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Why we need maglev

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Why we need maglev

Efficient, low cost transport is a critical and indispensable necessity for civilization. Without it, humans would still live at subsistence level, and in Hobbes' famous quote, our lives would be "poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

One may argue about the exact order of evolution of different modes of transportation- did ships really precede wagons? - or their importance in society - for some countries, wagons are more important than autos, aircraft, or rockets - but all play an important role in the world economy. Looking at the list, one is struck by three general conclusions. First, as each new mode of transport is introduced, there is a quantum jump in transport capability - the new mode does things the older modes could not do. Moreover, where the new mode does directly compete with the old modes, it generally does so more efficiently and at lower cost. Railroads, for example, could move people and goods, faster, more efficiently and more cheaply than wagons. In turn, autos, trucks and buses could serve many more points than railroads, which would go broke if they attempted to lay track to every origin and destination point. Second, with the possible exception of rockets, all of the transport modes have essentially matured. Further performance gains in speed, carrying capability and unit cost of transport, appear marginal at best. In fact, in some respects, performance is likely to worsen. Higher traffic loads are reducing the average speed on the highways, and increasing the delays at airports. As the cost of fuel increases, the unit costs of transport will also go up.

Third, with the exception of wagons, pipelines, and electrified railroads, all of the transport modes require fossil fuel - primarily, petroleum - to operate. The world currently consumes approximately 80 million barrels of oil per day, most of which is used for transport. At 30 dollars a barrel, the world spends almost a trillion dollars annually for oil. Petroleum resources are being rapidly depleted and will be largely gone in a few decades. As resources deplete, the cost per barrel will rapidly escalate. As a result, the above modes of transport will either have to electrify - difficult for autos, trucks, and buses, and impossible for aircraft - or have to depend on synthetic fuels. Such fuels will be even more expensive than present ones. Moreover, since they will primarily be derived from coal, oil shale, etc., they will continue to release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the environment, further increasing global warming.

Why do we need maglev? Basically because it offers a way out from the inherent and unfavorable limitations of the existing transport modes. What are the benefits and advantages of maglev, compared to existing transport modes? Unique new markets enabled by maglev include the capability to transport water for hundreds of miles much more cheaply than pipelines, the capability to transport passengers at 2000 mph in low pressure tunnels, and the capability to launch to space at very low cost.


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Maglev 2000