High cost of high-speed rail to potential Imperial airport for San Diego

Among the many proposals for a major modern airpoprt to replace San Diego Lindbergh is a plan to build an airport in the desert of Imperial County, where land is cheap and flat and, unlike San Diego’s limited available flat land, not under military occupation. A key problem, however, is how far away the Imperial desert is from the metro area, and that the land between the city and the desert is anything but flat.

As a result of the distance and rugged terrain, the only way to make such a plan viable is with a high-speed rail link. The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has been looking at costs of a possible magnetic levitation train system that would take people from a check-in terminal that was centrally located out to the airport at speeds of around 175 MPH.

The costs are prohibitive, and the technology still mostly unproven in commercial operation. Anyone who has ever driven between San Diego and southeastern California or Arizona knows how rugged the mountains east of the metro area are. Interstate 8 is perhaps the most winding of all interstate highways, and has stretches that are among the steepest. The eastbound and westbound roadways pass through separate narrow canyons and cuts. It is hard to imagine a train line being pushed through there. Alternatives include a tunnel, which adds significantly to the cost projections, or following the slightly less steep route of the existing (but not operational) San Diego and Arizona Eastern. The SD&AE dips below the border into Mexico and then crosses back into the USA to go over the amazing Carrizo Gorge trestle.

As much as I would enjoy being magnetically levitated through the Carrizo Gorge on my way to London or Prague, I find it terribly ironic that the proposed city terminal could be at Miramar MCAS, otherwise known as San Diego’s prime location for an international airport.

For more, see the previous post (which drew several interesting comments) on San Diego’s search for a real airport.

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