It’s not just a seat. It’s a style.
continued from page 74 Beijing’s new high-speed line, which debuted for the
Olympics, can go as fast as 220 miles an hour. Even Argentina is about to
build a 440-mile-long high-speed rail line. What do we have? Well, we’ve got
the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak’s Acela Express can, on a good day—
and only on two short stretches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts—reach
150 miles an hour. And, apparently, we’re gearing up to spend an estimated
$12 billion linking our two most significant tourist destinations.
Meanwhile, California has begun its
own initiative to build an 800-mile,
$40 billion, high-speed rail network.
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To be fair, the headlines didn’t quite get it right. “It’s about a mile and
a half from Disneyland—it doesn’t go into Disneyland,” insists M. Neil
Cummings, a Los Angeles–based attorney who heads up the joint venture,
known as the American Magline Group (AMG), that has been trying to build
the thing for 16 years. The line would run along the traffic-clogged I- 15 corridor and link Anaheim’s planned intermodal train station with the ever-expanding Ontario International Airport, the desert communities of Barstow
and Victorville, Ivanpah—an airport 25 miles outside Las Vegas that’s scheduled to handle the overflow from McCarran—and then the city of Las Vegas.
The route makes all the sense in the world. Indeed, most of it was formerly
traveled by a slowpoke Amtrak line, called the Desert Wind, that was taken
out of service in 1997. (There is also a competing proposal for a privately
funded, steel-wheel, high-speed rail service along the I- 15 right-of-way called
Meanwhile, the always innovative State of California has begun its own
initiative to build an 800-mile, $40 billion, high-speed rail network. It would
feature sleek, aerodynamic, state-of-the-art trains—like they have in Europe—
connecting San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and more
than a dozen other cities. A bond issue for the first $9.95 billion installment
will be on the November ballot.
Clearly, given that gas prices have driven mass-transit ridership to record
levels, that the carbon footprint has entered the American mainstream, that air
travel is tied up in knots, and that “change”—all shimmery and miragelike—
is coming soon to Washington, this could finally be high-speed rail’s moment
in the United States. But maglev? “It floats, it’s frictionless, and it’s emissions free,” Cummings says, making it sound like a flying carpet. “And it’s
quieter. It wraps around the guideway, so it can’t derail. The operation-and-maintenance cost is lower.” He acknowledges that the up-front construction
costs are probably higher—a maglev line requires an expensive elevated
track—but argues that conventional railroads require heavy infrastructure in
hilly or mountainous areas and in cities, so the cost differential evens out.
The consortium headed by Cummings is impressive. It consists of Transrapid
International-USA, a division of the firm that built a maglev test track in
Emsland, Germany, and also worked on one in Shanghai; Hirschfeld Steel
Company, one of America’s largest steel fabricators; Parsons, which has
long been a maglev consultant to the Federal Railroad Administration; and
General Atomics, a defense contractor that is known for its work on the
Pentagon’s Predator program and, as its name suggests, is heavily involved in
the nuclear-power industry. Cummings says, “The operations of maglev, by
the way, requires no foreign oil. It’s all electricity that is continued on page 78