A Frictionless Train

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater is to announce next week that Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Atlanta and other cities will share $12 million for studies on trains that can travel up to 310 mph, an official says.
A ceremony is scheduled Monday at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. Seven projects among 11 applicants will be picked for further studies, and one of those will be selected next year for development and construction.

The studies will look into the feasibility of magnetic levitation technology, which already is being tested in Germany and Japan. The so-called "maglev" trains use electromagnets to lift the train above ground and free it of speed-reducing friction.

While critics say the concept is largely unproven from a revenue-producing standpoint, supporters believe the technology has potential given a strong commitment from the federal government.

The effort got a boost last summer when President Clinton signed a transportation law that authorized $1 billion in federal money to explore and construct such a system.

A Federal Railroad Administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, identified three of the selected projects Friday:

  • A 40-mile system linking Baltimore and its airport with the main train station in Washington, D.C. The trip could take 16 minutes, compared with 40 to 50 minutes by conventional rail.

  • A 45-mile system linking Pittsburgh's airport in suburban Coraopolis with the city of Pittsburgh and its eastern suburbs. Proponents eventually want to extend the system to Philadelphia, creating a two-hour Pittsburgh-Philadelphia trip that now takes eight hours on Amtrak.

  • A 40-mile portion of the 110-mile Interstate 75 corridor between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tenn. The system was proposed by Atlanta officials.
The federal official also said a fourth project would be in southern California, but did not specify which one. One proposal would link Las Vegas, Nev., with Anaheim, Calif. The other would connect the Los Angeles International Airport with March Air Force Base.

The Baltimore Sun first reported on some projects in Friday's editions.

The remaining proposals would link Port Canaveral with the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Fla.; Denver International Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport in Colorado; Hampton Roads and Richmond, Va., with Washington, D.C.; New Orleans with Houston; Birmingham, Ala. with Atlanta; and Huntsville and Decatur, Ala.

Maglev runs on basic magnetic principles: When two magnets are put together, opposite poles attract, similar ones repel. Either magnetic attraction or repulsion can be used to lift or push the car above the guideway. In both cases, the train moves as the magnetic field travels along the guideway.
  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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