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Can Japanese magnetically floating trains make the US a leader in high speed rail?

  • 1.  Can Japanese magnetically floating trains make the US a leader in high speed rail?

    Posted 11-01-2018 11:07


    In the context of the wide outreach to politicians and the media by the Japanese rail consortium to promote their magnetic levitation train system (Maglev) for use in the US, the Baltimore SUN was in Japan to test the trains and investigate the topic in detail. The first route is supposed to run between Washington and Baltimore. The Sun covered its findings in a detailed and largely impartial report which covered three and a half pages in its print section. However, the author of this article believes that many relevant questions were not asked. This article is intended to put them on the table.

    Maglev, the big disrupter?

    When it comes to magnetic levitation trains proponents stress the superlatives: The speed (311 miles per hour), the fact it can't derail, the precision (0.5-3.7"), the cost ($10-15 billion for 30 miles between DC and Baltimore), and the technology itself.

    Happy for the support: Northeast Maglev CEO, Wayne Rogers with
    Maryland influenzers Mike Miller, Kevin Plank and Ben Cardin (SUN photo)

    Comparisons usually reach beyond the earth:  There is inevitable talk about Kennedy's challenge to put a man on the moon. Comparisons are also made to earlier technological revolutions: How those who funded and built the first US passenger railroad (starting in Baltimore) outmaneuvered those who continued building canals. How the automobile was not just an improved horse carriage. How adopting the Japanese technology would somehow move the US to the front of high speed train technology. Today "disruption" has become the mantra for entire industries and the inventor Elon Musk sends a Tesla into orbit, the promoters of Maglev trying to direct some of this glow on their trains which still haven't really caught on.

    How Maglev works

    The technology is, indeed, a superlative and some basics are needed to understand what chances Maglev has to be a disrupter in transportation. The key technological difference: Unlike conventional trains, there isn't an engine or a set of electric motors pulling the train along steel tracks but electricity is used to create magnetism between the guideway and the train which makes it float and move. While traditional electric motors have a coil, in the "linear motor" of Maglev the coil is unspooled along the guideway.

     Japanese Maglev guideway: A big concrete trough

    Read the full article about the history of Maglev and what issues of "scale" and "resilience" makes this technology especially challenging.  

    [Klaus] Philipsen FAIA
    Archplan Inc. Philipsen Architects
    Baltimore MD
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  • 2.  RE: Can Japanese magnetically floating trains make the US a leader in high speed rail?

    Posted 11-02-2018 21:22
    YES!  Wow, can we finally get there?  My architectural undergraduate thesis was a proposal for Maglev train stations from a PB (Parsons-Brinckerhoff) California route study 22 years ago.  So, yes this can make US a much desired leader in high speed rail though the support and finances necessary.

    Peter Noble
    ACRe Services | Owner

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