offer an adult-only nightclub on wheels. There's be no gambling while on California soil, but Vegas has more to offer these days.


I'm not sure why Schwarzenegger is even entertaining the notion of complicating his own state's HSR effort by breathing new life into the maglev idea. Compatibility enables direct service from anywhere to anywhere on the network. Nevada will ask California to chip in for maglev and the state budget point blank does not permit that.

As for Gov. Gibbons of Nevada, there are some who would consider Blagojevich a model public servant by comparison. 'Nuff said.

Andrew said...

It's gonna come down to "But China has a maglev and we don't!" isn't it?

BruceMcF said...

Regarding: (a) adds interstate commerce dimension to California HSR, making it something Congress is supposed to spend money on.

The precedent there goes way, way back ... before the days of rail, in fact - think the Erie Canal in New York, connecting the Hudson to Lake Erie, and the Ohio and Erie Canal in Ohio, connecting the Ohio River at Portmouth to Lake Erie ... it doesn't have to spill outside a state to be a federal interest.

Al2000 said...

MagLev in Japan has been approved.

JR Central is going to build a MagLev line between Tokyo and Nagoya. It has been green lit, and is funded. They are just settling on the route.

Like all infrastructure projects in Japan, construction will move at a glacial pace. It won't open until 2025.

Take a look at this article about it:

Rafael said...

@ James -

if need be, CHSRA will make do with a shorter test track from south of Fresno to Bakersfield while the ROW issues in and around Fresno are resolved. It's not clear how long it would take to get a Vegas spur through the remaining aspects of the EIR/EIS and political processes in both states, especially given those Indian gaming interests.

Wrt Disneyland, I think the best option may be to create a new Metrolink service between LAUS and Anaheim via an existing ROW through Paramount and Cypress. The Disneyland station would be underground, with Disney chipping in for the tunnel. A spur to Long Beach airport would be possible. See map

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

I never suggested there should be a station at Mojave, that's just where the tracks would meet. Palmdale would still be the only HSR station in the Antelope Valley.

I picked the connector from Barstow to Mojave because it's shorter and it's already an established rail corridor. That makes the EIR/EIS much easier than running a line across from Victorville, which isn't exactly a metropolis - nor, given California's issues with its water supply, would you want it to become one.

Alex M. said...

Although I think the LA-LV HSR train is important for the future, I think the CHSRA shouldn't get mixed up in this business until the California line is built. I'm surprised Arnold even hinted ay support for a HSR route to LV considering how flip-floppy he is about our own system and it's funding. I still think in the distant future, this line should be seriously considered. It would start the plans for a national HSR network. It is vital that if this plan gets past the planning stages that Maglev not be chosen, instead going with the same system that will be used in California. This would allow the LV trains to run on the CA tracks without issues, allowing further extension into LA and the rest of the state. I think the Arizona line is very interesting, I would love to see it happen, but there isn't a large enough of a population along the route to justify the costs of the line IMHO.

Herbie Markwort said...

Is the full DesertXpress EIS available online, or is the scoping document the only one out there?

Andrew said...


You speak of the Chuo Shinkansen, which may actually have merit because the existing Tokaido Shinkansen is running rather close to capacity. Still, I'm not entirely convinced that the cost-to-benefit ratio with maglev technology in general is very positive.

Rob Dawg said...

Three words; "Talgo" and "Dessert Tortoise."

Brandon in California said...

Cool. I would prefer HSR versus maglev to connect Southern California to Las Vegas, but either would do.

If HSR, I originally imagined a good coonection could be provided via I-15 into Ontario airport, and then potentially running those same trains into Union Station or something (provided the track capacity existed). But what Rafael has illustrated in his map is good too. Cheaper also.

Perhaps when/if the CHSRA network is expanded beyond the current proposed system, an exention could use that same I-15 corridor across the pass north of San Bernardino, and then run northwesterly (parallel to the San Andreas?) to connect up with Palmdale. I like that b/c it would provide a much quicker San Diego to Northern California connection. An HSR line from Las Vegas could aso potentially hook-in to that too.

Anonymous said...

As we are seeing the end of the highly leveraged "casino economy", is it even desireable or a priority to have such a line? Will LV even grow in an era/area where serious limitations in terms of water and energy are becoming visible? When fiscal resources are limited, LA-LV should be a few steps down the list. The Governor likes to engage in flashy "green" initiatives but the most important things that have to be done are rather boring.
If the Southwest and LV in particular do continue to grow in a sustainable way then LA-LV becomes inevitable. But I'm not seeing that. Maybe some dysfunction in LV, SoCal, etc. is inevitable. But I'd love to proved wrong.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

let's hope not. The maglev line is Shanghai is reportedly losing money. With an HSR spur off Mojave, Anaheim-Las Vegas would take about half an hour longer than with maglev at full throttle, which would use a lot more electricity and generate a lot more aerodynamic noise. The focus should be on delivering a very good link with the lowest possible technology risk, not on one-upmanship with China or anyone else.

@ rob dawg -

either you mean "desert tortoise" or you are unusually epicurious. In any case, hewing close to existing transportation corridors is the best chance for avoiding any EIR/EIS problems related to endangered species. Pres. Bush just pushed through a rule that would let bureaucrats make that decision without any scientific evidence, but I suspect the Obama administration will reverse that, and rightly so. Unfortunately, that also means those who oppose a given project on ideological or economic grounds can continue to hide behind trumped-up environmental opposition. That's life.

Desert Xpress wants to use either Talgo BT or XXI trainsets. The latter are an FRA-compliant version of the BT, which is popular for secondary intercity services in Europe. Of course, it runs on diesel and is limited to 125mph, which IMHO is too slow to lure passengers headed to Vegas out of short-hop flights or their cars on I-15.

@ Alex, trck -

as long as the state of California doesn't pay a penny toward a high speed rail line to Nevada, I think it's ok for that state to pursue one. The problem with Arnie is that whenever the going gets tough, he moves on to the next shiny bauble. He doesn't appear to recognize the consequences of his own actions on the state budget.

@ Brandon -

now that Caltrans is usurping the I-15 median for carpool lanes between Escondido and Miramar, one of two things needs to happen quickly:

(a) either those carpool lanes are constructed as covered trenches so tracks can easily be laid underneath them a decade or more from now, or

(b)the I-5 corridor must be preserved for HSR or, there won't be anywhere to lay tracks at all. That would mean stacking tracks south of Irvine in Orange County and either switching to the I-5 median in San Juan Capistrano or, running a tunnel from there to San Onofre. Further south, there are car pool lanes a couple of miles north of the 56 junction in Del Mar, before the train could hop off the freeway and onto the railroad ROW in Torrey Pines State Preserve. If the I-5 median is not used at all, a second tunnel will be needed to bypass beachfront property there.

With option (b), there wouldn't be any need for a new alignment through Cajon Pass, a primary artery for freight into and out of the LA harbors.

BruceMcF said...

Although I think the LA-LV HSR train is important for the future, I think the CHSRA shouldn't get mixed up in this business until the California line is built.

If there are two clear options for a "spur" line ... Mojava, sans station, or Palmdale for a station connection ... the only involvement required from CAHSR would be to express its willingness to cooperate with the construction of the junction and share technical standard and expertise.

In terms of ranking transport markets, LA/SJ-MSA+SF-MSA and LA/SD are both higher priority in terms of geometric mean population per mile.

Alon Levy said...

The maglev line is Shanghai is reportedly losing money.

No, it's actually making an operating profit, despite the anemic ridership.

The issue is that at current ridership, it can't recoup the capital costs that went into building it. The problem is that it stub-ends in a suburb at the end of one of Shanghai's subway lines. The Chinese government would like to extend it to a line connecting Shanghai and Hangzhou's city centers, but there are ongoing protests over radiation and property value concerns, which boil down to the fact that the Chinese government has no credibility on environmental matters.

Unknown said...

I wouldn't count on using the median in the 5 between Camp Pendleton and Manchester in San Diego; there is a project in the works to extend the carpool lanes that far, and the last time I checked it was very far along as far as both planing and funding are concerned

Herbie Markwort said...

A spur from Mojave obviously makes the most sense for an initial build of a LA-LV line. San Diego, however, gets the shaft without a connection over the Cajon Pass. Using Google Maps, LV-SD is ~320 miles via I-15, ~420 miles via LA and I-5; add 50 miles if going via the Inland Empire instead of I-5. The time difference would likely be about 1 hour.

LA-LV would already likely need 2 tunnels at Mountain Pass and Halloran Springs (there are sections just west of here with grades in excess of 4%). What's one more tunnel at Cajon Pass?

Anonymous said...

Southern California maglev projects are a nice way to shovel transit money at defense contractors. Do we need General Atomics, with their 400' text track in La Jolla, to suck down tax dollars to re-invent what's been done in Japan and Germany?

The Germans, when they were spending like crazy on reunification, cancelled their Berlin-Hanover project, and the last gasp, the Munich Airport maglev, is dead.

Maglev, the transport of the future. Always was, always will be.

Rafael said...

@ Herbie -

Cajon Pass crosses the San Andreas fault. It is also a major freight artery out of the LA basin.

If someone other than the state of California wants to pay for an HSR alignment through that, fine. Just don't expect an ROW to be available for both steel wheels HSR and maglev through the Inland Empire.

San Diego needs to focus on securing a ROW for any kind of HSR connection at all to the rest of California. The asphalt enemy is advancing apace on all fronts.

Anonymous said...

Of course this is a no brainer. If vegas wants rail, then it only makes perfect economical sense to use the same format as california's hsr and and simply connect in to the cahsr at palmdale or nearby. This would also add more profitability to the system as a whole for investors. Can we just do something that makes sesnse? for once? please?

Anonymous said...

Here's a map of existing ROW - makes sense to use what's there. Perhaps a "wye" in the desert for serving norcal vegas from bfd-mojave and socal vegas via palmdale

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

yes, that's precisely the proposal. Coming from Vegas, your first station may or may not be Barstow, the one after that would be either Bakersfield or Palmdale, depending on where the train is headed.

I don't understand what the communication problem on this is. Any Vegas spur should be fully integrated into the HSR network. It would be funded a separate project, but in technical terms it would be no different than the spurs to Sacramento and San Diego.

Spokker said...

Conventional HSR to Vegas is ideal, but I would rather revive the Desert Wind than build a Maglev line to Vegas at this time.

We really need to stick to standard gauge railroads if we want interoperability. Transfering sucks, especially if you have bags.

If the HSR line to Vegas was standard gauge, then you could do Sac-Vegas runs, SF-Vegas runs, LA-Vegas, San Diego-Vegas, Inland Empire-Vegas, whatever.

Our transit network is way too segmented as it is. Let's not add yet more agencies and transfers to our rail network. It's not a competition it's a cooperation!

Rafael said...

@ spokker -

I think reviving the Desert Wind would be too slow to make a dent in short-haul flights into McCurran, but it could be useful as a weekend special and whenever there's a big convention on.

I'd suggest going with the FRA-compliant Talgo XXI (in development) so it can run on the existing freight tracks. It shouldn't stop everywhere, though. LA US, San Bernardino, Victorville, Las Vegas.

Note that there is local bus transit (MAX BRT, RTC) hub station one block east of the old Las Vegas Amtrak station.

Spokker said...

"I think reviving the Desert Wind would be too slow to make a dent in short-haul flights into McCurran"

I don't think a revived Desert Wind would make a dent in short-haul flights.

However I believe it's a good short-term solution for LA-Vegas. I would prefer taking the train to driving and I think many others will too.

I think a once-a-day Desert Wind should be reconsidered by Amtrak and implemented as soon as possible.

Alon Levy said...

You could just as well build the entire system as maglev. The main disadvantage of maglev is that it can't run on conventional tracks, at all. Because of FRA safety rules, CAHSR will have to run entirely on its own tracks anyway, eliminating the interoperability advantage of conventional HSR.

Alex M. said...

@ Alon Levy -

It's also massively expensive to build.

Unknown said...

You may already know of this Maglev proposal by Applied Levitation.

It looks like a better approach for the magnet array. I was concerned about computer control of the levitation itself which has been very challenging over the past decades of Maglev development. This proposal uses direct levitation and lets the computers do the relatively less demanding task of keeping the vehicle centered on the track.

Steel wheels on rail is still orders of magnitude less demanding and less reliant on high tech. We have a few expensive and limited Maglev hopefuls vs. the modern HSR of which we have several good products to choose from.

Maglev seems to be another 10 or 20 years from being ready for true commercial service and would benefit from a few breakthroughs like room temp superconductors. And as this company says, when it is finally ready and when it makes economic sense, Maglev can be retrofit to existing ROWs.

Alex M. said...

I'm just glad that multiple HSR networks are being discussed at once. My dream for the future is that one day, the entire west coast is linked up by HSR with compatible systems. It would be relatively easy to use the ROW that the Amtrak Coast Starlight uses and have a HSR train running from Sacramento where it could link up with our system, all the way up through Oregon going through Eugene and Portland, then onto Seattle, and maybe even BC in the future (making it an international HSR network like in Europe). The system could run in my places at 220 mph as well because it goes through rural areas that aren't heavily populated, although there are some turns that would have to lengthened, the Amtrak route zip-zags in places. LA would be linked to Las Vegas, San Diego/LA to Phoenix, and maybe more. Of course this is all dependent on how well our system does and if the FRA can put together a HSR board that pushed for a unified HSR specification for the USA. Although many of these distances aren't viable distances that HSR attempts to compete in (i.e. nobody from Seattle would take the train if they were going to San Diego), it does provide the citizens of the west coast with a variety of options on a variety of busy connections. I think CA has begun the long and hard task of putting out the word as to the need of upgrading the USA's most densely populated regions into areas connected by fast, efficient, safe rail transport. I think because our states on the west coast are more open, as opposed to the east coast where everything is very densely populated, it allows us to maintain higher speeds for longer which means the system will be more viable in more places.

Unknown said...

I am having another HSR/Maglev discussion here . Maglev 2008 was a convention in San Diego last week and it got an article in the paper. Arlan Specter is a huge supporter of Maglev, along with Reid. Anyway let me know what someone thinks of the arguments, and what points I may be skipping over.

Rafael -
The map with Tucson and LV was such a beautiful vision for the future, I just came back from Tucson. Just for kicks you should have connected it to Seattle.

Rafael said...

@ Francis -

personally, I think connecting to Vegas is a borderline proposition and Arizona may well be a bridge too far, at least at this point. I just explored the option to see if the result would be something useful. It seems that whenever someone talks about HSR in the US, the discussion almost immediately jumps to national ambitions, which makes no sense at all. At distances over 600 miles or so, it will always make more sense to fly.

In particular, there may be value in connecting Chico and Redding to Sacramento with rapid rail someday. The terrain is reasonably flat and there's plenty of available water along the eastern flank of the Central Valley. It makes a lot more sense to encourage people to settle where there is water than it does to pump that water hundreds of miles across the state at stupendous expense and energy consumption.

Eugene to Portland is another rapid rail candidate, the Willamette valley is fairly flat. North from there it could be HSR to Vancouver BC. However, the 200+ miles between Redding and Eugene are very mountainous and would require a lot of very expensive tunnels to support high speeds. There is no justification for that investment at this point, with so many more populous areas in the North America still without any form of decent passenger rail service at all.

As for maglev, it's like the hydrogen fuel cell car. Always 20 years in the future because it makes no sense yet. Old geezers like Specter get all excited about shiny new baubles but the truth is infrastructure is supposed to be boring, i.e. just work. That's why you stick with the tried and true and let someone else take the technology risk. I'd rather have a slower conventional train with reliable terrestrial broadband internet access. Running HVDC transmission wires above or next to new HSR lines would be another small but very useful innovation.

BruceMcF said...

Also note that maglev's 20 years in the future is one with abundant energy, since maglev is less energy efficient ... with steel wheel on steel rail, you are far better placed to trade off energy efficiency and time efficiency, because steel rather than electricity is holding the train up.

Given the CAHSR up and running, LA/LV branching at Mojave seems a natural extension ... a good example of network economies, in fact, as that makes far more sense than a free-standing LA/LV line.

However, NV and AZ really are the eastern ends of the line as far as a true HSR goes ... Albuquerque is too small and in the wrong place for a true HSR extension from either, Las Cruces / El Paso arguably in the right place but way too small, and then its a long, long way across Texas until you get to Dallas.

In my first diary exploring HSR on Agent Orange, that "coast to coast" impetus came out in full force ... very few Americans have a mental map of the country in terms of where are there big cities / metro areas within 500 miles of each other, but the mental image of the national map is well ingrained, and its fun to fill it in with maps. Proposals like the Apollo Alliance fall into the same trap.

Transcontinental makes sense for rapid rail, because that's where rapid rail can leverage the most substantial advantages in freight markets, but true HSR should be built starting with a strong corridor and extending from there, and if the physical and social geography says that the process stops with a regional cluster, than that's the system.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

perhaps it might be useful to consider this map of US megaregions, defined as clusters of metropolitan statistical areas.

Of course, you can argue about where the boundaries should be drawn but three things should be glaringly obvious: first, there aren't a whole lot of people west of the Rockies and most of those live in the coastal states.

Second, a megaregion needs at least one really big city to act as an anchor. The only one that doesn't in this particular classification is Montreal, which is debatable but probably a result of the language barrier and the fact that it isn't part of the US (but then, neither is Toronto so go figure).

Third, those megaregions that are very close to one another (Northern & Southern California, Texas Triangle & Gulf Coast, Midwest & NEC) are the best candidates for passenger-oriented high speed rail interconnects.

Between the NEC or the Midwest and Piedmont Atlantic, it might make more sense to seek rapid rail interconnects that support a mix of freight and passenger services.

Between Southern California and the Midwest, heavy freight makes a lot of sense. For services at higher speeds to make economic sense, on-road and aviation fuels would have to be a lot more expensive. Europe and Japan both heavily tax their on-road fuels and run their trains on electricity, mostly because they have very little in the way of domestic oil supplies.

In the US, the domestic oil industry has managed to persuade the body politic that higher fuel taxes would be akin to economic suicide. The result: generous income tax deductions for mortgage holders lead lots of people to buy McMansions out in the boonies on the twin assumptions that gasoline will always be cheap and that houses can always be flipped before teaser rates on ARMs expire. How's that working for you right about now?

Spokker said...

I heard that the suburbs will become the new ghettos. Any truth to that?

Anonymous said...

The Next Slum? by Chris Leinberger offers a glimpse of the future. Not all suburbs will become decrepit. But the most recent exurban settlements are in for a long decline. No wonder those exurbs are losing home values faster than any other region. Meanwhile, city houses/apartments with access to transit etc. are keeping their value.

If suburbs are able to reinvent themselves as mixed-use self-contained villages with access to transit they will probably be OK (no guarantees). There is a diversity of opinion about that.

On a different note (@rafael), I think it's one of the great tragedies of our time that the US (and other industrialized nations -- e.g. Europe to a lesser degree) didn't get a head start on weaning themselves from oil. President Carter was the one guy who was willing to tell the truth to people's faces. Mind you, he was wrong about his worldwide peak-oil estimate and he was ineffective as a politician but he was one of the few who told us to rethink our priorities. Of course they voted him out of office and elected someone who preached denial and profligacy when it came to energy. Once oil gets to 200$, 300$, ... a reordering of our priorities will happen very fast (in people's heads) but with our built environment in suburbia and highways, we are locked in. It will be an exciting and interesting time albeit an ugly and horrible one. Meanwhile, we should all go back and read the prophetic "The Irony of American History" by Reinhold Niebuhr.

But enough of that! We're talking about HSR.

Unknown said...

Probably, Chula Vista's foreclosed neighborhoods might be the first step in that direction.

Of course any HSR connecting out of California realistically will be after 2030, even at the earliest possible that's hopeful. Las Vegas is the closest and most logical. Plus everyone can rally around not driving home after a weekend in Vegas and chillax on a high speed train, so finding political support for that should be easy.

I personally doubt there will be a large maglev system anywhere in 20 years. There probably will be many maglev lines that are less than 100 miles long. But that is a glorified shuttle run, which would work well, but I dont believe I would see a true network soon.

I bet a great publicity tool would be to create the HSR routes in all designated HSR corridors proposed by congress recently with that Google map software. Post it to wikipedia and over the next year or so it will very likely generate some buzz all over the country in different circles. I dont think there is a good map out yet.

Unknown said...

This map is pretty weak.

Rafael said...

@ Francis -

did you see the Google Earth maps that commenter Loren published?

BruceMcF said...

"For services at higher speeds to make economic sense, on-road and aviation fuels would have to be a lot more expensive."

Language: you mean commercial sense. They make economic sense today, but the commercial bottom line also depends on the distribution of public and private capital investment. Virtually 100% private investment for rail versus heavy direct subsidy and cross-subsidy for the infrastructure used by road freight obviously tilts the balance toward the higher operating cost road freight.

However, put rail electrification infrastructure on a level playing field with road infrastructure, and the diesel prices we will see if/when we come out of recession will be ample for long haul high speed freight to make commercial sense.

Since public ownership of long-lived infrastructure tends to cut capital costs in half, and federal ownership eliminates the property tax burden on that portion of the infrastructure, it can be self-financing well before petroleum gets back to $100/barrel, let alone $200/barrel.

"perhaps it might be useful to consider this map of US megaregions, defined as clusters of metropolitan statistical areas."

While very useful in considering where to start a true HSR trunk line, its still necessary to look at the trip times with different classes of rail and the mean population per route mile for different potential trips within a class to work out the lines of expansion from the trunk.

And for a region with a population distribution like the Midwest and Transappalachian Northeast (it continues to be silly to call a state that borders on an Atlantic Seaboard state, with an Atlantic port, and with the first city due west of NYC, "midwestern"), under the megaregion thesis, a Rapid Rail system to interconnect the region would take first priority over an HSR system to connect it with neighboring regions.

Alon Levy said...

Also note that maglev's 20 years in the future is one with abundant energy, since maglev is less energy efficient ... with steel wheel on steel rail, you are far better placed to trade off energy efficiency and time efficiency, because steel rather than electricity is holding the train up.

First, I'm not so sure this is true: maglev has less friction to deal with.

Second, maglev is considerably faster, so it displaces more airplane traffic. At current speeds and acceleration rates, conventional HSR can't compete with air on routes like New York to Chicago; maglev can.

In fact, maglev might actually reduce construction costs, by making local trains fast enough. There is no way a train with top speed of 350 km/h can do LA to SF in 2:38 without skipping stops. This will require building straight even through intermediate cities, so that express trains will not have to slow down near each station they skip. With maglev, the same type of construction will result in a train that can do LA-SJ-SF in 1:45. However, it's feasible to forgo that construction and require trains to stop at all stations, which will result in end run times of about 2:20, and allow tighter curves near stations.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

the 2:38 figure is for non-stop service from SF to LA. Only about 25% of daily trains will be at this service level. The others will be semi-express (some stops), semi-local (most stops) and local (all stops). These will take longer.

Maglev consumes slightly less energy than steel wheels technology at the same speed. However, the whole point of maglev is that you can go considerably faster. At high speeds, the dominant factor is aerodynamic resistance, which applies regardless of propulsion system. Energy consumption rises with the square of velocity, rated power requirements with the cube.

Note that at speeds in excess of around 140mph, aerodynamics are also the dominant factor in noise emissions. At high speeds, maglev is anything but quiet, though the sound is admittedly less harsh.

Maglev test train at 581km/h

TGV test train at 574km/h

Now that reliable broadband internet access is possible on bullet trains, time spent in transit can be spent much more productively. While high speed still makes sense, IMHO super-duper extreme high speed no longer does - the capital investment and energy consumption penalties are too high.

Pretty much the only compelling technical advantage maglev has is that it can climb gradients of 8%. That means less tunneling in mountainous areas. It's still more expensive overall, though.

CHSRA decided against maglev early on for two reasons:

(a) there in't enough room in the Caltrain and LOSSAN ROWs to fit in maglev and retain legacy steel wheels services

(b) the only viable vendor at the time (and still) is Transrapid from Germany. Unlike Alstom, Siemens, Bombardier et al, they have never invested in a commercial implementation of their own technology. Indeed, after several failed attempts in Germany, the one and only commercial implementation of any kind is the 20-mile section between Shanghai and its airport at Pudong. Maximum speed is only sustained for a very short period.

Alon Levy said...

Pretty much the only compelling technical advantage maglev has is that it can climb gradients of 8%.

It also accelerates faster.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

yes, maglev does support greater acceleration. However, on a non-stop trip from Las Vegas to e.g. LA, that makes little difference in terms of line haul time.

It's only when you have short lines or want to make lots of stops that the additional acceleration is useful. There simply aren't enough dense population centers in close proximity to one another between LA and Las Vegas to justify the premium. There will be have to be quite a few trains each day anyhow or, building any type of high speed line will be too expensive.

Again, it's not about which features are available but about which you actually need for a given application. For the SoCal-Vegas connection, very high acceleration isn't one of them.

kabita said...


kabita said...

High speed train is very necessary in today's contest in the USA. This will provide alternative to slow and high traffic highway system.
The most importand thing is it will not consume gas and make us free from foreign oil and use our own electricity which will save billions of dollars in our country and help to create new jobs and technologies.
this will also provide safe and cheaper transportation than avaitation.