Maglev Train Magnetic Levitation Term Paper

Pages: 9 (2852 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 5  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Transportation

Magnetic-Levitation Trains

Today, innovations in transportation technologies have significantly improved the energy efficiency, CO2 emission rates and safety of aircraft, the railroad and trucking industries as well as automobiles. Although these innovations have provided some improvements compared to the past, there remains a desperate need to identify ways to improve these technologies even further to reduce carbon emissions, improve performance and increase safety. In 1984, the first commercial magnetic levitation train was introduced to the public. Maglev is a system of transportation that levitates and propels the train using electricity as the source of power. Comparing to other transportation such as automobile, conventional train, and airplane, this technology, by itself, produce nearly zero CO2 emission and can move at an incredible speed. All of this, of course, begs the question, "Is this technology logically feasible and can it be a replacement for the current transportation system?" To answer these questions, this paper review the relevant literature to determine the cost of production, emission during operation, safety, use of energy, potential improvement, and comparing magnetic levitation to the existing and potential alternatives. A summary of the research and important findings is presented in the conclusion.

Review and Discussion

A recent example concerning how magnetic levitation (or "maglev") can be applied to the transportation industry is the maglev train. Magnetic levitation is made possible through the use of superconductors which can attain virtually zero resistance (Ndahi, 2003). According to Ndahi, "It is possible to generate large amounts of electrical energy, which in turn is used to generate a magnetic field large enough to repel the magnets attached to the underside of a train car. This repulsion and other controlled variables allow the train to float or levitate and be propelled forward at speeds of between 200-300 mph" (Ndahi, 2003, p. 17). The speeds attainable by maglev trains are more than twice as fast as that of Amtrak's current top-performer, the Acela high-speed train (Baard, 2006). A more straightforward definition of maglev technology is provided by Cavendish who reports, "[Maglev] trains are propelled forward by attractive or repulsive forces induced by electromagnets mounted in the trains and the track" (2003, p. 1254). Some countries, such as Germany, though, have used electromagnets rather that superconducting magnets for their maglev train systems (Maglev trains, 2010). The superconducting (or electro-) magnets that are used in maglev train systems are typically mounted beneath the train as well as in the raised tracks and guideways that frame the train (Baard, 2006). As Baard puts it, "The guideways can be either on the ground or built above existing highways to minimize environmental impact. A proposed California maglev network will cover 275 miles and move 500,000 riders rapidly between cities and to major airports, according to organizers" (2006, p. 26). This configuration helps to make maglev trains safe even at the higher speeds they travel. For instance, Toto reports that, "The bottom of the train wraps around the guideways, making derailments highly unlikely. The electromagnetic pulses propel the trains in one direction at a time, which would preclude having two trains hit head-on, and rear-end collisions are unlikely because all the trains would travel at the same rate as the magnetic pulse" (p. 1). Nevertheless, the high speeds involved mean that there is always the potential for disaster, an aspect of maglev train transportation that was made abundantly clear in 2006. According to report from the Birmingham Post, "A high-speed magnetic levitation train travelling at 125 mph crashed in north-western Germany, killing at least 15 people in the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system. Officials recovered 15 bodies from the scene of the crash of the experimental train, which struck a maintenance cart while running on an elevated track. Ten more people were injured. The fate of six others was unclear" (at least 15 die as maglev crashes, 2006, p. 8). The report was quick to point out, though, that the cause of the crash was human error rather than defective maglev technology (at least 15 die as maglev crashes, 2006).

One country that has embraced maglev technology in a major way is China (Zande, 2010). In this regard, Stroh (2003) reports that in January 2002, China launched the first commercial magnetic levitation rail system in the world in Shanghai. According to Stroh, "China's new 450-passenger maglev train sprints 19 miles between Shanghai's financial district and its international airport. Reaching 270 mph -- albeit for mere seconds before it begins to brake -- the train cuts travel time from 30 minutes to less than 8. Ticket price: $6" (2003, p. 42). Currently, the Chinese railroad industry carries fully 25% of the entire world's railway workload, making the need for these high-speed trains essential (Banutu-Gomez, 2007). According to Banutu-Gomez, "An example of China's commitment to rail transportation system, in 2002 they completed China's first maglev speed rail system. The maglev system uses magnetic levitation to lift the train above the track allowing the train to be propelled down the track at extremely high speeds with virtually no friction" (2007, p. 82). Based on their initial success with maglev, China has announced plans for the construction of another maglev train system that will connect Shanghai and Hangzhou, with the potential for an extension to Beijing in the future (Baard, 2006).

According to Toto, though, maglev technology is certainly not new: "Specialists say using electromagnetic energy in such a fashion dates, in crude form, to the 1950s" (2002, p. 1). In fact, rocket scientist Robert Goodard proposed transportation systems used magnetic levitation technologies as early as 1926 (Cleveland & Morris, 2006). An illustration of the inner workings of a maglev train is provided in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Internal Workings of the Maglev Train

Source: National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 2010 at http://www.magnet.fsu.edu / education/tutorials/magnetacademy/superconductivity101/maglev.html

As can be readily discerned from Figure 1 above, the maglev technologies used in high-speed train systems are highly complex, but these complex technologies carry a number of benefits. For instance, a significant advantage of maglev technology relates to the fact that the internal combustion engines that are used by conventional trains are not required (Ndahi, 2003). By doing away with conventional engines, maglev trains enjoy decreased maintenance and spare part replacement costs (Ndahi, 2003). Researchers at the Brookhaven National Laboratory have been investigating maglev technologies for train systems and have developed a different approach that may help reduce the costs of operating these systems even further. According to Pohl, "[Scientists at Brookhaven] propose to forget about connecting strings of cars together to make trains. What they are talking about is single cars, carrying no more than a dozen or so passengers each. The cars are extremely lightweight compared with the usual railroad behemoth" (1999, p. 31).

Moreover, maglev train transportation can be delivered for approximately one-third of the cost of air transportation (Maglev trains, 2010), and these super-high speed trains will effectively compete against air travel for shorter distances (Baard, 2006). For example, Nickerson reports that, "The development of maglev technology would be good for the environment, because these systems would emit smaller quantities of air pollutants, such as hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and particulates, per passenger mile than more conventional forms of transportation" (1999, p. 177). Because fully 50% of all airline flights involve travel of less than 500 miles, maglev train technologies can provide a viable alternative to air travel for these shorter distances as well as providing service to existing hub-and-spoke airline networks (Nickerson, 1999). In this regard, Macdonald reports that, "Proponents claim that maglev can compete with airplanes for short and midrange routes, connecting cities downtown to downtown" (2002, p. 23). Likewise, Baard reports that, "The first planned maglev in California will take passengers from Union Station in Los Angeles to Ontario International Airport, east of the city, a distance of 56 miles. The trip, which will include four stops, is expected to take only 29 minutes. Try beating that in your car on the notoriously congested Santa Monica Freeway" (2006, p. 27).

In sum, proponents of maglev train service cite the following major points in support of these technologies:

1. It can relieve highway and airport congestion, especially in and around major metropolitan areas, and provide a safety valve for shorter distance air travel in clogged airports.

2. It can relieve air pollution caused by excessive highway utilization and address issues of climate change.

3. It is currently underfunded and technologically obsolete, and major investments and new technology could greatly increase its share of travel.

4. The U.S. lags behind other advanced (and some advancing) nations and can learn from the positive experiences in Europe and Asia.

5. It is safer than highway travel and on par with the safety records of commercial air and bus service.

6. It can provide new employment and stimulate new business enterprises.

7. In urban regions, it can help stimulate wiser land use and reinvigorate deteriorating urban centers.

8. It is a necessary modal alternative to air and high way travel in case… [END OF PREVIEW]

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