Does Maglev Hurt High Speed Rail?

This article from Metropolis looks at the plan for a magnetic-levitation train connecting Las Vegas and Anaheim, which has been brewing for years. But is this idea detracting from more feasible high speed rail plans?

"Magnetic levitation, which involves running high-speed trains on a cushion of electromagnetic attraction or repulsion (depending on the system), is one of those futuristic ideas that have never quite arrived. I associate maglev less with LaRouche (who has the technology entangled with his vision of a Eurasian land bridge linking all the world's continents via, in part, the Bering Strait) and more with New York's late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1988 organized the Maglev Technology Advisory Com­mittee. It was the first of many congressional committees, none of which ever allocated more than token funding to about a half-dozen approved maglev projects."

"While we have been dreaming about floating trains, Europe has been methodically threading its cities together with a sophisticated high-speed rail network. The French TGV, a conventional train with earthbound steel wheels, broke the land-speed record last year, hitting 357 miles an hour on a test track. Asia, too, has invested in high-speed rail: the famous Japanese bullet trains have been in operation since the 1960s, and Beijing's new high-speed line, which debuted for the Olympics, can go as fast as 220 miles an hour. Even Argentina is about to build a 440-mile-long high-speed rail line. What do we have? Well, we've got the Northeast Corridor, where Amtrak's Acela Express can, on a good day-and only on two short stretches in Rhode Island and Massachusetts-reach 150 miles an hour. And, apparently, we're gearing up to spend an estimated $12 billion linking our two most significant tourist destinations."

Full Story: Fast Train Coming (Slowly)



Maglev doesn't hurt anything.

Whether the California HSR project goes forward or not does not depend on the influence of maglev technology, if you ask me. Other than a few "wonks" living in the southern parts of the state I doubt anyone is pressing the CA HSR Authority for a maglev solution anyway. The project should rightfully sink or swim on its merits when the voters go to the polls in November, since it's more about financing than technology for now.

Having said that, I hope that if and when the project seeks technology suppliers to construct the line at least one maglev supplier bids for the job. Seemingly this would be the German Transrapid high-speed maglev, which is the most mature system out there, but there might be more bidders in the wings. These bidders would serve to keep the project honest in its selection of technology for the state.

By the way, I served on Senator Moynihan's Maglev Technology Advisory Committee back in the late 1980s. Those were heady times for maglev proponents, but unfortunately times have changed. And not for the better.
Laurence E. Blow
MaglevTransport, Inc.

Maglev in California

CAHSR decided maglev did not have a sufficiently solid track record to risk using it for the California system. For starters, there is only one viable vendor (Transrapid consortium) vs. at least seven for steel wheels HSR. There is only a single, short maglev line in commercial service anywhere in the world vs. thousands of miles of steel wheels HSR corridors (and many more in planning or under construcion).

It's a little like VHS vs. Betamax: market penetration matters more than superior technology. Besides, with uninterrupted broadband internet access already a reality on some European TGVs, extreme speed is no longer as critical. The focus is shifting to productivity on the move.

More prosaically, there were concerns maglev simply would not fit into the very narrow corridors available for rail in the SF peninsula and Orange County, where legacy regional rail operators will remain active as "HSR feeders".

If prop 1A passes, the state of Nevada could decide to abandon its maglev project in favor of a steel wheels spur from Mojave to Las Vegas via Barstow. The 200 miles could be covered in about an hour. On-board check-in and security plus code sharing could turn Palmdale into a relief airport for McCurran, eliminating the need to construct a new one at Ivanpah. Instead of just Anaheim, California destinations would include LA, Fresno, Bakersfield, the Bay Area, Sacramento and San Diego - all without an additional mountain crossing into the LA basin.

This would leave Cajon Pass available for expanding heavy freight capacity. SCAG is considering a maglev line from the LA/LB ports to an inland container terminal in San Bernardino county, e.g. near Hesperia. The tracks would be supported by pylons in the middle of existing freeways. At first, this sounds even more outlandish than passenger maglev. After all, it takes a lot of magnetic force to make a shipping container levitate. You'd also not want such a heavy load to move at very high speed.

However, in the specific context of Southern California, freight maglev at moderate speed could offer some key benefits:

- additional freight capacity through the congested LA basin (since maglev uses aerial structures),

- steeper gradient capability (no need for tunnels),

- low noise (especially relevant for nighttime operations) and,

- zero tailpipe emissions (cp. steel wheels plus catenary).

Ergo, maglev isn't hurting high speed rail. Rather, the marketing focus on high speed rather than other benefits is hurting maglev.

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