An International Multimode System Can and Will be Built:  A Response to Comments by Hopkins 


Kirston Henderson, MegaRail® Transportation Systems, Inc.

May, 2000

I agree with the comments of Dr. John B. Hopkins regarding both the need for and the problems of implementing a national dualmode transportation system. I must also add that that we need a multimode system rather than only a dualmode system. From the comment by Dr. Hopkins regarding the absence of HiLoMag attention to cargo, I expect that he would agree on this point. As discussed later in this paper, I am convinced that a national dualmode system will be implemented.

Based upon the HiLoMag dualmode concept description available on the HiLoMag web page, I also agree with his assessment of HiLoMag as it is currently specified. Although the HiLoMag concept is generally on the correct track, I fear that it has some serious problems as advocated. For example, it assumed that MagLev is essential and that dualmode cars must be MagLev. I believe that building a dualmode MagLev automobile with current electromagnet technology would be far too expensive for the general market and would thus be impractical. (The situation is probably worse than that encountered by GM in trying to build an affordable electric car.) If permanent magnets were used, the cars would become scrap metal collectors and might even be dangerous for persons with steel toe shoes or artificial limbs. Furthermore, I don't really see evidence of any concrete design for HiLoMag. It appears to be more an overall, general concept description seeking a real design.

With regard to MagLev, practical and affordable technology in this field may become available. For example, a patent application has recently been filed for a technology that offers promise of significant reduction in MagLev cost. MegaRail will carefully evaluate this less costly technology to determine if it is economically practical and can be successfully applied to a MagLev version of MegaRail. However, this technology is probably not suitable for a dualmode vehicle and thus would not fulfill the HiLoMag vision.

Dr. Hopkins offers an excellent analysis of the many difficult problems in creating a national dualmode system, as well as the overall transportation problem. However, I disagree with some of his conclusions. These conclusions are obviously based upon knowledge of the dualmode systems that have been previously proposed and discussed. (Given only this same knowledge base, I would agree with all of his conclusions.) My disputes with his conclusions probably arise from additional system design and financing information not available to Dr. Hopkins. Contrary to Dr. Hopkins, I am convinced that a national (and international) multimode system is practical and can be placed in service within the next few years. MegaRail Transportation Systems intends to accomplish this task. The balance of this paper addresses the differences.

During the long process of developing the MegaRail concept and the specific design approaches to implementing the multimode MegaRail system, I found myself going through the same analysis process indicated by Dr. Hopkins. As a matter of fact, I may have considered an even wider range of issues. As the result of a total problem analysis process, I developed a set of what I consider absolute requirements for an economically and operationally successful, advanced multimode transportation system.

Rather than going through the comments by Dr. Hopkins on a one by one basis, I will start by listing the full set of multimode system requirements that I concluded were essential for a fully successful system. Consideration of these requirements is essential for all players in the advanced transportation system arena. The requirements are:

1. High safety levels for both users and others. All systems must be highly tolerant to most types of failures and be able to continue to operate until vehicles can be removed from the system or the system can be shut down in an orderly and safe manner. Extreme levels of safety are essential to acceptance.

2. Affordable cost to system owners and users. The system must provide the desired services at costs comparable to or below the costs of providing these services by conventional means. The system must not require significant added investment on the part of users. The cost of dualmode cars must not significantly exceed the cost of current conventional cars.

3. Pay its way without public tax support. The system must be able to operate at a profit. It must also earn sufficient revenue to recover the initial investment with a profit on a timely basis. It must not depend upon public tax funds for construction, operation or maintenance. (One major aerospace company fell into the trap of designing an automated people mover system on the assumption that it did not have to profitable, but only be lower in cost than current, money losing light rail systems. After spending millions of dollars, they were forced to abandon the project.) This is a real economics lesson!

4. Improved transportation service for all users. The system must offer significant improvements in transportation for all system uses and users. Clearly evident improvements in speed, comfort, safety, and convenience are essential for any widespread success.

5. Low environmental impact. The system must present a minimum adverse impact to air quality, noise, population disruption and land disruption. The system also must not involve any massive, light-blocking overhead structures. (In general, the public will not accept any large overhead transit system structures such as those typical previous and most currently proposed elevated rail, automated people mover, and dualmode systems.) The system approach should also avoid any requirements for U.S. Federal Government environmental impact statements, etc. The environmental impact statement process can be a major hurdle for project success in the United States!

6. Avoid or minimize use of diminishing oil reserves. The system must be capable of operation with little or no use of oil. Use of alternative energy sources is essential for any long-term success of advanced systems.

7. Provide personal automobile equivalent service. The system must not force the general population to shift from personal automobile service to shared public, mass transit service.

8. Provide improved public mass transit service. The system must provide significantly improved public mass transit service so that it will attract more users than current systems.

9. Provide automated cargo shipment. The system must provide a fully automated means to ship cargo without need for trucks or truck drivers. Currently, large trucks are major contributors to air pollution, traffic, and conventional road deterioration. An influential transportation official recently advised the Texas Legislature to eliminate large trucks from the highways.

10. Provide fully automated, 24-hours a day service. The system must offer service at all times of the day and must not depend upon human system or vehicle operators.

11. Provide safe and full service under all weather conditions. The system must be able to operate normally under all conditions of adverse weather. A system that shuts down or becomes less safe in the presence of adverse weather is not acceptable and should not be tolerated.

12. Offer high degree of earthquake resistance. The system must be capable of being constructed so as to withstand earthquakes with minimal damage and without endangering either users or others.

13. Use readily available and affordable material. The system must be capable of being implemented without use of exotic or expensive material.

14. Avoid use of exotic, unproven technologies. The system must be implemented without development of any exotic, unproven technologies. Dependence upon significant new technology developments will doom any attempt to put an new system into place within a reasonable time span or cost.

15. Compatible with existent transportation systems. The system must be fully compatible with existent transportation systems and modes. The system can not require major departures from public transportation methods and systems. It can not disrupt or require replacement of existent systems. Any dualmode vehicles must fit easily into present streets and roads without special provisions or assignment of traffic lanes.

16. Suitable for wide range of applications. The system must be suitable for the widest possible range of transportation applications in exactly the same form and with the same equipment. Failure to meet this requirement will doom any system to limited application and create a need for a variety of different and incompatible systems.

17. Operate with grades similar to road grades. The system must be able to be installed to operate with grades similar to those of normal roads and must not require massive earth moving projects for implementation.

18. Allow use of both system owned and user owned vehicles. The system must define a standard set of interfaces that enable use of both system owned and user owned vehicles manufactured by different sources.

19. Capable of widespread implementation. The system must be capable of being implemented in almost any location and under the cognizance of any local, regional, or national government. Governments must not be required to develop or invoke system standards.

20. Capable of rapid installation with minimum disruption. System components must be capable of rapid installation without long or major disruptions of on-going activity or traffic. Existent traffic and activities can not be shut down or seriously impeded to allow building of a new system.

21. Use existing road and street rights of way. The system must be capable of being installed using existent road and street rights of way with a minimum of added right of way. Any requirement to acquire large amounts of added right of way will doom any system to slow or never implementation.

22. Installed system segments immediately usable. The system design must enable system segments to be usable immediately upon installation, rather than waiting for an entire system to be put into place.

23. Avoid creation of traffic problems on conventional streets. The system must be capable of providing transitions to existent traffic and streets by distributing the exiting traffic so as not to create bottlenecks at terminal points.

24. Enable traffic buffering re-routing for problems. The system must include provisions to buffer traffic between different system lines and re-route traffic in the event of system problems or failures.

25. Allow non-stop travel. The system must offer non-stop travel between user trip origination points and destinations and must not require change of transit modes or significant slowing of travel except in cases of shared, public transit vehicles.

26. Fully elevated rail system. The system must be entirely elevated to assure safety from and to persons, animals, and objects on the ground surface. Elevation is also essential to enable operation in areas of heavy snowfall.

Over the past several years, I have seen numerous systems proposed in the areas of automated and dualmode transportation. Unfortunately none of these systems have met all of the above requirements. I believe that the failure to meet all of these requirements has and will continue to be the downfall of such systems.

Starting with the above list of "absolute" requirements and projections of expected technology development, I set about to devise a practical multimode system that would meet all of these requirements. After several years of work involving examination of many different elements and approaches, this effort resulted in the unique and revolutionary MegaRail system that was recently awarded a very broad coverage U.S. patent.

With the basic U.S. patent a reality, the MegaRail industrial team is now starting full system development. Full scale elevated track and vehicle mockups are planned within the next few months and work will also proceed toward development and test of a prototype system.

The MegaRail system does not fully satisfy the utopian purest desire to have vehicles float effortlessly at high speeds on magnetic or air suspension. Rather, MegaRail employs special, flat-proof, blowout proof rubber tires operated on smooth, continuous flat steel rails. Propulsion is from conventional electric motors rather than far more exotic and expensive technologies that are available. As a result, MegaRail (1) offers an extremely smooth and quiet ride at high speeds and (2) is economically and technically practical for near term use.

MegaRail makes full use of very advanced fault-tolerant control system technology that has been developed and proven by use in advanced U.S. military aircraft. Although this technology may sound exotic, it is well understood by MegaRail control system engineers with experience in this technology. Compared to the supersonic, six-degree-of-freedom aircraft problem, the relatively low-speed, single axis MegaRail control problem is easy to solve with this technology.

MegaRail is fully compatible with current automobiles and does not require anyone to (1) abandon automobile service or (2) purchase any special vehicle. (Rail-captive car ferries are lightweight, relatively low in cost and are system assets.) MegaRail provides rapid and automated transport of occupied conventional automobiles. MegaRail will also eventually offer a low-cost, dualmode electric automobile capable of operating directly on the MegaRails or on ordinary streets under electric power. However, such a true dualmode automobile is not practical until a significant MegaRail coverage of an area is available. It is the chicken and egg problem referred to by Dr. Hopkins. Such dual-mode electric automobiles should eventually replace many of the conventional automobiles.

The multimode MegaRail system provides ordinary automobile travel, true dualmode electric automobile travel, 24-hour day, non-stop personal rapid transit travel, shared vehicle fixed route transit travel, frequent high-speed intercity rail passenger service, and automated cargo transportation intermixed in a single shared elevated rail system. The multimode, multi-user facet of MegaRail, combined with the low initial cost, assures operational system profitability with only moderate traffic loads.

MegaRail is designed for installation over existent street, road and highway rights of ways on a non-interference basis with existing right of way uses. Use of factory-built rail and support components enables rapid installation with a minimum of disruption to current transportation services.

MegaRail is a fully elevated system that uses two relatively small, enclosed rails supported at approximately fifty-foot intervals by steel "T" uprights mounted on concrete piers. All vehicle wheels, electrical power pickups, and control interfaces operate inside the enclosed rails for full weather protection and low noise levels. All exposed surfaces are non-rusting stainless steel for pleasing appearance and low maintenance. The two small rails of each guideway are separated by a seven-foot open space so that the overhead structure blocks only a small amount of skylight in order to avoid the usual public objections to overhead guideways or railways. The rails are less than one-half the size of the Disney monorail rail.

A separate, heavy cargo version of MegaRail will also be offered for installation along heavy cargo routes and is expected to use available railroad rights of way on a non-interference basis to present rail services. This heavy cargo version will carry standard sea-land cargo containers between cargo terminals. This MegaRail version is expected to provide significant relief to currently overloaded rail systems and interstate highways.

Additional information regarding the MegaRail system is available at the web page.

Dr. Hopkins correctly cites the extreme difficulty that the U.S. Federal Government might encounter in any attempt to develop standards for a national dualmode system. Fortunately, MegaRail can avoid this problem by developing necessary standards as proprietary standards without government involvement. The patent coverage granted for MegaRail enables a single company to control the development of both system and standards for several years. The situation is essentially the same as that which enabled the Bell System to develop standards for the telephone business without government action.

I agree with Dr. Hopkins regarding the fact that system cost often exceeds that visualized by the proponents. (I suspect that proponents of public projects often understate costs just to get projects started.) MegaRail is well aware of this trap and has been careful to avoid low-ball estimates. We have attempted to be very conservative in all of our estimates just to make sure that we can perform for the advertised amounts. It is important to note that MegaRail Transportation is proposing to build systems as joint ventures with state and local governments. As the major participant in system construction, MegaRail is being careful to be fully realistic regarding costs.

Contrary to Dr. Hopkins' conclusions regarding national dualmode system feasibility, I am convinced that MegaRail can and will be implemented both as a national and international system. MegaRail offers significant differences from other approaches that make it practical to implement. It does not require tax funds from or design participation by any government agency. I believe that state and local transportation officials familiar with the system also share this opinion. MegaRail systems will be built in the United States by MegaRail Transportation Systems teamed with state and local governments. MegaRail Transportation will then maintain and operate the systems as a public utility. In most cases, construction funds come from local and state government backed revenue bonds that will be serviced from MegaRail system revenues. No public tax funds from any level of government are required. As a matter of fact, construction of MegaRail systems is expected to significantly reduce tax revenue expenditures for road construction and repairs. Furthermore, state and local governments teaming with MegaRail will be expected to receive significant income from right of way use fees that can be devoted to conventional road maintenance. Our discussions with high officials of state transportation departments and turnpike authorities indicate that these systems can and will be built in this manner.

MegaRail avoids most of the nearly insurmountable problems typical of conventional highway construction and upgrade projects. MegaRail uses already available rights of way in almost all instances. Hence, it avoids most the time delaying hurdles of land acquisition and the frequent opposition. Because it does not add noise, freeway lights, and does not install massive amounts of concrete, MegaRail should encounter far less opposition from the public and environmental groups. Because tax funds are not needed, projects should not encounter the long waits normally involved by which combinations of federal, state, and local governments must find tax revenues to fund projects.

Dr. Hopkins correctly cites the environmental impact statement hurdle that is becoming almost insurmountable for most conventional transportation projects. MegaRail should entirely avoid this hurdle because public tax funds are not used in most cases. The impact statements are required only for publicly funded projects. Such statements are not required for projects that do not involve public tax funds.

Responses from both the general public and government officials to MegaRail have been highly favorable. It is clear that there is great public demand for a near term solution to transportation problems and that MegaRail is very attractive to both the public and government officials. The response if often: "When can we have a MegaRail system in our area?" With regard to the environment, MegaRail appears to also have appeal to environmental groups that often oppose conventional transportation projects.

In summary, the economics, the environmental situation, the traffic and road situation, and the political environment are all right for early and extensive success of MegaRail. Contrary to the Dr. Hopkins conclusion, we can and will construct these systems on a national and international basis.

® Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Office.

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Last modified: May 24, 2000