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Drs Gordon Danby and Jim Powell-Maglev inventors

April 24, 2009 @ 12:00 am EDT


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This morning’s meeting was a little different from what we are used to. It was a presentation on MAGLEV (magnetically levitated transportation system). Along with it came a lesson in history and lost opportunity. MAGLEV is a track vehicle that has many desirable facets. It was invented here on Long Island in the middle of the last century by Drs Gordon Danby and Jim Powell. Both of these brilliant men of science, though aged are still alive, and still inventing. The system was championed by Senator Moynihan in the late 80’s. Mr. Moynihan appropriated $750 million in the Senate, but the legislation was bottled up in committee in the House, and it died there.

Dr Danby was with us this morning. He created the presentation that we used, and I helped him deliver the message. The message was far-reaching and profound. Essentially the message was, we have at our disposal a technology that can and will revolutionize transportation systems in the world. More importantly, the basic technology is a proven concept. It has been built by the Japanese and the Chinese using the knowledge that was put forth in the original invention. Those systems work magnificently, but they were, and are, expensive to build. This morning the discussion was about Second Generation MAGLEV.

The new version of MAGLEV overcomes the expense of the original system by the use of more recently invented technology that makes the new system possible. In fact the track construction cost is about the same as conventional rail and substantially less than for what is being termed High Speed Rail (HSR). In addition HSR will never carry freight because the high speed and weight factors will not support the pounding that wheels and steel deliver to the roadbed. HSR is already a nightmare of constant maintenance. The Japanese have 3,000 track workers making track adjustments every night. The MAGLEV has no direct contact with the guideway, therefore there is virtually no maintenance. Weather is not a factor either. Magnetic fields are not affected by ice because ice is magnetically transparent. All switching on MAGLEV is done electronically, and there are no moving mechanical devices to get fouled by ice or debris. 

Among the cognoscenti there appears to be a belief that electrification of rail transport is the way to go, but the trend is evident in auto transportation as well. These inventors have opened doors of possibilities that were unheard of even 20 years ago, and certainly since the original MAGLEV design that they pioneered. Our only hope is that the vision that caused Senator Moynihan to support this technology is repeated in some modern day political people or we will be snookered again by  China, Japan, Germany or India. Unfortunately Mr. Moynihan’s health deteriorated before he could see this through. On the other hand, it’s a new day!

This event is sponsored by Robert Bender and the Association for Facility Engineers (AFE)