Public versus Private Ownership of a National Dualmode System


Walt Velona

I like the beauty of the HiLoMag design and will comment on some of its
features in a day or two, but today I wish to give you my views on the matter
of private ownership versus public ownership. In his latest letter Francis
Reynolds states that we must get out of the subsidized-transit-system
mindset. To the extent that I do not believe in mind sets, I agree with him
but I wish to comment as follows.

At this point in time our national objective should be to quickly begin
the task of replacing petroleum energy with electricity. We have two trends
racing each other (except that one trend is not yet out of the starting gate
- although this debate and the great work you people have done in the last
four years may be called a start.) On the one hand we have declining oil
supplies and increasing petroleum prices. On the other, we have the growth of
the dualmode system which blunts the impacts of the first trend. The first
trend sucks national wealth which should be used to create the second trend.

The second trend is no mean task. Our ultimate goal should be 100,000
miles of intercity guideways at speeds above 100 miles per hour, 45,000 miles
of guideway at speeds of 60 miles per hour and another 15,000 miles of
guideway at 40 miles per hour. The 100,000 mile system will serve 80% of all
intercity traffic. The 60 mile an hour guideways would serve the 75,000
square miles of existing suburbia and the additional 60,000 square miles of
maglurbia (for maglev urban area) that we will build in the next fifty years,
and the 40 mile an hour guideways would serve the high density former transit

The rate at which oil is depleted and the price will rise dictates the
rate at which we build these guideways. The current estimates of cheap oil in
the ground is about 850 billion barrels. The current rate of world
consumption is over 26 billion barrels per year. Even if we use the generous
figure of one trillion barrels of oil in the ground, at the current rate of
consumption, it would last less than forty years. The fact is that it will
last much longer because the annual production is expected to drop. An
engineer named Hubbert has shown the oil field production reaches a peak and
then drops when its half gone. We are now in the era when oil production is
starting to drop and prices will rise to meet these new levels on the demand

Fortunately the 80 mile per gallon car will soon be here and will give
our nation the respite it needs to act. We have about 40 years to get the job
done. We need 160,000 miles of guideways. We must gear up to build 4000 miles
of guideway per year.

If private industry builds the guideway, the Northeast Corridor and the
West Coast Corridor will be the first to be built. The traffic in these two
corridors is much higher than any where else in the country. These two
corridors are hardly 1000 miles in length.  Each year these two corridors
will generate the funds for additional dualmode guideway increments. It is
hardly likely that these revenues will be enough to build more than 1000
miles each year. Do you believe that private industry can get the money to
build 4000 miles per year?

Here is what we need. At $16 million per mile, 4000 miles a year
represents an annual investment of $64 billion.  We will need another $60
billion for our power plants or a total of $124 billion per year . This is
each year for the next forty years. (We consume 70 billion gallons of oil a
year. Thus, the $124 billion is equivalent to $1.75 a gallon.) When we are
done we will have created an energy source to replace the petroleum we have
consumed in the last hundred years, except this time, our energy source will
be more or less permanent. (Not entirely permanent, because even power plants
and guideways eventually wear out.)

Clearly a massive effort will be required to get this job done. The
sooner the better. Every mile of guideway reduces the demand for oil and
reduces the pressure to increase prices. The national savings become
available for more guideways.

I do not see how private industry can do it. Their only stake is profits
from an excellent investment.

America's stake is far greater. As the price of oil goes up, the demand
for housing in suburbia goes down and the demand for housing in the inner
city goes up. Suburban wealth is destroyed and inner city citizens are
evicted. The lowest income groups of both areas will be taking a licking.
World War II never produced this kind of danger to our nation, but we found
the means to build fifty thousand airplanes and the mightiest army on earth.
The risk we face today is much worse.

No I do not think this is a job that can wait on private industry. Let's
build the guideways and then sell them to private industry to run them under
good rules for the country. Even now we could start building foundations and
support columns for the guideway even as you are still deciding on the design
of the guideway beams.

The first technological issue to resolve therefore is the guideway
loading. I will discuss that in my comment no. 2.

I realize the scope of the program is mind-boggling, But what's the
alternative? Hydrogen and fuel cells? I see many problems.


Last modified: July 30, 2000