Maglev is best option for Northeast [Letter]

September 15, 2014

In Robert Reuter's letter to the editor ("Maglev is not the answer," Sept. 12), he identifies the great need to upgrade the Northeast Corridor's infrastructure. The proposal of an SCMAGLEV train system between Washington, D.C. and New York with an initial phase between Baltimore and Washington represents an opportunity to transform the mega-region. Undertaking this project, we will ensure that we can scale for future needs — both those we can foresee and those we cannot. With SCMAGLEV, we will choose a system technologically superior to conventional high-speed rail with extreme performance advantages. This system will drive economic productivity, benefit the environment and improve how people live and work. A variety of the points in Mr. Reuter's letter need to be clarified as much of what he writes about the SCMAGLEV proposal is misleading.

The B&P Tunnel is 141 years old. We agree that it is crucial to repair it as a safety measure. However, this will not have a significant impact on travel times. Speed restrictions of 30 miles per hour are in place for this tunnel stretching 1.4 miles south of Baltimore's Penn Station. Even if one were to improve the tunnel and lift the speed restriction, the tight curvature of the alignment south of the tunnel would still impose a major limit on the speed that could be achieved and would have only a modest impact on travel times.

While traditional, TGV high speed rail technology hit 357 mph in 2007 (4 mph less than the SCMAGLEV speed record), it took the TGV nearly 13 minutes to reach that limit. The SCMAGLEV takes just over 2 minutes to reach 311 mph. That makes for an enormous difference in travel times. Moreover, while the TGV top speed was achieved during tests that concluded in 2007, SCMAGLEV trains regularly run at 311 mph and above today.

Conventional high-speed rail systems face a speed/performance trade-off. Because the wheels and pantograph make contact with the rails and catenary, vibration and noise are significant the faster you go and can have a major impact on ride quality, noise, etc. In addition, when conventional trains are pushed to higher speeds, this necessarily increases maintenance costs with more frequent replacement of wheels, rails, catenary and pantograph, etc. due to the higher impact loads. By contrast, the SCMAGLEV train levitates and has no rails and no catenary, which means it is extremely stable at very high speeds and eliminates the wear and tear that a conventional system would experience.

The Shanghai Maglev Train is a very different technology from the SCMAGLEV system and is in many ways not comparable. We can't speculate on the rationale behind commercial decisions of Transrapid and SMT. However, we would point out that in Japan, a private company is funding the entire cost of the project from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of more than 270 miles. This strongly validates the commercial viability of the technology. In contrast to a "fancy gadget," the SCMAGLEV train is the future of high-speed ground transportation in Japan. We think it's also the future of transportation for the Northeast Corridor.

Paul A. Tiburzi, Baltimore

The writer serves as counsel to The Northeast Maglev.

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