The Little Train That Couldn't
INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
March 17, 2003
The German government has spent several decades along
with billions of dollars developing and testing a superspeed train called
the Transrapid. The magnetically levitated train was conceived by Westinghouse/AEG
Germany and has traveled tens of thousands of miles safely at speeds of
up to 350 miles per hour on an oval test track built over fields and through
the forests of Bavaria. The diminutive train is designed to ride on a magnetic
field just a half-inch above its elevated guideway being pulled along by
magnets imbedded in the track ahead. Since there are no wheels with their
inherent friction, the only obstacle to achieving even greater speeds is
the aerodynamic drag of the wind on the streamlined fuselage.
In the late 1980s, a delegation of people representing
the Las Vegas City Council, the Clark County Commission, and the Las Vegas
Convention and Visitors Authority traveled to Germany at the expense of
Westinghouse/AEG and the German Government to experience a ride on the
Transrapid. I was among those privileged to be in the delegation.
Upon arriving at the test facility, I was amazed to see
what appeared to be a rather worn looking little train barely sixty feet
long sitting on a concrete guideway aiming toward a distant forest. Upon
entering the vehicle, I was surprised to not find seat belts affixed to
the rather tattered seats. It was obvious to me that this experimental
train had seen many miles and a number of years of safe use as a test vehicle
hauling thousands of passengers on a whirlwind circuit around its' test
track at breakneck speed. I was completely enthralled with the Transrapid
and could not wait to describe it to those back home.
After returning to Las Vegas, I was intent on supporting
the legislation necessary to bring this wonderful invention to our desert.
The Westinghouse/AEG engineers envisioned the Transrapid making hourly
trips between Anaheim, California and downtown Las Vegas. Their enthusiasm
was bolstered by the public relations exposure such a project would engender
being that the train would service two of the most famous tourist's attractions
in the world; Disneyland and Las Vegas.
What made the project even more appealing to me was the
fact that the train could travel just as efficiently at low speeds within
populated areas as it could travel at mach .5 out in the open desert. The
train was completely compatible with travel between city centers as it
would only travel at 30 to 40 miles per hour in congested areas such as
our downtown, or downtown Anaheim.
The first obstacle we encountered when our delegation
returned to Las Vegas was a surprising reaction from several Strip hotel
executives. They were opposed to the fact that the train was intended to
terminus in downtown Las Vegas and wanted the train to make its' one and
only local stop at McCarran Airport.
This opposition met with a harsh reaction from the German
designers of the train who intended it to serve city centers. They wanted
the Transrapid to begin and end its' LA to Las Vegas trips behind the Plaza
Hotel on Main Street where the existing Amtrak train station has been located
for the past eighty years. The Germans scoffed at the idea of their train
going to our airport instead of the city center. They angrily said "Airports
are for airplanes, not trains!"
While hosting the Transrapid designers and company executives,
I was becoming aware of their impatience with our Las Vegas brand of political
influence. It was becoming obvious to them that the elected government
officials and other local citizens who they provided a first class trip
abroad were not the real leaders who were running this city!
The German delegation only wished to show off their technology,
and to do so their train would have to be able to run nonstop from one
downtown terminal to another. The ridiculous feud developing between the
Strip hotel barons and the downtown casino owners was becoming obvious
to the impatient German businessmen and their engineers.
Then, as always, the Strip interests did not want to share
tourists with downtown Las Vegas and therefore decided to unabashedly strong-arm
Westinghouse/AEG to concede to the airport terminal only. Their rule is
that every Las Vegas vacation begin and end in Clark County, not the City
of Las Vegas. (McCarran Airport is located outside the city limits.)
The downtown casino owners countered with a workable compromise.
They proposed that the Transrapid make an intermediate
stop at the airport, then proceed west on Tropicana Ave. to the Union Pacific
mainline. From there it would travel north to another terminal behind Caesar's
Palace and the Mirage, stop for a few minutes, and then proceed into downtown.
I was quite impressed with the idea and was prepared to
lobby the Germans on its' behalf. I believed that the train would then
serve a triple purpose as a superspeed method of travel between California
and Nevada, and then serve as an intracity transit service between the
airport, Strip, and downtown while also being able to expose millions of
short haul passengers to the slower, but still unique experience of riding
on the technology of the new millennium. I was wrong.
There was no interest on the part of the leaders of the
Strip casinos in having any possible convenient means of travel offered
to tourists wanting to go from the Strip into downtown. Then and now the
only way for a Strip based tourist to go downtown is either on a crowded
public bus, or pay $25 for a round trip taxi ride.
In 1987, the Transrapid representatives continued to grow
restless. Several of them expressed their utter dismay at the weakness
being shown by those who they thought were elected to represent the best
interests of the citizens of Las Vegas, not just the interests of moneyed
After several months of watching us bicker among ourselves,
the Germans lost interest and returned home. Our community may have permanently
lost its' only opportunity to have the Transrapid run between Las Vegas
and the West Coast.
Las Vegas has been left out in the cold with a gridlocked
I-15 between Los Angeles and our desert city.
I was amazed at how quickly those who were provided the
opportunity to experience the future of transportation back in the late
80's cowered to those self serving enough to sacrifice our city's technological
future for a chance to keep their gambling clientele captive for a few
It only took a brief ride forward into the future of transportation
for me to realize how far backward our town really is.
Copyright © Steve Miller
email Steve Miller at: Stevemiller4lv@aol.com