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Magnetic Levitation

Prospects For Maglev Vehicles

The new age of MAGLEV technology can be traced to the early 1960s. During that period, many observers saw MAGLEV vehicles as a way of solving a number of problems confronting the United States and other developed nations. For example, they offered an apparently efficient way of moving large numbers of people quickly and efficiently through and around urban areas. They could be powered with almost any form of energy from which electricity could be made, not just with coal or petroleum. By 1970, then, a number of model MAGLEV vehicles had been constructed.

That research has been vigorously continued in a number of nations, including Japan, Great Britain, Germany, and France. All of these nations have developed a number of prototype vehicles that may soon move into commercial operation. For example, Japanese engineers have designed a 27-mi (43.5 km) test line through the Yamanashi Prefecture that would carry up to 10,000 passengers per hour in 14-car trains traveling at 310 mi (499 km) per hour. Some German models have used a somewhat different form of magnetic levitation. The German's Transrapid 07 has nonsuperconducting magnets attached to the vehicle body and suspended beneath the guide rail. The magnets are attracted (rather than repelled) upward to the rail, lifting the train to within an inch of the guide rail.

In contrast to this kind of progress, however, the United States had by 1975 virtually abandoned research on magnetic levitation. That decision, made by the Office of Management and Budget, had been made on the belief that MAGLEV transportation would not be an economically feasible alternative in this country in the foreseeable future.

That attitude underwent a dramatic reversal in the early 1990s, largely as the result of the interest of one politician, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) of New York. Moynihan had become convinced that MAGLEV vehicles were the means by which the nation's interurban transportation problems could be solved. And, as chairman of the Senate subcommittee responsible for the U.S. highway system, Moynihan was in a position to put his beliefs into practice. In 1989, Moynihan inserted into the highway bill a special provision for the development of new MAGLEV technology, the Magnetic Levitation Prototype Development Program, with a budget of $750 million. Given this seed money, many experts once more have high hopes for the eventual development of a commercial MAGLEV vehicles program in the United States.

Resources

Books

Rhodes, R.G., and B.E. Mulhall. Magnetic Levitation for Rail Transport. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981.

Periodicals

Rossing, Thomas D., and John R. Hull. "Magnetic Levitation." The Physics Teacher (December 1991): 552-562.

Singer, Sanford S. "Advanced Transportation Systems." Magill's Survey of Science: Applied Science Series Vol. 6. Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1993. pp. 2724-2730.

Stix, Gary. "Air Trains." Scientific American (August 1992): 102-113.

Other

"High-Speed Ground Transportation Oversight." Hearing before the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, United States Senate, One Hundred Second Congress, Second Session, August 6, 1992.

"High-Speed Rail Transportation." Hearing before the Subcommittee on Transportation and Hazardous Materials of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, House of Representatives, One Hundred Third Congress, First Session, April 29, 1993.


David E. Newton

KEY TERMS

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Electromagnetism

—The unified electrical and magnetic field of force generated by the passage of an electric current through matter.

Superconductivity

—The tendency of an electrical current to flow through a conductor with essentially no resistance.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Macrofauna to MathematicsMagnetic Levitation - Principle Of Operation, Maglev Vehicles, Superconducting Magnets, Disadvantages Of Maglev Vehicles, Prospects For Maglev Vehicles