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12:00 AM, Aug 18, 2003
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In 1998, Congress authorized the development of a high-speed inter-city DEMONSTRATION PROJECT as part of TEA-21's MagLev Deployment Program. If the B-W is indeed selected as the first MagLev construction project, it is with the idea of being the first link of a line that would run north to Boston and south to Atlanta, a line that would make many short haul flights along the east coast obsolete. The B-W MagLev is not, and never was, conceived as a commuter line.

Incidentally, events on the other side of the world have conspired to make the concept of a U.S. MagLev demonstration project irrelevant. In January of 2001, the Chinese government signed a contract with Transrapid International to build an elevated 19-mile dual-track MagLev between Shanghai's Longyang Station and its new Pudong International Airport. Remarkably, the line for this entirely new transportation system was built in less than two years; including, two stations, a 1.1 mile-long guideway beam manufacturing plant, a maintenance facility, and even landscape beautification.

The Shanghai MagLev Transportation (SMT) system had a ceremonial debut last New Year's Eve where it attained a speed of 267 mph; the trip takes precisely 7.5 minutes. Until the SARS epidemic ceased visitor rides in May, more than 80,000 paying passengers took weekend rides. It will take the rest of the year to complete full commissioning of the SMT and deliver and install all 15 MagLev vehicles. When the system is in full commercial operation early next year, three 5-section MagLevs will shuttle passengers back and forth every 10 minutes, with an additional section to be added to each set by the end of next year. In other words, this extremely safe, quiet, comfortable, non-polluting, computer operated and controlled MagLev will operate more like a high-speed horizontal elevator than a train. Simply by adding more sections and/or increasing the frequency of operation, thousands of additional passengers per hour can be transported without a single additional penny being spent on the guideway infrastructure. A boondoggle? I think not, because it works and works well.

Critics often cite the high costs of building MagLev guideways, but the truth is that dual guideway construction per mile is comparable to building a traditional dual track high speed rail system or an eight-lane interstate-style highway. However, to speak of cost without relation to benefit is meaningless. When comparing MagLev transportation capacity per hour to a highway, the fog of data is lifted. It would take the minimum of a 22 lane highway, with 2,000 cars per lane per hour with an average U.S. vehicle capacity of 1.2 passengers to carry the same number of passengers. Shall we also consider the right of way costs for all those additional highway lanes and the health costs from all the additional air pollution and traffic related injuries and deaths?

Daily Standard readers have a right to know the facts of an issue. Who knows, they might even agree to an increase in the gasoline tax if the money went to funding an efficient non-polluting, safe, quiet, fast, and reliable new transportation mode that promises to alleviate air and automobile traffic--and improve the quality of our lives.

--Kevin C. Coates, President, Coates Communications, MagLev consultant, and former spokesperson for Transrapid International-USA, Inc.