If ‘Plan A’ for a high-speed train derails, ‘Plan B’ stands ready

So what happens if high-speed rail plans in California derail? Is there a Plan B to get Las Vegans to LA?

The answer is obvious: Revive the original idea of using maglev technology, which wouldn’t be hindered by the steep grades of Cajon Pass and could shuttle passengers to and from Anaheim in about the same time it would take DesertXpress to run from Las Vegas to Victorville. The maglev plan, backed by the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission and endorsed by the Nevada Transportation Department and several Southern California municipalities along its route, is still alive.

Neil Cummings, president of American Magline Group, the company contracted to carry out the commission’s plan, says not much has happened since July 2009 when the scope of work for the starter segment of the project and $45 million in funding were approved.

“We’re still pursuing all possibilities to make this happen,” Cummings said last week. “Unfortunately, there’s been no communication from the Federal Railroad Administration, which has been beyond frustrating.”

But there have been a few developments on the maglev front.

Kevin Coates, executive director of the North American Maglev Transport Institute, says maglev construction costs have come down over the years as more efficient guideway manufacturing methods have advanced. High-speed rail systems in China and Japan are being upgraded to maglev systems because maintenance costs are lower.

“Nobody wants to talk about the annual operation and maintenance costs of traditional rail systems,” Coates says. “Mechanical systems are maintenance intensive. Therein lies the advantage of maglev. You escape that trap. Last week, the Japanese government, the oldest operators of high-speed rail, moved toward making the switch to maglev.

“Why would the world’s No. 1 operator of high-speed transportation systems do that? Because it makes financial sense. It’s absolutely irresponsible for the US government to ignore this kind of development, and the line between Las Vegas and Southern California is a golden opportunity to leapfrog the technology of the past and reinvigorate and re-energize our manufacturing technology.”

Coates says such a leap would be similar to what occurred in the 1830s.

“We turned Tom Thumb (originally developed by British inventors) into an American technology and built the transcontinental railroad. There’s no reason why that can’t happen again.”



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