Super-speed train project gets a $45 million boost
Chuck Mueller, Staff Writer
With high gasoline prices forcing Inland Empire commuters to reshuffle their budgets, many are expected to welcome the concept of a super-speed train propelled by electromagnets.
Congress has authorized spending $45 million for maglev in the current federal transportation bill, said Bruce Aguilera, chairman of a bistate commission overseeing the $12 billion project.
Visionaries say the proposed maglev train eventually may whisk passengers the 269 miles between Anaheim and Las Vegas in 86 minutes.
Under the maglev system, short for magnetic levitation, trains propelled by electromagnets would zip along elevated guideways instead of rails, reaching speeds up to 300 mph.
The 16 members of the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission will meet in Las Vegas in January, Aguilera said, to determine where the congressional appropriation will go.
"The $45 million shows that Congress has faith in the project," he said. "We must capitalize on this by showing we're making progress. And we will have to find additional sources of funds, such as tax-free bonds, stock sales, and private money."
Some of the appropriation is likely to go for an environmental impact report, while other portions will launch maglev operations along the first 40 miles of the route, from Las Vegas to Primm, Nev., at the California state line.
Victorville Mayor Mike Rothschild a member of the commission, believes maglev would get commuters and other motorists "out of their autos and make us less oil-dependent."
The system is already used on a limited basis in trains in China and Germany.
"It's the technology of the century, 100 percent proven," Rothschild said.
In his 34 years in the High Desert, he has witnessed the region's spectacular growth and its increased freeway congestion.
With maglev, it's conceivable that the number of cars and trucks that clog Interstate 15 could drop by one-fourth, the mayor said.
"I believe it's realistic to say that 25 percent of the 70,000 vehicles using I-15 daily could be pulled off the freeway within 10 years," said Rothschild.
"Think what that means: an immense saving in gasoline, a sharp drop in roadway congestion and a huge improvement in air quality. And no other mode of transportation can match maglev in cost-efficiency."
Under the maglev proposal, trains would carry passengers from Anaheim to Las Vegas in 86 minutes, said Dennis J. Papilion, vice president of Santa Ana-based URS Corp., environmental consultant for the project.
Plans call for the first 40 miles of the route
to link Las Vegas with Primm, in just 12 minutes. Victorville and Barstow are designated as stops along the route paralleling I-15 across the High Desert.
The Nevada Department of Transportation, Caltrans and the Super Speed Train Commission are working with the Federal Railway Administration to find funding for the project.
Rothschild believes the maglev concept, potentially leading to a national network of guideways, could reduce the country's thirst for oil.
"It will allow us to slowly get away from our dependency on oil," he said. "And beyond the system now proposed for super-speed trains, some day we may see trucks and autos operating on electric-powered platforms paralleling existing roadways."
Under the California-Nevada maglev proposal, trains would carry about 12,000 passengers hourly in each direction on a typical eight-car train.
"'Maglev will help make the High Desert a destination for visitors and will generate all types of new business," said Rothschild.
"And it could make long-distance commuting financially viable. Passenger costs on Maglev are expected to be half the price of an airline ticket."
"The super-speed trains would be powered by 3.5 megawatts of electricity, said Larry Blow, national project manager for Transrapid International, the train's designer.
"Victorville is well-positioned to provide electric power for maglev," Rothschild said. "We have already opened a 760-megawatt natural gas-fueled power plant near Southern California Logistics Airport, and plan to build a second, comparable plant."
He said the existing High Desert power plant, owned by Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group, would use only one-seventh of its electric production to power 20 maglev trains between Anaheim and Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, Victorville officials envision opening a second 760-megawatt power plant.
"With a second plant to provide electricity for maglev, we could make it the most cost-effective super-speed route in the country," the mayor said.
Updates on the federal mag-lev project are few and far between, so when I saw this I was surprised. The Anaheim-Ontario-Las Vegas line is competing against proposed lines in Baltimore-D.C., Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles. The more expansive Los Angeles project is somewhat of an alternative to the San Francisco-Los Angeles-San Diego high speed rail proposal, minus San Francisco, and is being backed by good ol' SCAG.