Robert Downes 3/23/09
Wouldnt it be nice to travel from Northern Michigan to Detroit or Chicago at 200-300 miles per hour on a magnetic levitation train?
Thats still in the realm of science fiction, but last weeks announcement of plans for a hydrogen-powered MagLev train linking Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing does get the wheels of possibility spinning for the future...
Last week, State Representatives Bill Rogers (R-Brighton) and Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City) announced the creation of a bipartisan task force to study the possibility of building a MagLev rail system down the medians of Michigans freeway system.
The elevated rail, designed by Michigan-based Interstate Traveler Company, would not need any federal, state or local funding, stated Rogers and Schmidt in a news release. The project could create thousands of jobs for Michigan residents, allow for clean, inexpensive travel, and provide a conduit to distribute electricity, potable water, fiber optics, hydrogen and oxygen.
Information about the magnetic train line seems a bit half-baked (as evidenced by the above claim that it will somehow be useful as a “conduit for potable water“). It would be built at a reported cost of $2.3 billion, and the hope is that a HyRail system could eventually be built across the U.S. State Democrats are also on board the task force, including Reps. Jimmy Womack (D-Detroit) and Mike Huckleberry (D-Greenville).
Weve been following the Hydrogen Superhighway for five years now, said Rep. Huckleberry. The devil will be in the details, of course. But this concept has enough potential to make it worth pursuing. Im hoping that we can develop this technology and transportation idea into Michigan jobs.
If and when the project is built, hydrogen-powered MagLev trains could whisk passengers between Detroit, Ann Arbor and Lansing at 200 mph. Assuming its a success, its no stretch to imagine that other links would surely extend to Grand Rapids and the cities of Northern Michigan.
The task force is holding four public hearings on the train project: in April, a hearing in Lansing will consider passenger and safety issues. Thereafter, hearings in Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Detroit will address energy concerns, environmental impact and financing.
But, as Mike Huckleberry notes, the devil is in the details.
For starters, its hard to imagine that a private company could build such a train for $2.3 billion, which seems to be pocket change these days. One can only imagine that Uncle Sam will be tapped on the shoulder at some point during construction of the Hydrogen Superhighway.
Fair enough; there are plans for a high-speed rail line from Las Vegas to L.A., and Michigan deserves to be on the same federal gravy train (pun intended).
But what about the train itself? In an artist‘s conception provided by the company, it doesn‘t look any bigger than the Detroit People Mover. Compare this to the vast bullet trains of France or Japan which move hundreds of people at 120-150 mph, with dozens of trains arriving at the station, one right after another. One can only imagine that scores of the MagLev train pictured would be needed to move passengers and recoup the company‘s investment.
There will also be safety concerns. What happens when a trailer truck goes careening into the freeway median on an icy winter night and hits one of the train supports just as the 2 a.m. run is rolling down the tracks? Many of us have seen these jackknife accidents, so the prospect of truck-train collisions is no fantasy.
One can only imagine, however, that people with the know-how to build a MagLev train will be smart enough to find their way around these obstacles. Let‘s hope so, because Michigan‘s future depends on this sort of new technology to get us back on track.