- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

NORFOLK — By next fall, Old Dominion University students could be zipping about a mile across campus — and 13 feet above it — in two minutes.
Workers there are building what is being billed as the world's first commercial, passenger-carrying, magnetic-levitation transportation system. The official groundbreaking is today, though much of the concrete guideway already is in place.
Maglev uses vehicles that glide on an electromagnetic cushion. The system produces no air or noise pollution and can be built on existing rights of way with minimal land acquisition, advocates say.
While the technology has been around since the 1960s and has been tested in Germany and Japan, maglev has been criticized as too expensive. Last year, German officials gave up plans to operate a levitating train between Berlin and Hamburg, citing rising costs.
"What ODU's project is all about is proving that it can be built in a way that's affordable," said Tony Morris, president of American Maglev Technology Inc., the Edgewater, Fla.-based company that is developing the project.
Mr. Morris said the German system costs an estimated $85 million to $100 million per mile to build, while his company's design can be built for about $15 million per mile.
He said his company is building lightweight, nimble, aerodynamic vehicles, driving down the cost of the guideway. The "brains" of the system is in the car, not the guideway, which Mr. Morris said is a big difference between the American Maglev system and others.
The ODU system, which is not quite a mile long, will cost $14 million. Because of the brevity of the track, the top speed will be 40 mph, although maglev is capable of 300 mph, Mr. Morris said.
The General Assembly approved a $7 million loan, to be repaid from proceeds of a future revenue-producing maglev project in Virginia. Private companies, including Dominion Virginia Power and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin, are kicking in another $14 million.
The vehicle is being built and tested in Florida and will arrive at ODU early next year for testing.
The ODU system, which will be free to all riders when it opens next fall, will have one 45-foot vehicle that can carry 100 passengers. It will run every seven minutes, taking students from the housing area and across busy Hampton Boulevard to a convocation center now under construction. The entire trip, including stops at stations along the way, will take 123 seconds.
"It's going to be neat. It's going to be fast. It's going to be very convenient," Mr. Morris said.
American Maglev wants to build a maglev system between Hampton Roads and the District by 2007, the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in America.


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