Maglev uses electromagnetic forces for vertical and horizontal support as well as for propulsion. Unlike traditional HSR with steel wheels on steel rails, maglev eliminates any contact between vehicles and guideways, and offers faster travel with much lower maintenance, greater safety, lower vibration and noise, zero vehicle exhaust emissions, all- weather operational capabilities, fewer environmental impacts and higher energy efficiency. Maglev also means profitable operations and freedom from governmental operating subsidies.

Since 30% of all domestic air travel consists of trips of 500 miles or less, maglev promises to eliminate much of the need for new airport expansion. But given the long lead times for large-scale projects, Congress should decide soon how best to serve this country's future transportation needs with maglev.

DETRACTORS. As with any new technology, there are detractors. When I read their criticisms, I see old data, wrong assumptions and flawed analysis. At the University of Southern California, Transportation Engineering Program Director James E. Moore II erroneously claimed last year that "there are no manufacturers of maglev components or spare parts" (ENR 2/26/01 p. 99).

And last November at its board meeting, the California High-Speed Rail Authority concluded that maglev was an unproven technology because "there is no place in the world that has a history of revenue service using Maglev." This is an odd argument, considering that there are not any steel-wheel systems in revenue operation that meet California's requirement for speeds up to 220 mph.

One of maglev's more vocal critics, Professor Vukan R. Vuchic at the University of Pennsylvania, in an article last spring in Transportation Quarterly, claimed "the advantages of Maglev over high-speed rail are few and they are very small."

But claims of prohibitive costs are unfounded. My company's dual-track maglev systems, costing as little as $20 million per mile, are competitive with an HSR line or a four-lane interstate highway built from scratch–and far safer. The Southern California Association of Governments recently determined that a maglev system's initial capital cost would be only slightly higher than a traditional HSR system, yet the association recommended the use of maglev, in anticipation of yearly operating and maintenance costs 40 to 50% lower, to dramatically improve the likelihood of profitable, non-subsidized operations.

As the president of Transrapid International-USA Inc., I can definitively state that the Transrapid companies are the only ones in the world that currently provide maglev technology for very high-speed travel. Our entire operating system has been proven and perfected over 18 years. At our test track in Germany, paying passengers routinely take rides at speeds up to 255 mph on our TR-08, our eighth-generation vehicle. More than 360,000 people, including U.S. government officials and members of Congress, have ridden on our vehicles and experienced the incredibly smooth operation of this 21st-Century mode of travel. The German Transportation Ministry, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation, the Federal Railroad Administration and the Chinese government (which is presently building a maglev route using our technology) all agree that Transrapid's system is ready for commercial service.

In the U.S., our system was selected by six of seven locations in DOT's 1998 Maglev Deployment Program as the only one thoroughly tested and ready for commercial deployment. There now are five active maglev projects in the U.S.–Pittsburgh, Baltimore-Washington, D.C., Atlanta-Chattanooga, Las Vegas-Anaheim and Southern California. Germany has two projects under way–an airport connector in Munich and a route between Dortmund and Düsseldorf. The Dutch government is moving ahead with plans to connect Amsterdam with the northern Netherlands by maglev.

DEPLOYMENT. Shanghai is using Transrapid's system for the new 19-mile Pudong International Airport shuttle (ENR 7/29 p. 22). Passengers will travel at speeds up to 270 mph to make in eight minutes a trip that currently takes 45 minutes or more by car. China's prime minister is scheduled to ride the system next Dec. 31 to commemorate its deployment, with full revenue operation scheduled for early 2004. By 2005, Shanghai's new airport shuttle will be transporting an estimated 30,000 passengers per day.

So while critics urge further testing before deploying this system in the U.S., China is building the world's most advanced ground transportation system. On this issue, America cannot afford to be dissuaded by a few vocal critics. If we are going to move forward, let's do it by adopting environmentally and economically sound technologies that improve our quality of life. We not only owe it to ourselves, but to future generations of Americans who will thank us for having this foresight.

J. Christopher Brady is the president of Transrapid International-USA Inc. in Washington, DC. He may be e-mailed at info@transrapid-usa.com.

fter a four-day halt of air travel a year ago, this country's need for an efficient high-speed ground transportation system became even more obvious in the wake of Sept. 11. Now, Congress is seriously considering funding the development of true high-speed rail, or HSR. As Congress mulls a reauthorization of highway and transit funding for 2003-2009, the multi-billion-dollar measure seems likely to call for an innovative version of high-speed rail called magnetic levitation.