Monday, March 16, 2009

About That California Train

Part of the earmarks the GOP has been yammering about is high speed rail between "Disneyland and Las Vegas." Faux News has even said it was a line between "Disneyland and a Bunny Ranch."

Since I lived in Orange County and within earshot of Disneyland for decades, I thought I'd write up some facts that folks unfamiliar with the area might not know.

• There have been plans for a high-speed rail line between southern CA and Las Vegas for years.
• The current budget calls for increase rail funding but there is no mention of any rail lines between CA and NV. Although the transportation commission could choose to fund one out of that money.
• The train would not go to "Disneyland" but to the main terminal in Anaheim which is central to Orange County and would connect to existing Amtrak and MetroLink lines. Disneyland happens to be in Anaheim, but interestingly, Anaheim Stadium where the Angels play and Anaheim Pond where the Ducks play are closer to the train terminal. The story of "Disneyland" and "Bunny Ranch" is too juicy even though it is misleading. Hey, that's Faux News!
• There is no "Bunny Ranch" in Las Vegas. Prostitution is illegal in Las Vegas (but legal in other parts of Nevada).

Why not build a freeway instead?
• Freeways can cost between $10-20M per lane mile. It is 265 miles from Anaheim to Las Vegas.
• Congestion on the CA-91, I-10 and I-15 freeways causes 4-5 hour delays of stop and go traffic on Friday and Sunday nights as folks commute from LA to the desert. Honestly, building more freeway lanes would not alleviate the congestion. It is shown that freeway expansions reach their new capacity shortly after opening because all of the folks who avoided the freeway jump on when things are moving again. (They doubled the I-5 from 6 to 12 lanes when I lived in the OC and it took about 2 months for the widened freeway to reach the same gridlock.) The wider freeways handle more cars moving 3 feet at a time. This wouldn't solve the problem, just exacerbate it.

Why not increase the number of flights?
• LAX is currently spending over $2B on capacity expansion, mostly for international traffic. These airports not only handle traffic to Vegas, but intra-CA and international. What costs would be incurred at LAX and McCarran in Vegas to support this?
• Orange County's John Wayne Airport is under flight restrictions to mitigate noise pollution for nearby Newport Beach and Balboa Island. This means they can't just increase air traffic there. You can't take off before 7 a.m. or land after 11 p.m. (I've been on delayed flights out of O'Hare where we were too late and had to land at LAX and bus the rest of the way.) There are only so many slots available, and runs to Vegas would not be as profitable as longer flights so airlines aren't likely to increase capacity unless ticket prices rise...which defeats the purpose of installing a cheap and efficient transportation option.

Why would this rail line be a good idea?
• A reduction in pollution and wasted fuel.
• Could this create a budding U.S. high speed rail industry that has gone to France, Japan, and Germany?
• It could increase tourism in both places. With a convenient way to get to one place from the other, how many foreign tourists would extend their stay if it was fast, convenient, and cheap to do so?

California's population is expected to increase from today's total of 36.5 million to 70 million in 2050. We need to put the infrastructure in place NOW. Even the GOP Governator agrees.

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