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Magnetic Levitation Technology

By quam in MLP
Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:57:47 PM EST
Tags: Technology (all tags)

According to a recent article at MSNBC, China signed a contract with Siemens and ThyssenKrupp to build a magnetic levitation train (maglev), that could travel up to 260 mph, connecting Shanghai's airport. The maglev in China would be the world's first commercial maglev. The article also states that Japan completed a maglev that set a speed record of 343 mph. In the U.S., studies are underway to build a maglev to connect areas such as Atlanta and Chattanooga.

A past article from Scientific American suggested that the U.S. has not adopted modern transportation systems, such as maglev, because lawmakers oppose the idea. For instance, Texas lawmakers created and later abolished the Texas High-Speed Rail Authority, a government body to oversee a completely privately funded high speed rail system connecting Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, because of opposition from Southwest Airlines. Ironically, Southwest Airlines explained one reason it opposed high speed rail in Texas is because the project did not show "[it] can earn a profit". However, a 1993 report by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the US Department of Energy found a 300 mph maglev system in the U.S. is feasible and "some maglev routes could be built and run at a profit." Moreover, the report found that "public benefits could justify public sector support on other routes" and, even without public funding, required government involvement because of issues such as right-of-way and interaction with current transportation infrastructures.

Understanding recent energy and emission problems, this recent news from China and usage of Acela (Amtrak's high speed route (150 mph) in the U.S. northeast), will the Western Hemisphere be persuaded to adopt maglev or is it permanently addicted to gasoline and automobiles?

Note: Japan's Maglev Systems Development Department provides a good overview with illustrations and photographs of maglev technology.


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Maglev in the Western Hemisphere:
o Will never happen. We love our cars and airlines will kill and kill again. 19%
o Needs to be implemented. Who is my elected official? Is there an advocacy group? 80%

Votes: 36
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o a recent article at MSNBC
o Japan completed a maglev
o 343 mph
o Atlanta and Chattanooga
o A past article from Scientific American
o abolished
o opposition from Southwest Airlines
o "[it] can earn a profit"
o 1993 report
o Acela
o good overview with illustrations and photographs of maglev technology
o Also by quam

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Magnetic Levitation Technology | 11 comments (9 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
Poll simplifies the issue way too far... (4.71 / 7) (#2)
by Speare on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:21:17 PM EST

It's not just a matter of "car love," nor "call your senator."

Let's look at AMTRACK for some issues, to get started.

  • Congress has set forth a worthwhile goal for AMTRACK: be self-sufficient on your own revenues so tax money can be spent elsewhere. The Post Office is successful at it. AMTRACK hasn't shown as much success yet.
  • AMTRACK rents time on commercial freight rails. AMTRACK owns no rails of their own. AMTRACK can't even afford to buy priority status: if a freight train is coming by, even if off schedule, AMTRACK has to idle on a side-rail.
  • Almost no re-engineering authority. The US East Coast has many long-standing low overpasses, so it can't adopt the taller (and newer) west-coast cars. This seems like no biggie, but it is indicative of the problem: They have little authority to change the way thousands of crossings are already engineered.
  • The only viable new routes are choked with other developments. To put in a rail of any kind, a highway or some buildings have got to be demolished or rebuilt from scratch. You can't just close a major shipping lane for months at a time.
  • NIMBYism ("Not in my back yard!") doesn't care if it's maglev. It doesn't care about clean or efficient or fast. People don't want construction anywhere near them. It's dumb, it's luddite, it's antiquarian, but it's the way it is.
  • People don't want urban growth in general. Transit promotes urban growth. This, coupled with NIMBY, is why California's Marin County (and many other areas across the west coast) keeps voting down any form of light rail, passenger rail, or even a better highway system.

I'm probably forgetting many issues that halt the progress of modern transit, but this is a start. Or rather, a partial explanation. What can be done to reverse these factors? Answer that, and you can get projects like this built here.

[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
(Sorry, "AMTRAK".) (5.00 / 1) (#4)
by Speare on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:22:48 PM EST

I consistently misspelled AMTRAK in my prior posting.

[ e d @ h a l l e y . c c ]
[ Parent ]
Arbitrary divisiveness (3.80 / 5) (#5)
by trhurler on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:39:35 PM EST

There are those of us who both want our cars AND support high speed rail, you know. Pitting the two against each other KDE-GNOME style is pretty poor form. I'm sure short haul airlines like Southwest are probably implacably opposed, but there's only so much they can do about it - sooner or later, they'll fail. I'd love to see it happen, but I'm not optimistic, because it will cost an incredible amount of money, and I don't want to see the government involved, because they fuck everything up - remember reading about the old railroad monopolies? Uncle Sam MADE them and enforced their will on the people.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

Love the Idea (4.00 / 2) (#6)
by mattyb77 on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 04:58:44 PM EST

I would love to see the USA adopt more high-tech ways of public transportion, especially something that is fast and can feasibly get people from one major city to another in about the same time it takes to fly there.

I think it's possible that we'll see more demand for something like this in the USA once the airports and airways become more busy and intolerable.

I can also see trains having more space and overall comfortable to passengers, as well.

"I bestow upon myself the `Doctorate of Cubicism', for educators are ignorant of Nature's Harmonic Time Cube Principle and cannot bestow the prestigious honor of wisdom upon the wisest human ever." -- Gene Ray, the wisest human ever
New maglev technology (4.00 / 3) (#7)
by bjrubble on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 05:06:35 PM EST

There was an article in the January 2000 Scientific American concerning a new approach to maglev, which was supposedly simpler, safer, cheaper, and might not even require superconducting magnets. It sounded quite astounding, unfortunately I don't have that issue with me and they don't have that article on their website. But I've been waiting to see it.

The main point in support of it, IIRC, was that it was self-regulating; it didn't require sophisticated control systems and would recover very gracefully from something like a power loss. But looking at the Japanese maglev page, it looks like the figure-8 magnets had some of these properties in 1997. So maybe I was oversold.

Inductrack (5.00 / 2) (#10)
by quam on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 08:55:59 PM EST

There is a summary at the bottom of a page for the Scientific American January 2000 issue stating that Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has introduced new maglev technology, like you described, called the Inductrack. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has a description and diagram of Inductrack, including a .pdf of an article in its Science & Technology Review magazine and Popular Mechanics did a story of Inductrack.

Inductrack can travel up to 400 mph due to stability --- this is apparent in a figure provided by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and use of passive permanent magnets. Also, Inductrack is less expensive because it easily adapts to current railways. Interestingly, NASA has given Inductrak researchers "a $1.5 million contract to build a model high-speed Inductrack. The idea is that NASA would use a scaled-up version to help launch satellites."

-- U.S. Patent 5443036 concerns a device for encouraging a cat to exercise by chasing a light spot.
[ Parent ]
no superconducting magnets in the German system (none / 0) (#11)
by uweber on Wed Jan 24, 2001 at 06:19:33 AM EST

Well there are no superconducting magnets in the German System (Transrapid) - which is the one beeing built in Shanghai.
Take a look at their site www.transrapid.de unfortunatly they only translated the normal text but did not make new pictures.
As a note this System has proven that it is reliable for the past 10 years. You can even visit the test center and travel with it around the testcircuit for $12 (at 400km/h and more) although I have not managed to do this myself yet since it is 800km from where I live. The only reason this system did not get implemented sooner in Germany itself is that for some time now conventional high speed trains (300km/h) are linking the bigest cities so the not so small investment for the new maglev traks is not justified.

[ Parent ]
Some more bits of information (4.50 / 6) (#8)
by Andreas Bombe on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 05:09:21 PM EST

The system that is sold is the Transrapid, which has a test circuit in Germany for many years now. Only recently however were there serious discussions about building commercial lines in Germany.

Plans for a fast connection between Berlin and Hamburg were scrapped. Industry wouldn't invest without more goverment support, government wouldn't invest without more industry support (or something like that). It would have been expensive (multi-billion euro investment) with questionable profit. A proposal for saving money by only building a single track connection came into play, but that's just ridiculous.

The biggest competitor is of course the airplane but also conventional trains (by being a lot cheaper for the same distance). The biggest advantage of trains in general is that you can travel from city center to city center, whereas you have to travel from center to airport to airport to center with planes. Now with a train that is as fast as a plane on the average there is some advantage for the train (speed means overall here, air space is quite busy, inducing delays on starting and landing).

The current plan for building lines in Germany is to build shorter routes, with a few alternatives being under consideration. One such is the connection Munich airport-main station, supposedly cutting down the travel times from circa 45 minutes to 20 minutes or less (including stops).

As a resident of Chattanooga... (3.66 / 3) (#9)
by Rand Race on Tue Jan 23, 2001 at 05:16:43 PM EST

... I'd love it. Our Rep has been fairly useless in supporting it (and anything else that doesn't involve forcing Christian morals on people) but a member of the Atlanta-Chattanooga Maglev Project Steering Committee may very well be our next mayor which would hopefully give the plan a big boost. 45 minutes to real civilization... wow.

I still maintain that if they shaped the cars like Coke bottles it would get some serious corporate support (Atlanta was where Coca-Cola was invented and Chattanooga was where the first Coke bottling plant was).

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because if there be one, He must approve the homage of Reason rather than that of blindfolded Fear." - Thomas Jefferson

Magnetic Levitation Technology | 11 comments (9 topical, 2 editorial, 0 hidden)
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