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Travel Time

As long as I've been going from L.A. to Las Vegas, I've been hearing talk of someone building a high-speed rail line betwixt those two cities. Breaking ground on it has always been eighteen months in the future. Eighteen years ago, it was eighteen months in the future. Five years ago, it was eighteen months in the future. Eighteen months ago, it was eighteen months in the future. Today, it's eighteen months in the future and eighteen months from now, guess what it'll be. Right: Eighteen months in the future.

I used to think how great it would be and toyed with the idea of buying a condo there and living in both places, shuttling back and forth with a residence and a car at each end. But it's never gonna happen…and even if the current plan did go forth, it for some reason isn't between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. The California end would be in Victorville, which is a 90-minute drive from L.A. and that's without traffic. Most of the day, it's more than two hours. So you'd have to leave maybe a 2.5 hour window on your schedule to make sure you got there in time for your train, leave your car in a lot there and then ride the rails to Vegas. Or you could ride the existing Amtrak train to Victorville and change there but that train is three hours.

The point is it might all take more time than just driving straight through to Caesars Palace. And if that's the point, what's the point?

So why Victorville? I did some research and couldn't find an explanation. I'm guessing it's that Victorville-to-Vegas would mean going through largely unpopulated, undeveloped land so it would make possible the current cost estimate of $7 billion to get the train up 'n' running. To extend that route to Los Angeles would take it through actual cities where people live — a much higher cost per mile, to be sure. The whole project would wind up with a pricetag that would guarantee no part of it would ever happen.

I wish we had more realistic mass-transit projects in this country. Traffic lately is such that I'm starting to really hate driving. When I have to go some distance, I use Google maps and Henrietta (that's what I call the G.P.S. in my car) to find routes that may not require braking every nine seconds. They help but only a little.

Waiting in a doctor's office recently, I picked up a magazine and read an encouraging piece that predicted technological advances would make driving easier. Global positioning systems would be getting smarter about re-routing you around congestion. New high-speed rail and subway systems would ease the bumper-to-bumper of freeways and surface streets. Smartphones would make it easier to figure out which bus or train to take and let you know when the next one would be along.

The article said we'd start seeing improvements in less than a year…which would have given me hope had I not then noticed the magazine was three years old.