Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) technology refers to a system of transit vehicles travelling on elevated rails, raised about a half inch above the rails by magnetic force and propelled by small engines. Traveling on a magnetic field, there is virtually no friction; therefore the need for powerful, fuel-inefficient engines is eliminated.
Instead of embracing the opportunity to investigate a potential solution to some of the county’s traffic congestion nightmares, the board chairman, Tad Leithead, was less than interested and the Cumberland CID’s highly paid Executive Director, Malaika Rivers, could not be bothered, refusing to make any effort to contact the company. She did, however, condescend to grant Ott permission to pass along her contact information to American Maglev.
Cobb Transportation Director Faye DiMassimo expressed concern that it was not eligible for federal funding. The concern is immaterial, since no tax money would be required to construct the maglev system. However, since Ms. DiMassimo is a strong proponent of the questionable light rail proposal, it does indicate that it would require federal funding at some point in time.
The refusal to even investigate maglev is confusing, until one realizes that the Cumberland CID is a leading backer of the TSPLOST-funded light-rail proposal, which would finance construction of a rail system from Cumberland to downtown Atlanta. They simply refuse to consider there may be other alternatives.
On the one hand is the light rail proposal at a guaranteed taxpayer cost of $895 million dollars for one line, into downtown Atlanta, only one tenth of which is in Cobb County It also comes with a guaranteed ongoing shortfall in operating expenses, of between $18 million and $37 million annually, to be paid forever by the poor taxpayers.
On the other hand is the American Maglev proposal for 22 miles of track, all within Cobb, at zero taxpayer dollars for construction and which contains no guarantee of a shortfall requiring public dollars. A possibility exists of taxpayer funds being required, if the needed ridership is not met. However, that possibility is no greater than the light rail falling short of its projected ridership.
Faced with a choice between a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money, including ongoing operating expenses, or a possibility of zero taxpayer funding ever being required, is it any wonder our officials, along with the board of the Cumberland CID, can’t decide if the American-Maglev proposal is worthy of investigation?
Critics of this technology point to a similar project at Old Dominion University in Virginia which went sour for lack of funding and developing technology problems over a decade ago. The maglev technology, which is worldwide, has taken giant strides forward in the past decade.
The project, which was relying on federal funding, broke ground four days prior to 9/11 and the federal money never materialized. For that reason Tony Morris, president of American Maglev, is not proposing any more projects financed by federal, state or local government funds. It is important to understand that the Cobb County proposal, which our officials are snubbing, calls for construction of the entire project to be privately funded.
The detractors also point out the crash of a test system in Germany which claimed 23 lives in 2006. However, the accident has been blamed by German officials on safety features not being in place, not the technology.
What the detractors fail to tell us is that Shanghai has had a system in full operation, since 2004, which whisks passengers to and from the airport, at speeds up to 250 MPH. The system has not reached its full potential yet and does require subsidizing. However, according to the Chinese press, it is now close to paying its own way.
Though maglev may not be the answer to Cobb’s problems, and I am certainly not going to propose that it is, I will say that to rule it out without any investigation is totally insane.
The “Don’t look!” position is puzzling and, quite frankly, totally unacceptable.
Pete Borden is a retired masonry contractor in east Cobb.