Trains For America

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Former Nevada governors push Maglev

Republican Kenny Guinn and Democrat Bob Miller are backing a Maglev corridor between southern California and Las Vegas. Their opinions were published in the Las Vegas Sun and represent one of the clearest and most concise arguments in favor of the Maglev technology. Part is highlighted here, but you should read the whole thing.

Maglev is emissions-free, does not rely upon foreign or domestic oil and uses less energy and emits far fewer pollutants than traditional forms of ground or air transportation. This dramatically reduces CO2 emissions on the highways.

Instead of using wheels, maglev trains hover above the tracks — or guideways — levitated by magnetic force and propelled by electricity. There is no physical contact between the train and the guideway, which eliminates friction and enables high speeds with little to no noise. The base of the train wraps around the guideway and the train therefore cannot derail. Additionally, while the tracks of traditional trains require frequent maintenance and repair, the maglev train guideway, or track, is expected to be in service for 60 years or more with minimal maintenance.


Filed under: Passenger Rail Politics, Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail

22 Responses

  1. Yes, Pat, you’re right. This article is one of the most coherent and concise endorsements of maglev technology I can recall. It’s a breath of fresh air compared to most of the pro-DesertXpress articles that have come out recently, believe me, and by that I mean nothing negative toward conventional high-speed rail.

    I especially like the following statement: “Surprisingly, despite the nation’s increased focus on environmentally responsible and highly efficient automobiles, there is no agreed-upon technology for modernizing U.S. railways. It is time we agreed that maglev technology, frequently overlooked, ought to be part of that standard.”

    That’s not too much to ask, seems to me.

  2. MadPark says:

    Maglev is an untried, costly, non-interoperable waste of the resources we need to reduce our reliance on oil. We have a tried and true technology available which in the US we chose to ignore 3/4 of a century ago while the rest of the world left us behind. Time to use the resources we have to catch up not build a new toy.

  3. There’s no reason to look back to the glory days of passenger trains that never came to pass. As the article says, “Yet for some reason maglev in the U.S. has yet to be widely embraced. It can be understood why this is the case in Europe, given its intricate, interconnected network of traditional and high-speed passenger trains with maximum speeds of 180 mph. In this country, however, we have the advantage of starting fresh.”

    “We can paint the high-speed rail picture any way we want to. And, given the lack of a preexisting passenger rail infrastructure and great distances between U.S. cities (especially in the West and Midwest), the advantages of safe, environmentally responsible and state-of-the-art 300-mph maglev technology should be obvious.”

    Things change, and now that Transrapid has been tried successfully in Shanghai, carrying millions of passengers at routine speeds in excess of 265 mph, and having been built for a reasonable cost, it deserves the chance to compete for a line in the U.S.

  4. “safe, environmentally responsible and state-of-the-art” (maglev) are the operative words in Mr. Blow’s argument. Magnetic levitation appears to me to be neither safe, nor environmentally responsible.

    Unlike steel wheel high speed rail, maglev requires a separate and distinct guideway, similar to BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), which operates on broad gauge tracks 5’6″ wide instead of the 4’8 1/2″ standard gauge used throughout the rest of the United States. That has made expanding BART, when measured on a per mile basis, a costly proposition.

    The new generation of steel wheel high speed rail is designed to travel at commercial speeds of up to 224 mph. That’s what California will be building.

    Maglev was studied and rejected in November of 2005 in the California Program EIS/EIR. It was concluded that maglev would cost 2 to 3 times more per mile than steel wheel high-speed rail. Maglevs would require more energy to operate the service and that’s not a good thing.

    A fair question to ask is: are these former Governors of Nevada receiving any compensation from firms with possible ties to maglev construction firms?

  5. So, magnetic levitation “…appears to be neither safe, nor environmentally responsible.” I wonder what makes you say that, given its excellent record of commercial operation in China and its admitted advantages over high-speed rail in crucial areas such as energy consumption, noise, vibration and electromagnetic fields.

  6. NikolasM says:

    I know this is a little old but there is but one short line of Maglev running commercially in the entire world and they are reluctant to expand it because it is so expensive.

    We are finding ourselves in a world with a finite appetite for more debt and the costs for building Maglev over tried and true conventional HSR is going to be pretty much insurmountable.

    Japan and Germany have been testing this technology for years but find excuses every time to build HSR lines in their place.

  7. True, there is only one high-speed maglev in operation, but there is another commercial-grade maglev — typically called an “urban maglev” for its 60-100 mph operating speeds — in Japan.

    The High Speed Surface Transport, or HSST, also called “Linimo,” has been continuously developed over more than 30 years and is now demonstrated in revenue service. The first commercial HSST urban maglev, operating near Nagoya, Japan, has been in operation since March of 2005, safely carrying millions of passengers without problems.

    And for clarification, the expansion of the high-speed maglev in Shanghai has been delayed by NIMBYs, not by costs.

  8. John K says:

    Japan is just about to start building a 300km Maglev line beween Tokyo and Nagoya/Osaka. Financing is already secured.

    China is very likely to expand the Shanghai maglev line by 150km in 2010.

    Maglev certainly is the superior technology.

    This video might explain why.


  9. Don says:

    It’s strange that almost all people commenting here come up with the exact anti-Maglev arguments Mr. Blow was referring to when talking about the pro-DesertXpress people.

    Anti-Maglev arguments such as “too costly”, “unproven”, “not reliable”, “not environmentally friendly”, or “energy consuming” are false statements without an exception.
    Each and every comprehensive assessment of the Transrapid technology has proven otherwise; similarly, anti-Maglev people have no justification for their statements at their disposal.

  10. NikolasM says:

    “Too costly” is a false statement? That kool-aid must surely taste delicious. It is going to cost a minimum of $50 billion for that one short line in Japan and take till 2025. Sure, there will be lots of tunnels contributing to the cost. I wish them good luck. By the time it is done, half of Japan will have died off due to old age and not enough baby making to replace them. I guess all the robots they are building to make up for the dwindling human stock wouldn’t mind using it.

  11. Tahoe Valley Lines says:

    Before the fickle US public decides whose proprietary cross-section to use (the “standard Maglev “gauge”) the current slow but sure US steel wheel rail expansion will sidetrack the mag-levs. More importantly to this discussion, ability to move victuals and necessary freight & perishables as trucking is impacted by diesel fuel rationing.

    How close is gas & diesel rationing? Ask how close is pre-emptive strike on Iranian nuclear program. Another avenue, at what point does US cash hemhorrage to support import oil force rationing? I love the idea of mag-lev like I love the Concorde. Too few stops and too much energy consumption per passenger. It is an unfortunate fact, prosaic steel wheel rail systems are not “sexy” enough for an AADD generation. Time to grow up.

    Mr. Joe Vranich is a credible and articulate supporter of Mag-Lev, and I respect his passion. Nonetheless, the USA is in a situation where we are racing the clock on motor transport fuel, and the only practicle option is massive expansion & extension of existing rail mains, and rehab of dormant branchlines. Read Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Matthew Simmons, and best for last, Christopher C. Swan’s “ELECTRIC WATER” Governor staff should also obtain CalTrans’ 1995 Reno-Tahoe Rail Study (Unabridged) and hand over copy to presidential staff ..

  12. Allan says:

    It is important to note that the HSR can only achieve those speeds safely when running on specially-designed track. Old track has to be replaced with new track. Altho the HSR trains can use existing track, the HSR trains cannot travel at full speed on the old tracks.

    So, the argument that you shouldn’t use maglev because it isn’t compatible or that a special track is needed is non sequitur. You can’t use existing track for high speed.

    HSR is at the zenith of its technology while maglev is just beginning. Given the long construction time, etc., you’ll be putting in ancient technology by the time this is finished if you use HSR.

    The dual-track Shanghai maglev project was cost effective at about $60 million per mile. This is especially effective given the challenges of the alluvial soil conditions. Since then, new guide way and construction techniques have lowered costs by as much as 30%. Think HSR could have done it any cheaper???

  13. Good points, Allan, about the longstanding HSR “compatibility” argument and the relatively low capital cost of the maglev route in Shanghai.

    Fact is, HSR wouldn’t make a very good demonstration in the Shanghai route; its acceleration and deceleration times/distances are not a good match for a 19-mile trip.

  14. Mad Park says:

    @12 – $60 million/mile using slave labour… lest we forget that our 21st century bankers still essentialyl use slave labour.

  15. John Harding says:

    The argument of non-interoperability was raised against Japan’s Tokaido shinkansen when it was proposed after WWII. Yet it has proven to be the most successful and profitable passenger railroad in the world, despite having a wider gauge than its predecessors. As mentioned above, high speed trains can’t operate on rights-of-way designed for much lower speed. And there is no reason that cross-platform transfers cannot be provided at jointly operated stations. Vested interests can always be counted on to oppose progress.

  16. NikolasM says:

    Wow, so the United States forced Japan to use Standard gauge going forward as on the Tokaido. It was a shattered country anyways that needed to rebuild. No need to make it sound like it was revolutionary. The point of interoperability is that a train can hop off the HSR line and onto the good old lines that link into the landmark downtown stations with rail laid 100 years ago and then pop out and get back on the HSR line and continue on their merry way. You could easily increment speed increases while still offering services on the lines by adding HSR segments as they are finished while in the meantime riding the regular rails. Maglev is an all or nothing proposition that while is progress, is more like progre$$, something we don’t have in abundance anymore.

  17. Allan says:

    Nik, so you want to buy into the less advanced and slower technology (HSR) in order to try to save a few bucks in the approaches to the stations?

    Given the maglev’s rather significant advantage in operating and maintenance costs and its speed advantage, I think you’re being penny wise and pound foolish.

  18. Allan, there’s apparently a philosophy at work in America these days regarding what we can and cannot do in high-speed ground transportation, as NikolasM pointed out. We’ll see it play out in the spending of ARRA (stimulus) funds, but it seems to be: we can only afford to spend a limited amount, relatively, in upgrading our national rail system, so those existing corridors that need only modest funding to increase their main line operating speeds from, say, 79 mph up to 110 mph will get priority. This includes the Chicago area as a prime example, which has been promoting just such a thing for many years now.

    The big question, of course, is whether California’s statewide high-speed rail proposal will get a significant chunk of the available $8 million in ARRA funding.

  19. Allan says:

    Laurence, I fully support the idea of upgrading most lines to handle “fast” (110 mph) trains. You get much more bang for the buck.

    But if we want to install “high speed” then I support maglev over HSR. I’ve looked at it from the capital cost factor, speed factor, safety factor, O&M costs, noise, etc. To me, maglev is the clear winner.

    At some point we’re going to build a maglev line or two and then we’re going to regret pouring money into HSR.

    I like trains. I grew up next to a railroad. I just consider a maglev as an improved train. It’s not anti-train … it’s the better train!

  20. Many rail proponents dispute it when I say this, but maglev — at least the German Transrapid that I know best — was designed thirty years ago by rail people ((MBB as lead company, Thyssen, AEG, BBC, Siemens, Dynidag and Krauss Maffei)) to produce the next generation of trains, without wheels, axles or onboard motors. It is, as you suggest, a better version of a train.

  21. Tahoe Valley Lines says:

    Railways are operated for the purpose of moving goods, then people. Resources and goods, victuals and necessities of life are priority subjects for strategic planners confronted with likely liquid motor fuels shortage near & midterm. The same arguments for MagLev were made for Concorde SST and the Boeing/Locheed proposals.

    Energy is the great leveler, and energy (EIOER) will be the ultimate deciding factor as America is overtaken by Peaking Oil. In a perfect world, with best case energy prospects as seen in the 1950’s, we might have chosen Mag-Lev instead of freeways. We would have kept the rail network, with the myriad branchlines, for assuring freight for local distibution. Trucking would have been driving factor for the interstates, not autos. The Interstate Defense Highway act would have been truly a cargo and military mission, not a tool for spraw. But we did what we did.

    We miltarized transport, but not the way we thought we would. Protecting the oil supply became the primary job of the US Armed Services- as it still is. We are now at a divide, required to make long term transport decisions to assure Societal & Commercial Cohesion in an ever-decreasing annual petroleum supply scenario. Chossing Mag-Lev must be done with understanding we will be committed to a particular cross-section set in place for many decades. This is a pretty big risk for investors, who would not appreciate “new & improved” platforms springing up to compete.

    The US rail footprint going into the Second World War was adequate, with accompanying trucking systems, many RR owned, to supply the country with food and all needed commodities. We did this until the freeway age, using electric and diesel, even some steam running at 100 MPH. The US Army issued a transport strategy manual, authored by James A. Van Fleet, in 1956. “Rail Transport And The Winning Of Wars” can be obtained from the Association Of American Railroads (202-639-2100); an eerily prescient little compendium that includes mention of homeland attack and dependence on imported oil…

    Cover the bases against trucking breakdown by means of expanding & extending existing rail mains & rehab dormant branchlines. Assure rail based load/unload/warehousing to local points. Then, we can pursue vanities. We are now vulnerable to famine if trucking fails. It could be a Middle East war event, or hurricane in the Houston Channel. Or a supplier: see “Cantarell” on your search engine. The Mag-Lev discussion would be moot before the last tankers arrived.

  22. Allan says:

    TVL-There is no doubt that railroads play an important part of the freight movement in this country. However, we’re talking about high speed passenger rail here altho maglev can certainly move freight as well. The point is that you don’t want to run freight trains on HSR tracks. You really don’t. So adding HSR tracks will not expand the number of tracks available to freight trains tho it might cause some of the passenger service to move off the freight lines.

    The military reason for the Interstate system came out of WWII. Destroying a rail junction can cripple a system. Destroy a road intersection and you just clear the rubble and keep going or just bypass it.

    BTW, I was a Combat Engineer in the Army (one of the three MOSs that I held) . I know of what I speak. As some one who rode in a lot of convoys, I would thank God every time we could use the Interstate instead of some state highway.

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