Transportation headlines, Tuesday, November 19

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ART OF TRANSIT: Monday afternoon’s sunset as seen from Metro HQ. From our Instagram feed.

Japan pitches its high-speed train with an offer to finance (New York Times)

Japan plans to build a $100-billion mag-lev train between Tokyo and Osaka, with the route relying heavily on tunnels through mountains. Test trains on test track have gone 360 mph due to the technology — at about 90 mph, the wheels of the train begin levitate a few inches off the ground.

But the project faces skepticism at home, due mostly to its immense cost. Excerpt:

To get the American line off the ground, Japan has come up with a method of financing that is similarly novel. In a meeting with President Obama last winter, Mr. Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system free for the first portion of the line, linking Washington and Baltimore via Baltimore-Washington International Airport, a distance of about 40 miles.

Analysts say Japan has had trouble exporting the technology. It figures if the United States takes it, others will follow.

Several high-profile former politicians and government transportation officials have thrown their weight behind a proposed New York-to-Washington maglev project. Many of those folks were on a recent ride, as was a reporter for the NYT.

Here’s the issue. Maglev always sounds good, and it probably is cool to ride. But every time it is proposed in the U.S., it is usually spurned in favor of existing rail technology, usually because traditional rail is both cheaper and a known commodity. Thus, the money saved on a free Baltimore-to-D.C. segment may not be much compared to the vast cost of the Baltimore-NYC part of the project.

London tube to help heat homes (Sustainable Review)

Mayor Boris Johnson announced that excess heat from the subway will be used to heat about 500 homes. How it works (brief version): heat from the tube’s ventilation system will be channeled to a different network of pipes carrying warm air to the homes.

Huizar needs a ‘Streetcar Austin Beutner’ if streetcar is to succeed (Downtown News)

This long editorial urges downtown Los Angeles Councilman Jose Huizar to hire a manager to oversee the proposed DTLA streetcar, which in recent weeks has faced scrutiny over possible — and significant — cost increases.

11 replies

  1. Mr. Dunn, I don’t think having vintage trolleys is the worst possible choice foe the Historic Core of L.A., and I’d certainly rather have them than nothing. But modern streetcars should be our first thought, as I’m sure it was in San Francisco. State-of-the-art streetcars would do much to advertise this mode of transportation as comfortable, quiet, safe and convenient. And we do need to advertise it in transit resistant L.A. As for streetlights in San Diego, I think that’s more of an architectural detail.

  2. Hunter:
    If you were aware of the actual maintenance cost for older transit vehicles vs new ones you would not make that statement. With all the on board computers and modern systems incorporated in new buses the rate of breakdown coupled with the inability to fix said problems on the road is much higher. The same is true for streetcars and light rail vehicles. When San Francisco started replacing their PCC’s with new light rail vehicles it initially was almost a complete failure. The first trains did not last that long and had to be replaced prior to their projected life. PCC’s use simpler systems and their breakdown rate is far rarer than light rail vehicles and modern streetcars. Concerning PCC’s being wheelchair accessible, the ones in San Francisco are at every stop.

  3. Ron,

    Maybe you haven’t been there in many years. Downtown is booming and they had the support to raise their local taxes for a streetcar. That simply wouldn’t happen in many car oriented neighborhoods in Los Angeles.

  4. Downtown is downtown. Most of it is in shambles. The other areas Of Los Angeles are much more presentable and just as deserving.

  5. We’re not running trams so that people can have 1950s nostalgia or for the “historical vibe,” we’re building trams so that people living in Downtown LA can get where they are going quick and easily.

    I’d rather have a modern tram system that is cheaper to operate and maintain (it’s our tax money you know) like the ones they have in Europe: quick, fast, easy to get on and off.

    Besides, the newer modern low floor trams are build with easy access for the disabled in mind. Have you thought of riding those San Francisco cable cars or the trolleys on a wheelchair?

  6. Day Walker:.
    I’ve seen the new streetcars in Portland. They do not belong in a area that the City of Los Angeles is trying restore as a historic area. Think of what they did in San Diego replacing modern street lights with ones that reflect their historic area. A ideal place to provide these ultra modern streetcars would be an area like Century City or even the Figueroa Corridor.

    P. Hunter:
    San Francisco’s PCC’s and other cars have been very successful and the Muni makes more money via fares than any other light rail line in their system. In addition much of the rehab and maintenance is provided by a organization interested in streetcar preservation. There are numerous organizations in Southern California dedicated to the same purpose. Also in San Pedro a private company is operating a Red Car (Pacific Electric) line using one old P. E. car and two replica’s. Think about it. Walt Disney attempted to recreate Main St. at the turn of the century. He didn’t put the Monorail down the middle of it, he put horse drawn streetcars and other turn of the century vehicles. Putting a ultra modern streetcar down Broadway will detract from the Historic Core experience

  7. How about letting Japan build the Maglev between LA and Las Vegas instead?

    The Desert Express idea is now dead, why not let Japan build a maglev between LA and Vegas then?

  8. mike dunn,

    The same reason that many cities around the world runs modern trams in their historic core?

    Old streetcars like the ones running down Market St. in San Francisco cost a lot of money to maintain and if a certain part needs to be replaced, there are no parts available to replace them with. It has to be then specially made which adds up to more costs.

    You have to think the long term costs of operating the tram system too you know. Where are we going to find funding for maintaining historical streetcars?

  9. I have to disagree with Mr. Dunn. Modern streetcars in the historic core will contribute to a sense of L.A. as a vital metropolis that remembers and values its history. A ‘historic’ trolley disney-fies the experience, turning it into a theme park.

  10. Why would anyone want to put a ultra modern streetcar in a area being revitalized as the “Historic Core?” A old PCC car or replica would enhance the project not detract from it. PCC car’s have proved to be a great success in places like San Francisco.

  11. Will Metro use the hot air generated by its subway to heat its stations during the winter. Will it also use the cool air in the tunnels to cool the stations during summer?