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.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: Man of steel …and concrete

In his state of the state address on January 5, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger unvelied his big, bold, borrow-and-build plan. It is a ten-year, $223-billion program of bond measures to build and rebuild schools, jails, highways, levees, and other infrastructure that has not kept up with the fast pace of growth in the state.

Under California’s we-love-gridlock constitution, multiple bond measures will be required, spread out of several years, and each measure will require approval of 2/3 of each house of the legislature before it can even go before the voters.

This causes problems, in that legislators and their construction and development contributors almost inevitably will see the this as a pork-fest. Moreover, the legislature and electorate alike will be free to pass some measures and reject others. Together, the result of the numerous obstacles between proposal and enactment practically ensure that the overall package will lack the kind of coherent and long-range planning the state needs to cope with the expected growth.

Yet another problem is that the infrastructure expansion is unlikely to be accompanied by “smart growth” and improved hazard zoning practices that would prevent the building boom from simply encouraging more sprawl and more settlement in wetlands, senstive coastal regions, and the most earthquake-, flood-, and firestorm-prone regions of the state.

A state commission is needed to ensure that projects are chosen wisely, and that other dimensions of the development and growth policy aside from building stuff are not neglected, as well as to propose constitutional amendments that would allow packaging of inter-related plans that otherwise have to be dealt with in piecemeal fashion. Alas, I doubt this state currently has governance institutions to do this kind massive spending and building effectively and intelligently.

And then there is the general shortchanging of mass transit, which is sorely under-developed in most of this state. (The linked story, alas, is about LA politicians clamoring for their own pet projects to be included in the plan. Oink, oink.)

And then there is Schwarzenegger’s plan to put off of one of the state’s biggest and most-needed infrastructure projects: high-speed rail. Originally planned as a bond measure several years ago to support a public-private partnership to build a network (see map) of high-speed lines and improvements to existing intercity and commuter rail lines, its non-inclusion in Schwarzenegger’s plan could kill it.

Fly California

Amtrak and recess appointments

I don’t normally obtain my politics and policy-making news from the travel section of the newspaper, but this item–the print version of which has been on my desk since Dec. 11–caught my eye for a serious flaw in our appointment process that is affecting the future of the US national rail system, Amtrak.

Arthur Frommer notes that not only was the highly regarded president of Amtrak, David L. Gunn, fired by the board of directors (see Rip Track’s November archives), but also that board separated the profitable Northeast Corridor from the rest of the system and is readying some serious cuts in service elsewhere. Continue reading

What train am I?

You’re the Qinghai-Tibet Railway!
A highly controversial figure in your area, you are not above causing a little trouble in the name of what you believe. Many are debating whether you believe in the unity and convenience you claim to stand for or whether it’s all just a ruse to get back at an old enemy. Whatever the situation actually is, no one can argue that you haven’t been very clever in making your vision come to life. Breaking new ground was bound to stir up trouble anyway. While it seems like you’ve been around for a while, you really only get going in 2006.

Take the Trains and Railroads Quiz
at RMI Miniature Railroads.

h/t: The Country Pundit, via the junction at Cold Spring Shops.

Trains, bridges, and turbines

One of my fascinations is with railroading, but it is something I will leave as a blog theme to DoDo at European Tribune, as well as to Stephen Karlson, and his wonderful Cold Spring Shops (such as his recent Pawtucket post).

Eurotrib also has a semi-regular bridge-blogging feature and recent windfarm blogging—all great for those of us who love infrastructure and engineering!

UPDATE: At a link below Cold Springs Shops has a photo that brings back fond memories for me. It is of a DDA40X Centennial series Union Pacific double-engine locomotive that I remember going out to Cajon Pass to see with my dad many years ago. Watching, hearing, and feeling these behemoths rumble through the mountains is something I will never forget. Check out this photo, taken (not by me, though I have some that could be scanned one day) at Cajon Pass. I have some framed photos here at Fruits & Votes HQ.