The proposed high-speed train from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to Ontario is an exciting prospect for many reasons. It would fuel economic growth for the region while reducing air pollution and freeway congestion. And it would not involve much taxpayer money.
Los Angeles City Council gave the train system initial approval last week by creating a joint powers authority with Ontario and West Covina that will further study the project and, if it's a go, act as the construction authority for the magnetic-levitation train line.
Maglev trains have been talked about for many years in Southern California government circles, but the huge expense of building the systems has prevented implementation of the plans. What's different - and promising - about this proposal is that a private company wants to spend $26 billion to build a system that would ferry freight and passengers through this congested area.
American Mag-Lev, based in Atlanta, says it could complete the first spur, from the ports to downtown L.A., in three years. Freight is actually the key to this plan, because that's where the money is.
The ports of L.A. and Long Beach handle about 43 percent of the nation's imports, about $300 billion worth of goods in 14 million containers every year. That trade is a huge source of jobs and economic activity for Southern California, fueling the logistics industry that is so important to the Inland Empire.
Unfortunately, the trade is also an enormous source of health-threatening emissions, especially the particulate matter expelled by diesel engines. Studies have shown the detrimental effect on children's developing lungs in the Inland Empire. Whether you live in San Bernardino, Crestline or Ontario, port-related pollution affects your family's health.
There's also the matter of truck congestion on our freeways. Port trade is predicted to triple or quadruple by 2025, but our freeways and our lungs can't take all the truck traffic and diesel train traffic that would add.
That's where the maglev train would come in, propelled by electromagnetic force at up to 310 mph. It would take countless polluting diesels off the roads.
American Mag-Lev plans to recoup the $26 billion in building costs by shipping freight. The firm wanted to move only cargo, but the Southern California Association of Governments insisted on a passenger component, said Ontario Councilman Alan Wapner, a member of the SCAG Transportation Committee.
Moving passengers on the maglev between downtown Los Angeles and L.A./Ontario International Airport, with a stop in West Covina, would also take some commuters off the roads and would allow the Ontario airport to reach its passenger potential.
And American Mag-Lev has plans to extend its line to Barstow eventually.
Of course, there are many hurdles before all this comes to pass. SCAG would have to secure rights of way and, Wapner points out, the plan has not yet received enough scrutiny to prove valid. American Mag-Lev's belief that it can build the line much more cheaply than other companies might be overly optimistic.
But this is a plan with huge potential upsides for the region. Every effort should be made to bring it to fruition.
LA Daily News
By Rick Orlov, Staff Writer
A massive plan to accelerate transportation in the region with a $26 billion high-speed train system received initial approval from the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday as it created a joint-powers agreement with neighboring cities.
The move marked the first step in negotiations to solidify an Atlanta-based firm's proposal to construct a magnetic-levitation train system that would start at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, run through downtown and eventually reach Ontario Airport.
Los Angeles City Councilman Greig Smith said American Maglev Technology would foot the bill for the system and has been working with the Southern California Association of Governments on its proposal.
SCAG is prohibited from working on construction projects and asked Los Angeles to form the joint-powers authority with West Covina and Ontario.
"Our role will be to make sure all the rights-of-way are secured," Smith said. "All the costs are to be paid for by American Maglev and they said they can complete the first spur in three years from the ports to downtown."
The move is the latest to try to ease transit in the region.
The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach handle roughly 43 percent of the nation's imports and make up the world's fifth-largest port complex, handling some $300 billion worth of goods in 14 million containers every year.
But more than 16,000 trucks travel through the Los Angeles port every day, clogging the 710 Freeway and other thoroughfares.
Last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed a $15 billion Goods Movement Action Plan, with some 200 projects designed to improve transit in California.
The recommended projects include operational changes such as staggering the times for vessel departures and arrivals; expanding the labor force at the ports; and using ships rather than rail and trucks to transport goods between Southern and Northern California.
Infrastructure projects include grade separations along the Alameda Corridor so trains and passenger vehicles do not have to slow down at crossings; widening freeways to the Mexican border; and building truck-only lanes on major trade corridors.
Meanwhile, a $9.95 billion bond measure is set to be on the November ballot to fund initial work on a 700-mile high-speed rail system from Los Angeles to San Francisco.
The first phase of that project would begin in Orange County and run through Los Angeles. The measure requires a simple majority vote, a California High Speed Rail authority spokesman said.
The project the council voted on Wednesday envisions a magnetic-levitation train that is suspended, guided and propelled by electromagnetic force.
While American Maglev is a relatively new company, it has a prototype system in Atlanta. Company officials did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
But Alan Wapner, an Ontario council member and head of the SCAG Transportation Committee, said the project has a long way to go before final approval.
"It hasn't gone under any kind of scrutiny and we aren't sure how valid the proposal is," Wapner said. "American Maglev has proved their technology, but we want to see more on whether it can be done.
"The advantage they have over other firms is they are offering to pay to build the system."
Wapner said the firm originally wanted to be involved only in cargo transportation, but SCAG insisted that it include a passenger component.
"These are things the JPA will look at, but we still have to determine the makeup of that group, who will staff it and how it will operate," Wapner said.
Smith said American Maglev is hoping to recoup its cost primarily through the transportation of cargo and has plans to extend its north-south line to Barstow, which would allow the city to create a stop at Palmdale International Airport.
City officials are working with airlines to encourage that the Palmdale facility be used for more cargo operations.
"Also, we have heard there is interest by Disneyland to try to get a connection to the line and we have also heard some of the tribes in the desert area are interested in working on this," Smith said.
If the plan moves forward, American Maglev has said it would open a Los Angeles office - it has already formed a local company called EMMI Logistics Solutions Inc. - as a headquarters and would hire 200 people.
Smith said much of the firm's work also is done in Santa Fe Springs, which could lead to additional local hiring.
Smith said company officials believe they can build the system at a cost of $13 million to $16 million a mile - about one-third the cost of other companies.
Councilman Bill Rosendahl, the city's representative on the Southern California Regional Airport Authority, suggested that group also be consulted on the project.
Smith, who is the city's representative to SCAG, said he has been working on the proposal for more than a year as the regional government agency has studied various ways to develop a rail system through the area.
Councilwoman Janice Hahn suggested that the Alameda Corridor Authority be brought into the negotiations.
"I'm not sure this will be built in our lifetime, but maybe, maybe," Hahn said. "This is a very important concept for our region. There is the people aspect to this, but the biggest benefit could be cargo.
"We all know the truck traffic from the port causes congestion and pollution."