I was driving one of my stepsons from Madera to Fresno Yosemite International Airport the other day, and he was ogling the superstructure that has been built alongside State Route 99 for the California High-Speed Rail System, especially the bridge that crosses the San Joaquin River.
“There went the city,” I said. “It will be like a 540-mile-long airport.”
That got me thinking about how the HSR project could have been different, or more efficient, or both, and then I remembered the Seattle Monorail.
The monorail only has one track going each way. The cars ride above traffic. Although in Seattle, the cars don’t go much above 45 mph, they are capable of speeds well over 100 miles an hour. New monorail technology makes speeds of some 250 miles per hour possible, but none has been put into general use that will go that fast.
A monorail rides a single track attached to a beam that runs above automobile and truck traffic. The cars run about 20 feet above ground. They are powered by electricity, and run smoothly, quietly and efficiently.
A monorail system could be designed to run mostly along freeway rights-of-way, which would have done away with one of the biggest problems still being solved by the HSR System, which is acquisition of right-of-way.
They can stop and accelerate quickly.
Monorails would be a fast rail, but not a high-speed rail in the European or Asian tradition.
No rail service would be as fast as flying, from portal to portal, but monorail service probably would be a good choice for the money between stops.
It’s too late now to change horses in the middle of the stream and get at least part of the high-speed rail put in as a monorail.
And too many billions already have been spent — er — wasted.