Comments on Various Aspects of Maglev Technology from Drs. James Powell and Gordon Danby, Written April 22, 2001

Drs. Powell and Danby are working with Maglev 2000 of Florida on a prototype maglev technology for various transportation applications

1. Maglev Energy Consumption

The energy consumption per passenger kilometer for a 300 mph Maglev technology is considerably less than that of autos and airplanes, and comparable to that of the French TGV. If Maglev were to operate at TGV speeds, it would have an energy consumption in mega-joules per passenger kilometer about half that of the TGV. This is logical, since the aerodynamic drag of the Maglev is somewhat less than that of the TGV (smaller frontal area, more streamlined shape) at the same speed, and its magnetic drag is much smaller than the TGV rolling drag. The TGV is much heavier than a Maglev vehicle, which results in is having a large rolling drag force.

2. Cost of Maglev Guideways

The Maglev 2000 guideway cost is less than for a high-speed train like the TGV. The M2000 narrow beam guideway is projected to cost about $11 million per mile of 2- way guideway compared to about $15 million per mile for TGV type track. Constructing the TGV track is not cheap, since the roadbed must be dug to a considerable depth (~10 feet) to ensure stable trackage. Moreover, the TGV roadbed must be very straight and level, whereas the elevated Maglev guideway can be adapted much more easily to varying terrain and curving right-of-ways by banking and changing the height of the piers that support the narrow beams. It is not possible to elevate the TGV at a reasonable cost, because it weighs at least a factor of 10 more than a Maglev vehicle. Moreover, Maglev guideways involve far less disruption to the land and the environment than does the TGV, which has to occupy a fenced off, on-grade corridor which essentially cuts the surrounding land into 2 separate sections that are isolated from each other. Finally, Maglev guideways, because the weight load is distributed relatively uniformly under the vehicle (and the weight of a Maglev vehicle is much less than that of a locomotive), have structures that require virtually no maintenance and will last for many years. In contrast, high-speed trackage requires constant maintenance—the Japanese send out thousands of workers every night to push the tracks back into place—and their lifetime will be considerably less.

3. Maglev in Low Pressure Tubes

We have been studying the feasibility of operating Maglev in low-pressure tubes for some time. At pressures of a few torr, one could achieve speeds of thousands of miles per hour, traveling from New York to Los Angeles in less than one hour. However, the cost of tunneling—presently $30 million per mile and more—is too high for such systems. With advances in tunneling technology to reduce cost to $10 to 20 million per mile, such systems would become practical.

4. Maglev for Urban Applications

Maglev is very attractive for urban and suburban applications. First, it does not have to operate at 200 mph. For urban and suburban applications, 100 mph would be very attractive. At the acceleration rates normally experienced in autos (e.g., 0-60 mph in 10 seconds), a Maglev vehicle would reach 100 mph in 16 seconds, in a distance of 360 meters (1,180 feet). Second, with the Maglev 2000 electronic switch, Maglev vehicles do not have to stop at every station, but can bypass stations at full speed, only stopping at every 5th station on the line, for example. Passenger loading and unloading would be done at the off-line stations. Passengers would simply wait a few minutes until the appropriate vehicle for their particular stop came along. The low weight, low energy consumption and high average speed of Maglev vehicles make them very attractive for urban and suburban transport applications.

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Last modified: August 13, 2002