CATS: Maglev – an iron horse of a different stripe

Number four in the Clean Air Technologies Series.

A Transrapid 09 magnetically levitated train in Germany
A Transrapid 09 magnetically levitated train in Germany

There is something about a train. In fact, it was none other than Poetry Pulitzer Prize winner Edna St. Vincent Millay who, in true poetic form, in “Travel,” wrote: “Yet, there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, No matter where it’s going.”


One would not be incorrect to postulate that the railway technology field has been an ever-evolving and transformative one. And a fervor for blazing new trails in the railway technology realm is today, very much alive and well.

Up in the air?

So, when my eyes landed upon the headline: “MetroPlan approves float-on-air train for south Orange,” I actually did a double-take, more like a triple-take, before I finally clicked on the link. I was both pleasantly surprised and intrigued by what I saw.

Now, you all know credit for America’s early expansion is owed to railways. And, you all know the railway is the support structure upon which trains move mass amounts of people and goods. And, you all know that the American representation has been around for nearly 200 years and the basics are pretty much the same today as they were when first arriving on scene. Well, hold onto your (iron) horses, because domestically, things in this regard could be changing.

So, in the Orlando Sentinel article, columnist Dan Tracy writes candidly: “A privately financed, futuristic train that would link the convention center with Orlando International Airport was tentatively approved Wednesday by Metro Orlando’s main planning agency.”

And the train-of-tomorrow being referred to here would operate on the principle of Maglev or magnetic levitation to be precise.

As mentioned in the article there are still a few hurdles to overcome, such as in getting Florida Department of Transportation approval and how it might integrate with the already-in-the-works $1.2 billion Florida SunRail commuter train project.

A new generation of locomotion

To my knowledge a commercial application of a maglev system can be found nowhere on U.S. soil, although one each exists in China, Japan and South Korea. So, pending approval, this could indeed be an American first.

In my way of thinking, Maglev is the fifth generation of railway locomotion techniques; the first being horse-drawn or gravity-induced locomotion, followed by steam, electric and then finally, diesel-electric.

Having said all that, if this idea passes muster and actually does fly, a whole new dimension in American rail travel could start to open up, not to mention a whole new era in U.S.-based rail transportation would be afoot.

A technology whose time has come? Stay tuned.

– Alan Kandel

This post was last revised on Dec. 23, 2019 @ 8:53 a.m. Pacific Standard Time.