Photo: MetroPlan Orlando
Last week, the city of Orlando approved the first phase of a plan to build a magnetic-levitation (mag-lev) train, suspended above its tracks and propelled forward by magnets.While it needs government support (and right-of-way land grants), the project is a private one, run by American Maglev Technology (AMT), which promises to build and operate the train without public funds.
scepticism about the project, which AMT Chief Executive Tony Morris claims can be done on a relatively small $315 million budget, has been widespread.
In June, Beth Kassab of the Orlando Sentinel article argued the hidden costs of the train include the donation of valuable right-of-way to AMT. She also pointed out Morris has received $20 million federal funding for maglev projects in Florida’s Volusia County and at Old Dominion University in Virginia, neither of which came to fruition.
Kassab also referenced the episode of “The Simpsons” in which a conman takes the town’s money to build a monorail, which immediately falls apart.
Yesterday, we spoke with Morris, who defended AMT against Kassab’s critiques.
Asked how the Orlando maglev could make a profit without public funds, he called it “one of those rare projects.” Once the train is running, it will shuttle people between Orlando International Airport and the Orange County Convention centre for $13 (one way). Those fares, he argued, will make the project profitable.
Morris also argued right-of-way will be less expensive, since the train will be built on an elevated track, not on the ground. Because the train will not be at risk of crashing into other vehicles, it can be built out of composite fibre, saving weight and lowering energy costs.
He said that the projects in Volusia County and at Old Dominion were not meant to be profitable, but rather designed to test and advance maglev technology, which he described as successful.
As of 2007, Old Dominion was still working on its train, but without the participation of AMT. According to the Student Voice, the university’s newspaper, “Financial and technical difficulties arose. The company had a hard time financing the project…The Maglev currently belongs to the University and is being considered a research project.”
Regarding the Volusia project, Morris said, “it was an embryonic test track” that “did everything it was supposed to do, and it was a success.”
On the Orlando train, passengers would be standing as well as seated, without seat belts, and safety regulations will limit the train’s speed to 50 mph.
So even if Morris is right, and can build a money-making train, the Orlando maglev will come without a key upside of the technology: The lack of friction would actually allow for travel faster than 300 mph, the target speed of a maglev project currently underway in Japan.
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