Los Angeles airport commissioners on Wednesday endorsed a private partnership's proposal to build a high-speed magnetic-levitation train from Los Angeles International Airport to Palmdale Airport that would serve commuters, airport-bound travelers and gamblers headed for Las Vegas.
The 69-mile futuristic line, which faces formidable economic, political and technological hurdles, would carry trains at up to 100 m.p.h. on tracks elevated along the San Diego, Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways.
Members of the Los Angeles Board of Airport Commissioners unanimously embraced the proposal, welcoming it as possibly the long-sought key to opening up Palmdale Airport to relieve overcrowding that threatens to overwhelm LAX at the end of this decade.
Since buying thousands of acres in the Antelope Valley in 1967, city airport officials have sought continuously to find a way to build a rail line to transport passengers to what they hope will be a major airport.
"With this plan, we might finally be getting that rail link, and not a moment too soon," said Clifton A. Moore, general manager since 1968 of the Los Angeles Department of Airports and a leading proponent of expanding Palmdale, which now serves only a handful of regional flights.
The proposal also could salvage Los Angeles' long-shot gambit to be connected to a proposed Las Vegas-to-Anaheim magnetic-levitation system.
Bechtel Corp., which heads a consortium that is the lone bidder on the proposed 265-mile Las Vegas system, has given a low priority to Los Angeles' bid to connect to the line by way of Palmdale, saying Anaheim would generate far more passengers.
However, under the proposal endorsed by airport commissioners Wednesday, Las Vegas passengers would transfer in Palmdale to trains on a 41-mile Victor Valley-to-Palmdale spur off the proposed Las Vegas-to-Anaheim system.
Although the LAX-to-Palmdale plan lacks major details, Mayor Tom Bradley endorsed it last week, calling it a "major asset for commuters" bogged down in traffic on the San Diego and Antelope Valley freeways.
The proposal is one of nine that the state Department of Transportation will evaluate in the next two months under a new program mandated by the state Legislature in which for-profit firms are authorized to build transportation projects in return for use of state right of way.
Caltrans plans to announce up to four winners in the program on Sept. 17.
The state, which will provide the right of way without charge, will own the projects but the firms building them will lease back the facilities for up to 35 years and will keep all fees or tolls. The Las Vegas line is being evaluated by the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission, created by the legislatures of the two states in 1988.
The partners who drafted the mag-lev proposal, Perini Corp., a Framingham, Mass., construction firm, and DMJM, a Los Angeles-based engineering firm, have not determined its cost or such critical details as how many stations to build and where they would be located.
Dan Townsend, a DMJM vice president, said that while a West German-developed mag-lev system such as that proposed for Las Vegas-to-Anaheim would have a top speed of nearly 300 m.p.h., the Perini-DMJM partnership was focusing on Japanese technology "which is better suited for urban and suburban settings" and would go no faster than 100 to 120 m.p.h.
LAX, now straining under 45 million passengers a year, could accommodate a maximum of 65 million provided large numbers of passengers use buses, shuttles and the Metro Green Line light-rail system scheduled to be completed to the airport in 1994, airport officials say.
Moore, the general manager, said that the 65-million passenger limit will be reached by the turn of the century, "and then we will have no solutions" other than the proposed rail system to Palmdale.