Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ripe for Maglev

This recent news item on high speed rail inspired me to actually try and look at the completed impact statement for a potential Maglev here.  We sure are ripe for a Maglev project. Over-ripe maybe?

But can anyone actually get the following document to work? This is where the Port Authority site takes me and it is just a cover page.  The links don't go anywhere all for me? Is it just me? Does anyone at all care?This is the link I am trying:

Actually, has anyone out there actually read the Maglev final EIS via any source?

I've got a new plan though:  String Rail.  We would probably call it String-Lev

and I just have to ask, but is Transrapid still in business?  Would be nice if the German inventors could get it built in their own country. 


Anonymous MH said...

The PA paper worked fine for me. I'm using Explorer and Windows 7.

As for the string rail, that's what we need for the Greenfield Ave. Chairlift.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 1:20:00 AM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

String rail could have all sorts of unforeseen engineering problems, and we won't really know until it is scaled up. So it seems worth studying, but not necessarily worth putting much hope in yet.

Meanwhile, modern cable-suspended gondolas are already in service in urban transit applications, and could be a great technology for Pittsburgh due to their relatively low capital costs (particularly in cases where they are crossing hills, valleys, or rivers). The documentation for the Oakland-Circulator project actually noted this possibility for both connecting Oakland to Pitt's Upper Campus and the PTC to the South Side, and I think we could and should think even bigger.

Finally, I think if the U.S. was prepared to make an Eisenhower-style (or China-style) investment in intercity passenger rail, Maglev would be the way to go, in which case a pilot project in Pittsburgh would make sense. That investment condition hasn't been met, of course, but who knows what will happen when we next reach a period of national prosperity, but are nonetheless feeling the pinch of higher gas prices and congested highways and airports.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 8:24:00 AM  
Anonymous n'at said...

Try the TOC page:

Links work fine on firefox v3.5.10.

Interesting Hopey article, and the one beneath it. I wonder how the ORO is doing? Still rumblings over the 3C corridor, but I guess they lost a P or two in their PPP.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 9:05:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Apparently, even when looking at things they don't even have the money to buy the blueprints for, the PA cannot contemplate building a train to Oakland.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 9:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lots of PDFs if you search google with inurl: . Then "repeat the search with the omitted results included".

Thursday, July 01, 2010 6:49:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

but is that how you are supposed to get it? Some seem to have this problem, and I take from the comments others do not. But something is wrong. I just wonder if anyone has actually bothered to look at it. Some of it is funny. I see where this all will have a much bigger issue with the Terminal Building than the AVRR... and there is a plate with a notation for the "proposed Mon Fayette Expressway (by others)".. Which I think is hilarious that they note literally "(by others)" so as to disavow themselves of that whole debate as if this project is not going to lay on top of a lot of someone else's real estate.. and you cant even say there will be development induced along most of the route since there will be very few stops.

It's just that I'm a technology guy.. really.. electrical engineering degree... Once had to derive Maxwell's Equations from scratch so believe me Maglev is neat. But how long do we keep pretending this is all going to happen which only distracts us from getting something done.

Yet in true Pittsburgh fashion we just keep nodding our head because nobody has any sense to call out the whole notion that there will be the money, political capital and energy to ever get this completed. I mean, the Germans have long since given up and it's their system. I've talked to German economic development folks about building Transrapid over there and they all but laugh. The Transrapid consortium itself is just a shell holding at this point.. Maglev Inc here in town is a couple of employees. Yet somehow this multi-multi billion dollar project is still worth talking about.

and it's not just the money to build it... but the operating/sustainablilty piece of this had some immense issues that likewise went unquestioned. If anyone thinks the Port Authority Subsidies are high now, consider that the highest conceivable demand for any maglev concept will still leave it operating deep in the red.

But all of that and news accounts just take the maglev references as valid... undeserving of basic questioning.

I just don't get it at all. It's like we just can't get past denial on so many things, this is just such an undeniable case in point... but there are plenty of others.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 7:28:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

Yet in true Pittsburgh fashion we just keep nodding our head because nobody has any sense to call out the whole notion that there will be the money, political capital and energy to ever get this completed.

I'm O.K. with that. If they were thinking of something that could be completed it would probably make things worse than the status quo.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 7:47:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

My understanding is there has been a dedicated federal funding stream for a possible Maglev pilot project, and that is what has kept the Maglev discussion alive to date. It also came up because when the feds recently announced they had money for HSR available, Pennsylvania got caught with little in the way of proposals they could take off-the-shelf, so Maglev got on the list.

Incidentally, the reverse-compatibility issue is much more pressing in places like Germany, where they have already invested serious amounts in real passenger rail (even more so if you consider compatibility with Europe as a whole). Here in the U.S., we don't have that "problem".

Again I'm not claiming Maglev is going to happen, but there is a certain logic to funding a serious study of it in the U.S., potentially even including a pilot program. If we lived in a country that took infrastructure seriously, it might have gotten done already.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 9:49:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

The story of the DOT demonstration project is too long to go into, but it never had funds appropriated. Even if it had been funded, it had a private sector funding piece that would have required a sizable bond being floated by someone... most likely the Port Authority. How they (the Port Authority) or the markets would have reacted to that bond were the questions I wondered about most.

The most recent maglev discussions are somewhere between political and emotional. State certainly has not wanted to push any of it forward. It was not something that was added by default.

If maglev made sense at all it probably would have been on the DC-Baltimore route which like Pittsburgh was at one point one of two finalists for the project. But their problem was the opposite of ours in that there was no real political support down there. They just didn't want it in the end.

But even as support for DC-Baltimore waned, Pgh could not win by default. Then 9/11 happened. Briefly there was this argument that Maglev would benefit because you can't "aim trains at building" (I didn't make that up).. Then the political powers that be realized Pgh couldnt win by default and Las Vegas and then the Atl-chatanooga proposals popped up... then sheer inertia set in.

Still no maglev anywhere.

Thursday, July 01, 2010 10:28:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

But there has in fact been federal funding for the studies, just not the actual pilot project itself.

I actually thought the case for the Pittsburgh pilot project was pretty sound, assuming you were going to fund a pilot project at all. Maglev would only make sense as a fairly extensive, integrated, intercity system, so none of these little projects could be justified on their own merits. For example, the Baltimore-DC project wouldn't have made much difference over Acela on a route so short--you'd only really see significant potential gains on something like DC to NYC or Boston (or for that matter, DC to Chicago).

But the idea behind the pilot project as I understood it was to develop and test the abilities of the technology. And for that purpose the Pittsburgh project seemed to me as good or better as any, since you could test the claimed ability of Maglev to make tighter turns, handle higher grades, and so forth.

Friday, July 02, 2010 3:28:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Um. Studies are cheap compared to actually building any of this.

Some of the justification for a Pittsburgh project is circular. The actual DOT demonstration criteria seemed to me to be so precisely written for the DC-Baltimore route that I think many other regions never even dreamed of putting in for it. Things really started to go asunder when the dc-balt area lost interest. Thus when you look at what was/is proposed for us.. the whole idea of extending it out to Greensburg just can’t ever be economically viable demand-wise. But it had to be extended that far to meet the distance criteria. Then the argument became that Pittsburgh would provide a variety of topography which is ideal to ‘test’ the system. But the counterissue with that is that in reality the train as proposed would never really get up to speed. They say it would briefly, but I bet not.

Friday, July 02, 2010 4:42:00 PM  
Anonymous BrianTH said...

It is true the cost of the studies is denominated in millions and even a modest pilot project would cost billions (of course even billions these days can be considered small change in the right context). But if we are trying to explain why the story hasn't died, it seems to me one can't ignore the fact that actual money has been changing hands, even if for no ultimate purpose.

On the technical issues, I have no idea whether the Pittsburgh Maglev project would actually hit top speed, but I'm not sure that is really the issue. As I understand it, the bit about sharp turns and grades and such is really about acceleration characteristics, not top speeds.

More broadly, maybe in detail this is a flawed argument--I certainly lack the expertise to claim otherwise. But it doesn't strike me as a superficially silly argument, and again that seems like the relevant issue if you are trying to explain why people aren't just dismissing the very idea.

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