- Associated Press - Sunday, March 23, 2014

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) - When the company behind the failed magnetic levitation - or maglev - train at Old Dominion University submitted a proposal to build a mass transit system using the technology in Virginia Beach, city officials seemed skeptical.

At the time, Councilman Jim Wood said it would be a waste of time to even review American Maglev Technology’s proposal.

Now it appears minds are changing, in part after a visit earlier this month to the company’s test track outside Atlanta. Deputy City Manager Dave Hansen and several staffers and council members - including Wood - met with engineers and rode a maglev train on 2,000 feet of track. They presented their findings to the City Council last Tuesday, some describing the technology as “extremely smooth,” ”amazing” and “impressive.”

The price also helped. At $334 million, American Maglev’s proposal is a third the cost of other estimates for a publicly funded light-rail system, which have exceeded $1 billion. And because its elevated tracks would go over existing roads, acquiring land would be significantly cheaper, said Councilman John Uhrin, who went on the trip.

The catch: American Maglev has to prove its technology will work in Virginia Beach after it failed in Norfolk.

Its proposal includes privately funding construction of a $34 million pilot project stretching 0.8 of a mile, from the Convention Center to the former Dome site at 19th Street and Arctic Avenue. The company would have to extend it farther to meet federal criteria, Uhrin said.

If it failed, the city would pay nothing and American Maglev would have to remove what it built, said Councilman John Moss, who also went on the trip.

He said American Maglev and its partner, The ACS Group, seemed confident they could deliver.

They’ve dubbed their system The Wave and propose building a 12.1-mile line from Newtown Road to the Oceanfront. It would be carbon-free, wouldn’t need a human operator for each car, and would run on electricity - some from solar panels and the trains’ braking systems, the proposal said.

In 2001, American Maglev assembled tracks at ODU, but its prototype failed, and money ran out. The school has since used part of the track for research into magnetic levitation trains.

In addition to overcoming the “ODU stigma,” maglev faces another obstacle: Riders taking The Tide from Norfolk would have to switch trains at Newtown Road. The proposal includes money to relocate and revamp the Tide station there.

The city is reviewing two other light-rail proposals from private groups.

The first, from former Hampton Roads Transit head Phil Shucet, proposes building a 5.2-mile line from Newtown Road to Rosemont Road for $235 million.

The second, from California-based Parsons Construction Group, wants to extend The Tide to the Oceanfront. It has not publicized a price.

All three groups have kept some financial information confidential, including how much of the project they would ask taxpayers to fund.

Story Continues →