The Case For True Maglev Dualmode


Walter D. Velona, C.E., P.E.

I offer calculations to show that a true maglev dualmode will greatly reduce the cost of American automobile transportation.

I begin by suggesting that we accept the concept of a national dualmode system as described for the HiLoMag system and that it shall consist of 160,000 guideway miles. Of these, 100,000 miles shall be of the high speed intercity variety which will suffice to serve 80% of all intercity traffic and 60,000 miles shall be of the low speed variety which will suffice to serve all the neighborhoods of the urbanized land areas. Together, the urban guideways and the intercity guideways provide each neighborhood in the country with a guideway connection to all the other neighborhoods in the country.

A neighborhood is 3.5 square miles in area. No resident of the neighborhood resides more than 7 minutes from a grocery market by car (one minute to walk to the car, 5 minutes for the ride, and one minute to walk and enter the market.) The system will serve about 25,000 neighborhoods..

I make two assumptions:

1. The design life of the guideways will be 100 years. This is four times greater than the design life of our highways.

The effects of sun, rain, ice and frost in combination with the pounding of the heavy truck traffic cause our roads to heave, wear away and break. For these reasons, in planning for them, highway engineers use a design life of 25 years.

Elevated maglev guideways would not be subject to the severe effects of weather or to the heavy pounding. We have elevated structures all over the world that are over 100 years old. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that the guideways will last 100 years,

2. The average life of automobiles will double.

I base this estimate on the fact that travel on local roads throughout the nation is less than 15% of total travel. If every trip starts and ends on a local road, it follows that the other 85% of all motor vehicle travel occurs on the highway arteries that connect these two sets of local roads. The function of dualmode is to replicate and compete with the function of the highway arteries. Thus, the potential market for dualmode consists of 85% of all motor vehicle travel, less the limitation that the intercity guideway serves only 80% of all intercity travel. We can conclude that if the price is right, at least half of the national vehicle miles will be on dualmode guideways. This is more than triple the 15% on local roads. This means that automobiles will be spending most of their operating life parked on a guideway while being transported from place to place. If so, it is reasonable to assume that cars will last at least twice the life of today’s cars.

Having accepted the reasonableness of these two assumptions, the next step is to calculate whether the savings in annual auto costs will be enough to build our guideways.

U.S Bureau of Census consumer surveys have shown that the automobile costs the average household $ 3,000 a year. If we double the lifetime of a car, the annual cost becomes $1,500 per year. The nation has over 100 million households. Thus the total cost saving is 100 million times $1,500 per year which equals $150 billion per year. Thus, for 100 years the nation will have saved $150 billion per year less whatever it would cost to build the entire dualmode system. Allowing for interest on the money, let’s say that the guideway will cost us $25 million per mile. The total cost would be $25 million times 160,000. which equals $4,000 billion. At $150 billion per year, the time needed to save the $4,000 billion needed for construction would be 27 years. At $150 billion per year, during the next 67 years of the 100 year design life of the system, society would amass a national productivity benefit of $11,000 billion.

Let us next compare the differences in energy costs. In this calculation I use the following parameters; 40% efficiency for gasoline use and 85% efficiency for the electricity use; $1.40 a gallon for gasoline and 8 cents a kilowatt hour for electricity; 30 miles per gallon of gas; and 31 KWH per gallon of gasoline.

The automobile needs 0.4 x 31 / 30 = 0.41 KWH of energy to run each mile on the road. It seems reasonable to me that the friction free travel of the automobile on the guideway would require less energy than on the highway, but I know that the energy needed to overcome air resistance at the higher intercity velocity can be high. I will therefore assume that on the average, the same amount of energy is needed to run on the guideway, as is required on the highway. Thus a car on the guideway would use 0.41 / .85 = 0.49 KWH of electricity for each mile on the guideway. The cost per mile on the road is 140 / 30 = 4.7 cents a mile. (This figure may be low. FHA reports 6.2 cents a mile for oil and gas. I can’t believe that oil costs are as high as 1.5 cents per mile)

The cost of electricity on the guideway is 0.49 x 8 = 3.92 cents a mile. Thus even at today’s prices the guideway user would save 0.78 cents per mile. In 1997, the nation drove 2.5 trillion vehicle miles. If half of this travel is diverted to the dualmode system, at 0.78 cents per vehicle mile, the reduction in energy costs would be $9.75 billion per year. This equals $390,000 per neighborhood or $60,000 per mile. This savings alone, should cover a good portion of the annual maintenance and operating costs for the system.

These calculations are based on the use of a Magic Carpet maglev engine mounted underneath vehicles and cargo containers. If we add a pallet to the mix we would be substituting the wear and tear on the pallets for wear and tear on the cars. We would also increase the load and increase the fuel costs.

It is my thought that all of us who have studied this concept for so many years are the creators of a new and wonderful industry that will truly bring our nation and perhaps the world into the 21st century. I believe that it would be appropriate and fitting as well as a good strategy for all the creators and supporters of these automated transportation system to unite in a request to the President to carry out the following plan or one like it. Your name on this request will mark your legitimacy and insure your participation in what is likely to become a major new world industry of the future.

1. Fund the development of the dualmode technology, including the construction of an appropriate test track with approaches; the control technology; the Magic Carpet maglev engine technology and enough test vehicles to demonstrate its operations.

2. Propose Federal funding to each State for the immediate construction of the dualmode guideway on the 45,000 mile Interstate Highway System. This section of guideway is intended to act as seed to encourage further growth of the guideway to its ultimate completion.

Repayment of these funds by the users shall be at the lowest interest rates that may be appropriate as repayment for the many indirect benefits of dualmode including: elimination of much of the fossil fuel contamination of the environment, the elimination of over 25,000 deaths per year due to automobile accidents, the savings in cost of goods due to the benefits of increasing the size of market areas as a result of high system velocities, the automation of goods movements, the control of urban sprawl and the almost total elimination of highway congestion.

3. Institute a payment system that allows buyers of new cars who are so inclined, to also purchase a permit that gives their new car the right of access to the guideway system during the entire life of that car. Buyers who purchase this privilege will pay about the same amount per month as they do today, except the payments will last for twice the number of years. This is consistent with the fact that the car will last longer when using a guideway. From that point on, the privilege of using dualmode is associated with that vehicle and accompanies that vehicle when it is sold or traded.

Clearly this is a plan wide open for debate.


Last modified: March 07, 2001