By Tommy Purvis
Some day soon we’ll be able to criss-cross California—and visit Las Vegas—at bullet train speed and comfort. Maybe.
Various high-speed rail projects proposed for California are chugging along . . . but each comes with its own share of issues, baggage and (of course) politics.
A just-released study on high-speed rail corridors in California and the Southwest by America 2050 found that a Los Angeles-to-Riverside line scored the second highest in feasibility models. The results—based on population and employment data near the origin and destination points—fell only slightly behind a proposed line which also begins in L.A. but ends in San Diego.
Interestingly, the much anticipated and desperately needed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas high speed rail line finished sixth in a field of 20 route options.
The results are on track with plans the California High Speed Rail Authority and DesertXpress have in mind for an 800-mile line that will eventually connect Sacramento to San Diego with multiple stops in the IE. The Los Angeles-to-San Diego section of the route is 167 miles and stops in Pomona and Ontario on the way to another likely station in Riverside. The CHSRA was the recipient of $4 billion in stimulus funds and has promised to deliver a product that will rival the convenience and technology of European and Asian passenger rails.
Meanwhile, Nevada-California Interstate Maglev, the high-speed link from the City of Angels to Sin City, has continued to develop. Both Maglev and DesertXpress have been competing to receive federal funds for their respective projects [which we featured in Vol. 4, Issue 24’s “Loco Motives” cover story].
Neither project were awarded funds through the America Reinvestment and Recovery Act. But the DesertXpress has relied on favorable rulings by a three-person panel of political appointees in the Transportation Safety Board to gain an inside advantage on the Maglev. In May 2010, a TSB panel decided that the publicly-funded privately-owned transportation venture was improperly labeled as a “freight line” in paperwork but still eligible for approval through the original Environmental Impact Statement filed with the agency.
Although the DesertXpress started the EIS process much later than the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev, it is positioned to gain an application for construction first in the spring. The recently re-elected Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) switched allegiances from the Maglev to DesertXpress camp as a powerful George W. Bush lobbyist embraced his candidacy and co-chaired Republicans for Reid during the last election cycle.
To make the shortsighted and underfunded route from Las Vegas to Victorville viable, the DX has relied on the strategically designed CHSRA line to save the day. A spur rail from Victorville to Palmdale proposed by the DX appears to be on the fast track for approval by the TSB, and will tap into the CHSRA high-speed line to reach Los Angeles. That’s too bad considering only 40 miles of the DX route are within Nevada territory and TSB decided the project does not have to comply with stringent requirements in the California Environmental Quality Act like the Maglev and CHSRA projects.
Tourists will disembark the 150 mph diesel-electric DX line in Palmdale to reach Los Angeles on the 220 mph CHSRA line powered through renewable energy. The developments are unfortunate for the Ontario International Airport as the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev would divert air traffic from John Wayne and LAX to the under utilized facility. But it is worse for the long distance commuters in the high desert who could use the Maglev to reach the Los Angeles basin for work.
The Maglev plans to connect the The Strip with Anaheim on 269 miles of elevated track in 86 minutes. It would stop in Ontario and the historic Route 66 Barstow Depot. En route to Primm, Nev., the Maglev would reach 310 mph and be the fastest train on the globe.