Friday, April 07, 2006

Mag-Lev and Rail

I was first introduced to mag-lev (magnetic levitation) was in the 1986 Vancouver World Expo, where Japan's exhibit had a short mag-lev train for riding. I have been aware that Japan has continued to push ahead with their own mag-lev research, but until today, I had not kept up with developments in the United States.

However, according to Business Week, Senator Harry Reid has been continuously salting away research money for a mag-lev train from Anaheim to Las Vegas. This is interesting. Although mag-lev is a fascinating technology, I wonder if a train from Anaheim to Vegas is a worthwhile investment.

While I would be interested to see a practical use of the mag-lev technology, I also wonder if Americans can be convinced to once again use trains in preference to air travel. In Japan, the rail system is both very good and very extensive. In this country, that is not the case, and has not been the case for a good long time. Therefore, unless we can guarantee that Americans will embrace a rail travel that is still not as fast as air travel, I doubt this is a good investment.

While I am not a fan of the many stupidities of the DHS connected with air travel, I do not see a viable alternative at this time, especially in this age of time-is-of-the-essence business thinking. I like trains. But when I need to get to a business meeting today, I will fly. Even to Vegas.

My reasoning is that mag-lev is not particularly energy-efficient, and the number of passengers from LA to Vegas may or may not be enough to keep the train in the black. Also, is this really something that the federal government should be spending money on? If there is a company that thinks they can make a profit, by all means they should make some investments, but I do not think the Federal government should be spending taxpayer dollars for the benefit of LA and Las Vegas, two of the high-dollar tourist attractions already.

This also points to the problem of pork in the federal budget. While this can be rationalized as a good expense (R & D on a potentially useful technology), there are many similar earmarks salted away that have no such excuse. As a taxpayer, I am more than a little upset that the federal government exercises such laxity with our money. Maybe if they had to spend their own money for these things, they might understand the Pork-Busters movement. And if they don't it is time to replace them. The problem is that neither party shows any real budget restraint. The Republicans are spending like drunken sailors. Unfortunately, the Democrats' record is even worse- and they are also un-serious about security. So what is a frustrated taxpayer to do? Support a small-government candidate in the next primary. Let's get these big spenders out of Congress and give someone else a chance!

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