Maglev Trains for Greener Transportation

How would you like to travel from Austin to Houston in 33 minutes? Would you believe that this is possible to do without leaving the ground, all while reducing your carbon footprint? All of this is possible with Magnetic Levitation Trains. Magnetic Levitation Trains, also known as Maglev Trains, are a rising technology showing much promise. The current Shanghai Transrapid train in China averages a travel speed of 267 mph [http://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/engines-equipment/maglev-train3.htm]. Even at that speed, cross continental trips can be convenient; a trip from Los Angeles to New York City would take just over 9 hours (compared to just under 5 and half hours for a flight) [http://www.distance-cities.com/search?from=New+York%2C+NY&to=Los+Angeles%2C+CA][ http://www.travelmath.com/flying-time/from/Los+Angeles,+CA/to/New+York,+NY]. I have spent more time traveling on a greyhound from Austin to Brownsville for crying out loud.

The benefits of Maglev technology should not be overlooked in this environmentally conscious society we live in today. Looking at the Figure below, it is easy to see the benefits that Maglev trains could have on the environment. It is clear to see that on a per-passenger basis, Maglev trains are the most “green” mode of transportation. A Transrapid train can seat between 321-449 passengers, while a bowing 747 can fit between 400-500 passengers. [http://www.newaustralia.net/MaglevAlternativeDIT.pdf] Based on the data above with maximum capacity, traveling from LA to NY would produce approximately 374,300 kg-CO2 and 58,379 kg-CO2 by 747-Short Haul flight and Transrapid Train, respectively. The Transrapid system would produce only ~16% of the emissions that the equivalent flight would produce.

 

Figure 1. Comparison of carbon emissions for conventional high-speed rail, Tranrapid, passenger cars, and short haul flights.

http://mosaic.cnfolio.com/uploads/B101CW2008B227/co2_emission_en.gif

Another benefit is that the prices of tickets for Maglev trains would be more stable than for air travel since the fuel for Maglev trains is electricity; air plane tickets fluctuate with the price of oil. Also, as energy production in the US becomes greener, so would Maglev trains.

It would be great to see the United States government push the issue on Maglev trains as we push for greener technology.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Maglev Trains for Greener Transportation

  1. Great post! I’m a huge proponent of this technology. Although I like the idea of using magnetic levitation for transporting humans, imagine of the impact it would have to transport goods. By moving goods rather than humans, safety requirements become much less restrictive. This would increase the likelihood of adoption drastically. About a year ago I had the opportunity to speak with the folks at UT’s Center for Electromechanics (http://www.utexas.edu/research/cem/) at the JJ Pickle Center to get a better idea about the challenges in commercializing this technology. They emphasized scale and its effect on price. The commercialization of a magnetic levitation system for the transport of goods could be designed for a much smaller cross-sectional area than a system for human transport. This, along with the fact that no human bodies are involved, would drastically decrease up-front costs and increase outside interest in investment.

    Additionally, transitioning to a magnetic levitation system from the traditional plane/delivery truck model would aid in reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil, or oil altogether. As the majority of our electricity generated using domestic resources, mainly coal, natural gas, and uranium, all stakeholders would benefit.

    In my opinion, this is a technology that would help reduce emissions and benefit consumers as well as businesses with a faster delivery method.

  2. trevorud

    Aside from the recent political backlash behind high-speed train investment, I think the idea of having a cross-country maglev is enticing. The speed and overall safety of this mode of transportation provide a solution to travel that does not require jet fuel. This and other points are well detailed in this post, yet the issue of cost seems to be set aside here. Maglev trains require extensive infrastructure outlays and expensive maintenance and security upkeep. The costs involved with constructing the train make for what is already a difficult political situation into nearly an impossible one.
    I recently traveled on the maglev train in Shanghai and was impressed with the speed and comfort experienced during the short ride from the Pudong airport to the city train station. From the vantage point of the nearly 50ft. high rail, I was able to see how the city had cleared vast expanses of land to make way for the train’s infrastructure needs. With the buildings flying past in a blur it is easy to believe that anyone would want a train like this in their state. But the reality of the costs and the time it would take to get permits to build this giant rail line makes for an uphill battle in the US.

    1. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/14956875/ns/technology_and_science-innovation/t/maglev-trains-offer-high-speed-big-cost/#.UX1-h7vLglY

    • montanez82

      Yes, the cost is really high, but i believe that since the “sweet spot” for high speed maglev is ~500miles, and that over 50% of U.S. Flights are less than 600 miles, the us government can reducing funding (in AIP grants) esp. for short haul flights. Like Dr. Webber said in class, sometimes the best policy is the one that is thought out over the long term, which is where maglev stands.

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