File this under Only in America; the recently-passed national transportation bill includes $42 million to fund further research on a proposed Anaheim to Las Vegas (Disneyland to Casinoland) magnetic levitation high-speed rail system, designed to whisk the entertainment-starved between the two spots at speeds up to 310 mph. I can just see parents loading the kids on the Maglev and shipping them off to Disneyland (Walt Disney, NYSE:DIS) while Mom and Dad hit the craps tables in Sin City.
This funding, of course, is only a drop in the enormous bucket of this cutting-edge technology. The final cost to construct the system is currently estimated at $12 billion. Imagine the ticket prices- even more than entry to Disneyland, including refreshments!
The technology, which has been under study for more than 20 years, has been proven in a number of demonstration project and is currently in use in several sites, most notably a 19-mile stretch in Shanghai, China. The advent of superconductors has helped the technology leap forward, and many countries have preliminary plans to construct the systems. In the U.S., various groups are promoting maglev lines connecting Baltimore and D.C., San Diego to a new proposed airport, through the Pittsburgh area, and Atlanta to Chattanooga.
Part of the high cost of such system stems from the need to construct new corridors; maglev trains don't operate on rail, but rather float over a different type of rail on a cushion of air maintained by magnetic repulsion. In this respect, finding a corridor across the southern desert should be easier than in densely inhabited areas.
However, I have to wonder if this makes financial sense. Assuming a round-trip price similar to that of an airline ($172 at this moment on Delta), just to gross $12 billion, this train would have to carry 10,000 passengers a day, every day for 20 years. To net $12 billion, the number would probably be, who know? 100,000 a day?
With countries around the world preparing to build their own demonstration projects, wouldn't it be smarter to learn on their dime, and wait until the economies of scale are in our favor before building such a costly system?
And do you suppose our money could be better spent connecting sites of less ephemeral value? In this instance, I wouldn't mind if what happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas.