Low-Speed Urban Maglev Demonstration Project

Clip from the FTA Annual Report on New Starts 2003 , Authorizations for Final Design and Construction

The low speed magnetic levitation research and development program (also called the Urban Maglev Program) was authorized in Section 3015(c) of TEA-21. As part of the Urban Maglev Program, FTA made an award of $9.71 million in FTA research funds to General Atomics, San Diego, to conduct research and development on low speed magnetic levitation.

The Urban Maglev initiative is a cost-share program in which the development team provides 20 percent in non-Federal matching funds. Projects that would be funded under the Urban Maglev program are undertaken in three discrete phases (1) Evaluation of Proposed System Concept; (2) Prototype Subsystems Development and; (3) System Integration and Deployment Planning.

The General Atomics project is a Phase 1 project that is expected to move into Phase 2 in early 2003. In addition to General Atomics, the General Atomics/Pittsburgh Maglev team includes the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Port Authority of Allegheny County, Western Pennsylvania Maglev Development Corporation, Carnegie Mellon University and several Pittsburgh-based businesses. While no longer pursuing the Pittsburgh Airbourne Shuttle project, the General Atomics Team would like to demonstrate the technology of Urban Maglev at an appropriate site upon successful completion of the technology development. Their current choice is California University of Pennsylvania.

Supplemental newspaper article, July 4, 2003

Cal U may be test site for maglev project


CALIFORNIA, PA - It is less expensive, environmentally safe, energy efficient - and it could be coming to California University of Pennsylvania.

The Federal Transit Administration has selected Cal U as a possible test site for a sleek mass transit system that uses magnets to levitate passengers an inch above its tracks.

The proposed $188 million design and construction of a low-speed magnetic levitation train is more than half-way to becoming a reality in the California area.

The news came Thursday at a press conference staged by U.S. Rep. John Murtha, a Johnstown Democrat who is supporting the proposed project.

The public transportation system is similar in appearance to a monorail, except cars are carried by magnetic force.

The plans comprise construction of about 4 1/2 miles of dual rail line that will twist through the college campus and extend uphill to Cal U's sporting fields and newly constructed housing units.

Each of four automated, 35-foot long maglev trains would cycle through five stations in the 6,000-member student community. Each unit would carry up to 100 passengers at a time at speeds up to 50 mph.

Cal U President Angelo Armenti Jr. said the maglev system would feature elevator-like lifts to carry passengers to boarding terminals.

The strip through California's scenic college campus and surrounding hillsides would pass by such future features as a Cal U convocation center.

The center would become one of the largest entertainment venues in the region, Armenti said.

Armenti said California's unique topography and such "fringe benefits" as a diverse age group made the area a candidate for the system.

The trains would accommodate a variety of age groups, serving campus housing units and parts of the borough, including a senior center, he added.

A team of local engineers and companies have shown interest in the project, and the state Department of Transportation backed the design and engineering phases. Regional construction companies could later partake in the three- to four-year construction phase.

General Atomics, of San Diego would build the trains.

If the idea catches on at Cal U, western Pennsylvania could become the headquarters for maglev technology worldwide.

Murtha visited Cal U Thursday to announce an important step in bring maglev to the university.

Murtha said an $800 million prototype maglev train recently arrived at a 400-foot test track in San Diego.Hall Industries, located in Butler County, manufactured and shipped the test vehicle.

U.S. Maglev Development Corp., of Pittsburgh, is serving as the Cal U maglev project manager.

U.S. Maglev President David O'Loughlin said the San Diego test would help make the system more efficient and prove how the trains handle actual passengers.

"We've done $10 million of research and development work," O'Loughlin said. "It's taken about two years to do that. The next step is the test track. That's under construction right now." O'Loughlin said results from the San Diego tests should be available in about a year.

After the test runs are complete and construction money is provided, the decision will be made whether or not to make California a national testing ground.

Murtha said Thursday that he requested $5 million in federal subsidy in next year's budget to cover design, engineering and environmental studies for a Cal U project.

He said he would push for another $150 million to cover construction costs. "The state has already committed $20 million in their capital budget. (The federal government) committed $35 million ... most of that money was spent in putting the program together," Murtha said. "We're a couple years away from the balance of the federal and state money.

"From now on, the money will be spent here in western Pennsylvania." Murtha said another $20 million could come from the state. O'Loughlin said federal dollars would cover 80 percent of project costs.

About 17 percent would come from the state and U.S. Maglev and Cal U would contribute roughly 3 percent.

"At some point we will be asked to put something up," Armenti said. "We'll provide in-kind services. We don't have a special pot of money to do this. They'll ask us to donate space and allow the construction to happen on our land."

Officials Thursday praised maglev's revolutionary design. "This is environmentally the most advanced technology that will have been built anywhere in the world," O'Loughlin said. "This is breakthrough technology."

Maglev is low-maintenance because there are no moving parts to wear out, officials said.

Maglev technology uses about half the power light rail systems require and it is priced at a third of the cost, O'Loughlin said. "We've also used solar panels extensively on the vehicle itself and on the tops of the stations," he said.

O'Loughlin said about one mile of track at Cal U would be used to test maglev's ability to handle a 7 percent grade. The trains are expected to tackle up to 10 percent grades. Murtha said the Cal U project could prove the need for a larger and more complex transportation system in Pittsburgh.

"We've had an increase in the number of cars since 1960 of about 200 percent. Yet, the number of roads has only increased by 10 percent. We have to find a way to move people more efficiently," he said.

Local demand for construction of maglev trains in Pennsylvania could create 300 to 400 jobs, Murtha said.

"We've had interest all over the world in this technology because it is so much cheaper, quieter and environmentally safe," he said. "It is a very light system which you could put up very quickly."

Cal U students would swipe their "Cal Cards" for rides on maglev. Others would have to "ante up" when they board. Armenti said maglev would bring valuable tourism dollars and national attention to Cal U and surrounding areas, which would benefits the community.

"This is American technology. That high speed stuff, that's German and Japanese. Environmentally, that stuff is opposed by a lot of people. Urban maglev, environmentally, is very friendly," he said. "It would create high-quality jobs for a long time to come."

Jeff Pikulsky can be reached at jpikulsky@tribweb.com.

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Last modified: July 19, 2003