|By This summer, gas prices are reaching astronomical levels, and the airline industry is predicting more delays and higher ticket prices. But an infusion of new technology is bringing hope for America’s oldest form of mass transportation: the railroad. Though you can’t beat the speed of a plane, magnetic levitation (maglev) trains may give the airlines a run for their money.
Maglev uses magnetic forces to float trains and pull them along a monorail-like track. Compared with conventional diesel or electric trains, maglev substantially reduces friction, allowing for speeds of over 200 mph and a much quieter ride. So far, the only commercial maglev trains are in Shanghai and Japan, but plans are also in place in the U.S.
“We’re at an important point in maglev technology, because its benefits are finally being understood,” says Sam Gurol, director of maglev systems at General Atomics. Gurol is in charge of the only fully operational maglev test track in the U.S. The General Atomics track in San Diego is only 400 feet long, but Gurol has his sights set on both low-speed urban systems for commuters and high-speed trains for long-distance travel.
The most promising maglev project is a proposed 300-mph train that would run 270 miles, from Las Vegas to Anaheim, California. Such a train would offer reduced maintenance costs, better rider comfort, and less weather dependency than aircraft. Gurol notes that although maglev uses electricity, its carbon footprint could be reduced by drawing on wind, solar, and nuclear power.