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Unusual proposals not likely to challenge existing Las Vegas rail plans

(The following story by Richard N. Velotta appeared on the Las Vegas Sun website on October 16, 2009.)

LAS VEGAS — We have all heard about those two high-speed rail proposals that promise to whisk passengers between Las Vegas and Southern California in little more than an hour.

But next week Las Vegans will get a look at three concepts that supporters think could be the future of mass transportation.

UNLV’s Transportation Research Center and the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce have held public meetings to explain DesertXpress, the proposed $4 billion steel-wheels-on-rails system that would link Las Vegas with Victorville, Calif., and the American Magline Group’s $12 billion maglev train between Las Vegas and Anaheim, Calif.

Both have boosters and critics.

DesertXpress backers say the proposal uses tried-and-true technology and that getting the train built is only the first step in linking up with the planned California high-speed rail network that would be built within 50 miles of Victorville at Palmdale. Eventually, supporters say, there would be a link to Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Maglev boosters, meanwhile, say DesertXpress uses 19th-century technology when 21st-century vehicles are available. The higher cost, they say, would be offset by less-expensive maintenance costs.

Backers say maglev, unlike DesertXpress, could negotiate the grades at Cajon Pass at the entry to the Los Angeles Basin and take passengers to destinations they actually want to go to.

But at 6 p.m. on Oct. 19 at UNLV’s Science and Engineering Building, maglev and DesertXpress take a back seat to three high-speed rail proposals that some say are being developed by visionaries while others say they are just nuts.

Presentations are scheduled by California-based Frank Randak, an advocate of AVT SolaTrek, a highway-decluttering maglev hybrid that motorists would be able to board while the train is in motion; Texas-based Robert Pulliam of Tubular Rail that puts the rails on the vehicle and the locomotion in a series of O-rings stretched across the countryside; and America’s Sunlight Bullet Expressway, a subsidiary of a Las Vegas-based operation that would blend rail transportation with electrical transmission lines linking cities with solar-power generation stations.

Developers of the three systems have their eyes on Southern Nevada as a potential launch site.

Randak of Thousand Oaks, Calif., wants to build a full-size, proof-of-concept system at UNLV. He is raising $5 million from investors to build the demonstration track.

The company’s patented design is for a system that would take cars off highways and onto solar-powered maglev trains on elevated guideways.

The system’s fascinating aspect — and maybe its biggest detriment — is all its moving parts. It proposes cars pull into an automated shuttle vehicle that matches the speed of a moving train, which is loaded by a conveyor system. Once loaded, passengers can get out of their cars in their private train compartments that have air conditioning, restrooms and entertainment centers.

The trains use a maglev system to move between cities, and Randak says the trip from Ventura, Calif., to Las Vegas would take about two hours.

“The AVT SolaTrek solves congestion problems by providing fast, safe, quiet, private and solar-powered transportation for vehicles and their passengers and costs less than driving,” Randak says in an executive summary.

Pulliam’s Tubular Rail is being studied by the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University, but the route between Las Vegas and Southern California is compelling to its developer. Unlike DesertXpress and maglev, Pulliam is eyeing a route parallel to U.S. 95 south from Las Vegas and skirting the eastern edge of the Mojave National Preserve before heading to Palm Springs, then west to Los Angeles.

Tubular rail would operate as a single rigid train unit that runs through a series of elevated support rings like thread through a series of needles. The train would be in contact with two or three rings at all times as it passes from one to the next. Guidance rails would be mounted on each train and electric motors would be mounted in each O-ring. Pulliam said trains should be able to achieve speeds up to 150 mph.

Pulliam said the question he is asked most often is: How does the train turn? The system would have a 7,000-foot turning radius and each ring in a turn is offset slightly to enable the train to gradually move in another direction, he said.

America’s Sunlight Bullet Expressway is a system advocated by Las Vegas-based Transcontinental Transmission & Transportation Network, which proposes electricity-powered trains in a national network that could house high-tension transmission lines.

The initial link would be construction of a train with a top speed of 220 mph between Las Vegas and John Wayne Airport in Orange County.

“Unlike the DesertXpress or the maglev proposals, it is not a single-purpose train, but a complete national transportation system,” a company-produced release said. “When completed, it will include the world’s largest solar system, stretching from coast to coast, with high-tension transmission lines and substations to supply cities, towns and the nation, electrified highways for electric cars and commercial vehicles.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

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