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Opinion: High hopes for Vegas to Victorville high-speed rail

(The following column by Alan Kandel appeared on The Examiner website on June 11, 2009.)

FRESNO, Calif. — Plans to build a high-speed railroad between Las Vegas and Victorville are still on track despite the track being somewhat shorter in length compared to the additional track miles that had been hoped for in the past. The entity planning to answer that call is called DesertXpress.

“Of course it would be great if DesertXpress could be extended to downtown Los Angeles, Anaheim and Ontario, and someday it might. But for this initial project, it is critical for the station to serve the Southern California market and be financeable without public tax dollars.”

A second reason for DesertXpress opting not to extend the line west to L.A. initially is due to Victorville being “the choke point of I-15, where the roadway narrows from from (sic) four through lanes to three in each direction. With the station in Victorville, DesertXpress avoids the uncertainty of the challenging 200-mile drive across the Mojave Desert that could take anywhere from 4 hours to 10 hours – you never know, because of congestion and incidents or accidents,” as noted on the website.

What’s more, Victorville, “for roughly 5 million people who live in the Inland Empire, Antelope Valley, and the eastern portions of Los Angeles County,” is an estimated hour’s drive away or less. For those traveling by car between Los Angeles and the high-desert community, the time will vary, usually from one to two hours or more, depending on traffic and road conditions.

With regard to technology, two train propulsion types are currently being evaluated.

One type is diesel-electric, the type commonly used in most domestic applications where there is a locomotive available piloting said trains. Speeds along the proposed corridor using this propulsion type would be limited to 125 mph max. The second, which more closely resembles high-speed operation in Asia and Europe, according to DesertXpress is called “electric multiple unit” or EMU and would permit speeds up to but not exceeding 150 mph. Using the latter, the 180-mile trip linking the two desert communities together, could be completed “in about 84 minutes,” as information on the website points out.

On the environmental front, benefits are: reduced fossil fuel dependence and less exhaust, presumably from reduced highway and airliner traffic, the trains themselves presumably getting increased market share. Other projected benefits include reduced Interstate-15 Victorville-Vegas traffic demand, fewer accidents and the consequent “injuries and fatalities” and stress, that can often be identified with and/or attributed to such events, improved travel times compared to highway driving and the creation of jobs and the increased economic activity that those jobs would presumably bring. And, last but not least, “a potential future link to California’s proposed high speed rail system and the Metrolink system” could be in the offing information on the website indicates, all contingent, of course, upon the DesertXpress corridor coming to fruition.

At the end of the day, and point-to-point, presumably (I know, I used the word presumably a lot here) a one-part motor vehicle, one-part train trip is far superior, i.e., more relaxing, less stressful, and less environmentally damaging than a comparable all-highway journey between the two points in question. In that sense, high-quality, high-speed rail service the whole way with a planned corridor roughly paralleling and in relative close proximity to I-15 at that, could prove way more successful in the long-run. Definitely something to think about.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

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