Monday, September 21, 2015

Boondoggle Maglev

If one can justifiably apply the term boondoggle to any form of public transportation, Maglev is it.

Contrary to the media hype about it, it is not a disruptive innovation or brand new technology. Instead it is an old hat that has been around since the 1970's. An aphrodisiac of sorts for politicians that continue to get starry eyed when they ride one of the test trains.

 A Maglev tunnel from DC to Baltimore? And then on to New York? DC to Baltimore in 15 minutes for 11 billion dollars? That is the kind of stuff that gets attention because it is so much more sexy than adding another track along the Amtrak route so that the Azela and the MARC train can run independent of each other and more reliable MARC service can be added.
Governor Hogan and his Secretary of Transportation, Rahn
ride a Maglev test train in Japan

You can get to DC from Penn station in 40 minutes today when you take Azela (top speed 156 mph) but it sets you back $65 or more compared to under $10 for MARC. A Maglev would cost even more, especially if it were run by a private consortium as proposed. And the 15 minutes and 300mph would only be achieved if the train never stops anywhere in between where the jobs or people are (maybe at BWI, not in Odenton, Bowie, New Carrolton). 
Of course Maglev would disrupt Amtrak and it would render our Penn Station obsolete.

Maglev is a beautiful technology, on paper and on test trains. But it's cost has  proven to be unfeasible in any scenario to date in which government would not provide subsidies that make support to Amtrak look like a pittance.

That is why no country in the world has chosen Maglev as their technology of choice for high speed train service over long distance. Not even Germany (which long had a strong Maglev interest) or China which built a system from scratch. The only Maglev train in actual revenue service is an underutilized airport shuttle in Shanghai. 

Welcome to Baltimore, Japanese Maglev consortium, we welcome you restoring a historic fire house for your new office in town. But don't keep distracting our Governor and our Mayor!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

see my more detailed Maglev articles here and here.


  1. Good points, all. One thing that hasn't been commented on is what game should be changed. High-speed and high-cost rail service will be great for the Larry Hogans of the world, but it's not going to help someone get from Sandtown to a job in Reisterstown - in other words, it's not going to make a significant difference in any Baltimore community other than, perhaps, one near the stop (presumably Penn Station).

    Also NB: Acela is Amtrak's high-speed rail service, not Azela.

  2. All of your false claims in your blog makes it extremely easy to prove that you know nothing about it. There is indeed a country that has chosen Maglev as their technology of choice for high speed train service over [a] long distance: Japan. Want to know something else about it? Its being built by a private company, privately funded. No subsidies. In fact, there are many different maglev systems and designs. Some of them are indeed costly, but there are others that are not that expensive and a few more that have extraordinary potential once their fully proliferated. The biggest benefit, by far, is not the speed of maglev but the extremely low maintenance costs. This increases the net operating income of the system tremendously and makes it worthy of private investment, evidenced by the backing of American Maglev Technology in their effort to build their system in Orlando. Once maglev is used for freight, which it can be with a very similar system being proposed in the Baltimore/DC corridor except using quadrupole instead of dipole magnets.