Magnetic levitation is one
of those futuristic ideas that
have never quite arrived.
Fast Train Coming (Slowly)
While the rest of the world builds high-speed railroads, we contemplate floating trains.
A couple of years ago, after a big antiwar demonstration in New York, my brother pointed out that one
of the supporters of Lyndon LaRouche, the fringe political figure, had the best sign: “Mag Lev Not War.”
Great line, I thought. And then, early this summer, came word that Congress had allocated $45 million
in seed money to the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev Project. News reports said that this futuristic
train would hurtle through the desert at a top speed of 310 miles an hour, connecting Las Vegas and
Disneyland. Again, like the LaRouche protest poster, it seemed like a pretty good joke. What’s next?
Maglev service linking Branson, Missouri, with Dollywood and the Grand Ole Opry?
Magnetic levitation, which involves running high-speed trains on a cushion of electromagnetic attraction or repulsion (depending on the system), is one of those futuristic ideas that have never quite arrived.
I associate maglev less with LaRouche (who has the technology entangled with his vision of a Eurasian
land bridge linking all the world’s continents via, in part, the Bering Strait) and more with New York’s
late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who in 1988 organized the Maglev Technology Advisory Committee. It was the first of many congressional committees, none of which ever allocated more than token
funding to about a half-dozen approved maglev projects.
While we have been dreaming about floating trains, Europe has been methodically thr
ead-ing its cities together with a sophisticated high-speed rail network. The French TGV, a conventional train with earthbound steel wheels, broke the land-speed record last year, hitting
357 miles an hour on a test track. Asia, too, has invested in high-speed rail: the famous
Japanese bullet trains have been in operation since the 1960s, and continued on page 76
A long-proposed maglev line would link Anaheim’s
planned intermodal train station and Las Vegas.
Maglev rendering, courtesy General Atomics; Disneyland photo, David McNew/Getty Images; Las Vegas photo, Ziggymaj/istock