Friday, February 1st, 2008 at 6:06 pm in high-speed rail.
Today was a big day for high-speed rail in the Bay Area, what with representatives of Japan’s nearly half-century-old Shinkansen network in San Francisco to talk about how they made it all work.
“It was excellent,” said Judge Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board. “Those Japanese go all out. That was well-done.”
The presentation went all the way back to the early 1960s, when the system started and opened in time for the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Now the system has over 1,500 miles operating.
It’s enough to make California HSR supporters misty-eyed.
While we were on the subject, I asked the judge if he’d seen yesterday’s storyin the LA Daily News about the privately funded, $26 billion plan to build a magnetic levitation train from Long Beach to downtown Los Angeles to Ontario. Oddly enough, it’s cargo-oriented, with the aim of relieving the heavy burden the ports of Long Beach and LA have on the region’s freeways and rail lines.
The story told of how the LA City Council agreed to create a joint-powers authority with neighboring cities to help the private maglev program obtain rights-of-way:
The move marked the first step in negotiations to solidify an Atlanta-based firm’s proposal to construct a magnetic-levitation train system that would start at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, run through downtown and eventually reach Ontario Airport.
Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith said American Maglev Technology would foot the bill for the system and has been working with the Southern California Association of Governments on its proposal.
SCAG is prohibited from working on construction projects and asked Los Angeles to form the joint-powers authority with West Covina and Ontario.
The company is called American Maglev, and the story says it’s got a prototype system in Atlanta.
The question I had for Judge Kopp was, if you guys are trying to build a $40 billion high-speed train system that runs on rails and goes about 100 mph slower than maglev, won’t this dampen enthusiasm for your already wobbly and nearly unfunded enterprise?
Ok, so I may have phrased the question a bit more simply. Kopp hesitated only slightly, saying he wanted to be diplomatic in his answer.
“The print story to me is exaggerated,” he said, noting that an Ontario City Councilman and member of the Southern California Association of Governments, said the project “has a long way to go before final approval”:
It hasn’t gone under any kind of scrutiny and we aren’t sure how valid the proposal is,” Wapner said. “American Maglev has proved their technology, but we want to see more on whether it can be done.
“The advantage they have over other firms is they are offering to pay to build the system.”
Wapner said the firm originally wanted to be involved only in cargo transportation, but SCAG insisted that it include a passenger component.
Kopp said American Maglev and a couple of professors from upstate New York have also been by his authority’s offices to pitch their ideas on maglev, which is lifted and pushed along by repelling electromagnets.
The idea hasn’t had much traction, however, and Kopp said the technology, different from the one being used to whisk passengers to Shanghai’s airport, has yet to be proven.
Certainly the Japanese model of high-speed ground transport has been proven over the decades, but I couldn’t help wondering why high-speed rail boosters would be so dismissive of maglev.
Maybe it’s because the proven technology of high-speed rail is hard enough to sell in a cash-strapped state would rather be spending its billions on a new health-care system, but can’t even seem to get that chugging along.
Graphic from http://ntl.bts.gov