Maglev: An Impossible Dream?

By Barry Rascovar

December 2, 2013 — MAGLEV IS BACK. So run for the hills.

Maglev Train in China
Maglev in China










A new coalition of Political Influentials is lobbying for this ultra-expensive, ultra-high-speed rail system.

How expensive?

Let’s start at $15 billion, or more, just for a magnetic levitation route, underground, from Washington to Baltimore — 39 miles.

Yes, you could make the trip between the two cities in 15 minutes. Yes, it would transform commuting.

Just imagine the ticket prices.

Maglev in Asia

In Shanghai, which has one of the only two commercially operating maglev routes in the world (the other is in Aichi, Japan), a one-way ticket from the airport to the outskirts of that mega-city costs a heavily subsidized $8.14 — and then you’ve got to catch a cab or light-rail train to downtown.

That line is considered a flop.

Construction costs on a Washington-to-New York route could top $600 billion, but at least you’d be able to reach the Big Apple in an hour — about the same as a plane flight.

It’s ridiculous pie-in-the-sky rambling from lobbyists looking for a gigantic federal handout that isn’t going to happen.

We’ve heard this tune before.

Past and Future Maglev Plans

The Abell Foundation was a big maglev booster, proposing a line from Camden Yards to Union Station at a cost of $5.1 billion (in 2007 dollars).

That plan went nowhere in the halls of Congress.

Japan is eager to tout a maglev line in the U.S. for the Northeast Corridor.

Its government is building a $100 billion long-distance maglev route over the next 15 years from Tokyo to Osaka. This could turn into a white elephant unless Japan persuades other countries to build similar lines that would bring down construction costs.

Maglev in Japan

Maglev in Japan

There’s no doubt maglev would be beneficial.

Its trains are propelled by superconducting magnets, thus reducing friction and allowing for super-high speeds of up to 300-plus miles an hour.

There’s virtually no noise. Trains can operates in all kinds of weather.

But, oh, the price tag.

Amtrak wants to build its own high-speed train route from D.C. to the Big Apple. Travel time would be 94 minutes. All it would cost is $151 billion.

Given this country’s historic parsimony toward mass transit, neither Amtrak’s plans nor the maglev group’s plans are going to get traction in Washington.

A Private-Sector Solution

Only through private-sector development will maglev happen in the U.S. of A.

Is there an Elon Musk * out there eager to put up a dozen or so billion dollars to build a magnetic levitation route?

Quick: Call Bill Gates, Warren Buffett or Google co-founder (and University of Maryland alum) Sergei Brin. * *

That’s the only way this pipe dream is ever going to turn into an American reality.

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* Billionaire refresher 1: Elon Musk is founder of Pay Pal, Tesla Motors (electric cars) and Space X, (space-launch vehicles). Net worth: $6.4 billion. He’s also working on  a “hyperloop” — a subsonic air travel machine in a partial vacuum that would operate between the outskirts of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Cost: $6 billion.

* * Billionaire refresher 2: Bill Gates (net worth: $72 billion), Warren Buffett (net worth: $59 billion), Sergei Brin (net worth: $25 billion)

( Read all of Barry Rascovar’s columns at this website, )