Comrade Maglev …

Maglev is the magic bullet now being discussed in those communities directly affected by the air pollution and highway congestion caused by ever-increasing volumes of imported intermodal containers.

Maglev, we’ve been advised, is the renowned Russian logistician being courted by U.S. transportation officials who have been seeking ways to reduce the many and varied environmental problems that have arisen because of the industry’s King Midas complex.

These transportation officials know all about the advantages gained by “spreading the risk”. They know that the terrible health problems caused by concentrated port operations could be ameliorated by simply directing traffic to other seaports. But they also know that transferring, or “laying off”, that risk also requires that a corresponding amount of money must accompany that transfer … in the same way that bookies and insurance companies transfer funds to cover risks. And that’s the fly in the ointment. Giving up those funds is simply unacceptable. Let somebody else give up funds, say the authorities. OPM is the name of the game, after all. Comrade Maglev will show us a way.

What’s that again? You’re kidding. Maglev isn’t a Russian logistician? He’s a … he’s not a … Maglev is an acronym? Maglev stands for magnetic levitation? Well, it’s still the magic bullet everyone’s been dreaming about, isn’t it?. How else would the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach be able to handle the buildup to 21 million 40-foot containers by the year 2030? And isn’t levitation some form of magic?

This magic act, this magic levitation, or magnetic levitation … or whatever … is priced at about $ 100 million per mile. They’re planning on a 5-mile stretch from Terminal Island to a proposed rail terminal in the north, a 20-mile line along the Long Beach Freeway, and a 100-mile network connecting the port to outlying distribution hubs. [Guess who’ll foot the bill.]

Spurs would extend from main lines to port terminals where heavy (pollution-emitting)equipment would shuttle containers from ships and storage yards to magnetic levitation trains. These containers would then be transferred to trucks and trains by similar (pollution-emitting) methods.

It’s worth noting, however, that officials at the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) say that studies may have overstated the economic feasibility of the maglev system by underestimating the costs of moving cargo at port terminals and rail yards. According to Mr. Danny Wu, the manager of SCAG’s goods movement program, the studies “did not consider all the complexities of the logistics chain. They underestimated the costs, which goes to feasibility.”

“We still need to do the assessments,” said Philip Law, manager of SCAG’s transportation corridor program. “What makes maglev attractive are zero emissions and electric power, which gives it an advantage over diesel trucks. But it’s pretty expensive, and how to get containers from ships to the trains needs to be worked out.” [Whatever the cost, though … guess who’ll pay.]