sentiments toward flying at an all-time low in the aftermath of the
September 11 terrorist attacksa fear compounded by the American
Airlines incident on November 12the future of transportation may
very well be in wingless flight.
who want to reach their destinations quickly while keeping their feet
firmly planted on the ground, engineers believe trains may be the answer.
Public officials are beginning to think that high-speed trains have
a big role to play in solving the nation's transportation problems.
And if some of the innovations in the works take off, railroad tracks
could become the superhighway of the future.
for example, magnetically levitated trains, which hover almost six inches
above the rails. In terms of speed, maglevs put mass transit carriers
and even high speed locomotives to shame. Two years ago at a maglev
test facility in rural Japan, a five-car train clocked the new world
speed record at 552 kph (343 mph).
the long term, we're looking to maglevs for high-speed ground transportation
that might replace aircrafts," says Arnold Kupferman, maglev program
manager at the Federal Railroad Administration. "Forty percent
of air travel covers a distance of less than 300 miles. We can relieve
the air transportation system by allowing them to concentrate on long-range
is very doable now, and we need it." says Virginia Tech aerospace
and ocean engineering chair Joseph Schetz. "It competes directly
with short distance air travel."
is an extraordinary machine aside from that fact that it will get people
where they want to go in no time flat. The train's magnetic frame uses
either attraction or repulsion, depending on the design, to curve around
and hover above the magnetic T-shaped rail. An alternating current runs
through the guideway, resulting in an electromagnetic field that essentially
pulls the train along at breakneck speeds.
monitors and regulates the strength of the current at all times to keep
the body of the train elevated, and the direction of the electromagnetic
field is simply reversed to slow the vehicle at station stops.
there are no wheels, the ride is quiet and smooth. The train boasts
zero emissions and low energy use due to the innovative electromagnetic
design. The track is meant to be elevated from the ground to prevent
collision and reduce highway traffic congestion and delays. Another
perk to this new system is its outstanding hill-climbing abilitythree
times that of a regular trainwhich could make tunnels obsolete.
are eager to capitalize on what they hope to be a tried-and-true form
of transportation. "The maglev promises to create quite a bit of
excitement and give people something they don't have right now,"
says Maryland Transit Administration project manager Suhair Alkhatib.
According to Alkhatib, the travel time between Washington, D.C., and
New York would be cut to under an hour aboard maglevs. "The potential
the Federal Railroad Administration divvied out $15 million to seven
cities to execute preconstruction planning for maglevs. The cities'
layouts were collected and evaluated by the FRA in 2000, and two finalists
were chosen to vie for federal funding last January. The two tracks
still in the running are Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C./Baltimore.
Pending Congressional appropriation, the winning proposal will receive
$950 million to authorize construction of the nation's first high-speed
maglev by 2010.
Maglev, Inc., with help from the Port Authority of Allegheny County,
is heading up the Pennsylvania project, which would link Pittsburgh
Airport to the city and its eastern suburbs along a 47-mile stretch.
"Our mass transportation is not that good here in Pittsburgh,"
says Richard Hoff, industrial liaison to the Institute of Complex Engineered
Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. "The maglev is critical
to the the continued growth of this city. It could be a gimmick elsewhere,
but for us, it is a necessity." If chosen for the final design,
Pittsburgh's $2.8 billion tab would be picked up by local, state, and
federal funds, as well as private grants. The Pennsylvania city expects
in-service operation to begin as early as 2005.
corridor between Baltimore and the nation's capital would span 40 miles
and stop at the highly trafficked Baltimore-Washington International
Airport on the jaunt between Camden Yard and Union Station. Officials
in the two cities agreed to implement the Transrapid TR08 vehicle, which
was developed at the German test facility. The intercity system would
be more costly and take longer to construct than that proposed in Pennsylvania.
The $3.4 billion project, funded by public and private grants and loans,
could be completed just in time for the 2012 Olympics, which Washington
hopes to host if the district is favored by the U.S. Olympic Committee
over New York, Houston, and San Francisco this fall and can beat out
international hot spots in 2005.
convenience outweigh cost in times of economic uncertainty? A one-way
fare from BWI to D.C. is estimated at almost $20, and that's in 1999
dollars. Riders who opt for the half hour trip on the MARC commuter
system will keep three-fourths of that cash in their pockets. And while
a National Association of Realtors study in November indicated that
62 percent of commuters would take the train if it were safe and convenient,
only 15 percent thought that building or even extending a railway would
be a viable solution.
remains whether a multi-billion dollar transportation project is on
track with public interest or if the maglev will lose steam when the
initial novelty wears off. The companies who are backing these futuristic
flying machines can only hope that if they build it, America will ride.