As magnetic levitation (maglev) systems might begin to come on line around the world, questions surrounding these new transportation technologies will naturally and inevitably arise, especially, if the price of oil continues to climb. This will increase awareness of transportation engineering options, traffic congestion mitigation, and improved land development and energy policies.
As a general requisite, Maglev Systems should be seen and evaluated in context with existing infrastructure, available ressources and the future needs of society. Looking only at prospects and barriers of the maglev technologies without taking relevant context into account cannot provide realistic, helpful transport solution for the future.
Scarcely one hundred years ago when electricity began to be distributed into people's homes, it too was viewed with fear and amazement. However, it was not long before societies came to rely on reliable supplies of the now omnipresent electric power to light homes and factories after dark, to power labor saving machines, and to make instantaneous telecommunications possible worldwide. Indeed, it is our reliance on readily available supplies of reliable electricity that defines our world - without it, our modern world ceases to be modern.
Some experts consider Maglev as the logical progression of the electricity revolution that was begun by Edison and Tesla in the late 19th century, and were in fact conceived in the early 20th century. But, it was the rapid advancement in computer processing in the late 20th century that really propelled maglev development forward and transformed it into today's premier transportation option.
Today, maglevs are essentially highly reliable computer-controlled electronic transportation systems, with most maglevs requiring no moving mechanical parts for suspension, acceleration or braking.
All these innovations could result in potentially much lower operational and maintenance expenditures, relatively lower energy consumptions while also enabling significantly higher speeds and faster rates of acceleration and deceleration.
Magnetic levitation is achieved in a variety of ways. What all these maglev systems share is the use of electro-magnetic power to suspend vehicles above and away from their guideways (tracks) rather than using wheels; although some systems use wheels for suspension at low speeds and while at rest.
By suspending vehicles away from their guideways, the friction resulting from wheel on track contact is eliminated as an impediment to higher speeds. This same electro-magnetic power is also used to propel vehicles, which also means they are not polluting their rights of way. The regular use of mechanical friction brakes is also eliminated, along with the need for expensive brake maintenance. High temperature superconducting materials are likely to play an increasingly important role and are already being tested in some Japanese systems.
Maglev systems are expected to be cost effective, quiet and energy efficient. If implemented according to their technological strengths, they might promise to fit seamlessly into the vision of developing sustainable and livable communities that enhance, rather than compromise, citizen mobility.