Build Maglev --
Restore The National Transportation Grid

Printed in the American Almanac, 1993


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A national U.S. maglev grid will have minimally, two effects: First, it will revolutionize transportation. Second, its very construction would lead to a hard physical goods orders, a revitalization of the economy, and a broader surge of infrastructure building in other areas.

Figure 1 shows exisitng rail lines of the United States. Figure 2 shows a national maglev grid. Some of the proposed maglev lines would run along existing rail and/or highway rights-of-way; some would set out on new rights of way.

This map of proposed maglev lines is from a September 1993 report by the National Maglev Initiative, a 3 three-and-a-half year interdepartmental study group that drew together the Federal Railroad Administration of the Department of Transportation; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the U.S. Department of Energy. It represents 16 maglev corridors, some of which studies have going on for the last decade. Many of thes 16 corridors interconnect.

The proposed maglev grid of 16 routes has a total mileage of 6,759 miles. (To give this system a greater interconnectedness, it might be considered adding four additional routes: Atlanta-Orlando, Atlanta-New Orleans, St. Louis -Atlanta and St. Louis-Dallas, which would add on 2,138 miles).

The initial capital cost to construct the original 16 corridors is estimated by the National Maglev Initiative to be a modest $214.5 billion. 52% of this cost is for the construction of the guideways: ie, the pylons to hold up the guideways, the rails and/or guideways themselves, the electronic components of the guideways, etc. The initial capital cost also includes the cost of acquisition of land and/or right of ways, etc. The total capital cost comes out to a construction cost of $31.7 million per mile (recent construction of a mile of U.S. highway system in California cost over $100 million). The cost may actually be less.


Benefits to the Economy

The construction of this national grid will have immediate benefits for the economy. It is estimated by an engineer involved in national maglev studies, that each mile of construction of a maglev system, including pylons, guideways, etc, requires 23,406 short tons of concrete and 2,479 short tons of steel. To complete this modest 16 corridors of 6,759 miles would require 158.2 million short tons of concrete and 16.8 million short tons of steel. It would employ a minimum of 100,000 workers (perhaps double that), with nearly half in manufacturing and construction. If these workers earn $40,000 per year, assuming only 100,000 workers, that comes to $40 billion in income, and various federal, state, and local tax revenues of between $7 and $10 billion per year. There are also increased corporate taxes because of increased output. All of this just in the construction phase.

To make this grid a reality would require several thousand maglev trains or consists, which would exceed the capacity of specialized train car makers. This would present a unique opportunity to turn toward America's aerospace sector, and convert part of it to maglev train production. The aerospace and machine tool sectors represent a level of free energy for America: with very developed sophisticated and advanced capital goods, and a highly skilled workforce. In 1994, the ravaged aerospace industry had plunged to less than a 60% capacity utilization rate. Skilled aerospace engineers and workers are driving taxi cabs. This would offer an excellent way to reemploy them and utilize the idle capacity.

The specifications of maglev trains and aircraft have much in common. First, they both must be aerodynamically designed, because of the fast speeds they travel at. That means making them out of lightweight, but heat-resistant materials. Second, their size and weight dimensions have much in common. For example, the size of a German Transrapid TR07 maglev vehicle is 84 feet long, and 13 feet high. A Boeing 737-500 is 102 feet long (just 18 feet longer) and 37 feet high. The height difference is deceptive. The Boeing 737-500's height includes the height of its tail fin. Removing that, the height of the cabin is 12 to 15 feet high, the same as the Transrapid TR07. The weight of the Transrapid TR07 is 45 tons, whereas the weight of a Boeing 737- 500 is just 9.25 tons. But again this is deceptive. The cabins of the Transrapid TR07 and the Boeing 737-500 weigh pretty much the same; the added weight of the Transrapid is the carriage frame and componentry (called a boggie) that is underneath and attached to the cabin.


The Passenger Lines

As for passenger travel, the prospects for a national maglev grid, consisting of 16 or perhaps 20 original corridors, are excellent. In 1992, in the United States, there were 2.063 trillion passenger-miles travelled by all modes of transportation: 1.663 trillion passenger miles were traveled by autos (81% of the total); and 364 billion passenger miles were travelled by airplane. If maglev took 10% of all existing passenger-miles travelled-- a highly likely prospect-- it would account for 206 billion passenger miles per year.

In addition, the maglev net has the potential to create at least 100 billion new passenger-miles from people who will travel from superfast maglev, who otherwise would not have travelled in the past. This represents a combined range of 300 billion passenger miles, almost as much as all the currently existing air traffic.

To imagine what this means by the year 2020, look at the record of the Japanese Shinkansen/Bullet train, which travels between Tokyo and Osaka. Daily, it has 130 train runs, with 10 minute intervals maintained during rush hours. With $5.2 billion in revenue and $2.2 billion in expenses per year, the Shinkansen is the most profitable rail operation in the world.


The Freight Lines

The current generation of a maglev train has a limitation on how much freight it can haul. Currently, an empty maglev car weighs 90 tons (this car, called a consist, is made up of two vehicles, each of which weighs 45 tons). The car is capable of carrying 19.5 tons in support and guidance equipment on board, and can carry, additionally, a payload weight of 16 tons. This carrying capacity is only one-fifth the freight carrying capacity of the average U.S. freight car, which is 84 tons. This would restrict maglev, in the beginning, to carrying mail and light-weight freight of the sort carried by UPS and Federal Express, and shipped by airplane.

But, according to people in the maglev field, it is a matter of perhaps 10 years before the maglev could be developed with a freight payload carrying capacity of 50 tons, meaning it could carry capital goods. This would make maglev part of the freight carrying network.

Pennsylvania has a ``keystone'' position in maglev grid. Figure 2 shows the proposed national maglev grid. Notice that much of the planned initial maglev activity is in the Northeast-Midwest quadrant zone of the U.S. This is made up of two parts. First, there is an extended eastern seaboard maglev corridor, running north-south, that starts in Atlanta, Georgia, and runs up all the way up to Boston, Massachusetts. Philadelphia is a critical stop on, and part of, this East Coast corridor. Then, starting in Philadelphia, there is a major corridor, running from east to west, that travels through Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Cleveland, Ohio, and on to Toledo, Ohio (where there is a spur that curves up to Detroit, Michigan). From thence, it goes on to Chicago, Illinois.

At Chicago, it branches into two lines. A northern route goes through Milwaukee, Wisconsin on to Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. The southern routes proceeds to St. Louis, Missouri, and on to Kansas City, Missouri.

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Feasibility Study presents a broader grid, adding routes that are not on the national maglev map, that go from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, and into parts of West Virginia and Maryland.


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The preceding article is a rough version of the article that appeared in The American Almanac. It is made available here with the permission of The New Federalist Newspaper. Any use of, or quotations from, this article must attribute them to The New Federalist, and The American Almanac.


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