August 09, 2010

Very Low Air Pressure Maglev Train Could Double Speed for 10-20% Incremental Cost

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The laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University told Beijing-based Legal Evening News that it was working on a prototype with an average speed of 500 to 600kph. A much smaller model train traveling at 600 to 1,000kph in a vacuum tube will be introduced in two or three years, it added. A US proposal was for a highly evacuated tunnel. The Chinese version reduces air pressure, making the tunnel easier and cheaper to build. The Chinese tunnel would cost 10 to 20 million yuan (US$1.5 to 2.95 million) more than the current high speed railway for each kilometer (so $5 million more per mile) but the train would be able to travel at 600kph, Shen estimated.

China plans to limit extending the Shanghai maglev line to approximately 200 million yuan per kilometer. $30 million/km. The very low air pressure tunnel is supposed to cost $1.5-2.95 million more per kilometer. So more than doubling the speed adds about 10% to the cost. In a worse case, where China is able to build new maglev for $16.5 million/km and the high end of the tunnel costs occurs then the current estimate would be a 20% incremental cost. If China is successful with the low are pressure tunnel maglev then this could replace air travel wherever there is a connecting tunnel maglev.

The Shanghai-Hangzhou 199.4 km-long maglev line is said to cost an estimated 22 billion RMB ($3.22 billion) - a surprising 13 billion RMB less than what a shorter line was proposed to cost in 2006. China is trying to keep costs to 110 million yuan per kilometers ( 16.5 million/km). The current top speed of China's maglev are about 430 kph.

The Shanghai maglev cost 9.93 billion yuan to build. [ US $1.2 billion for 30-kilometers or about $40 million per kilometer] This total includes infrastructure capital costs such as manufacturing and construction facilities, and operational training. At 50 yuan per passenger and the current 7,000 passengers per day, income from the system is incapable of recouping the capital costs (including interest on financing) over the expected lifetime of the system, even ignoring operating costs This changes if capacity utilization increases from the current 20%.

China aims to limit the cost of future construction extending the maglev line to approximately 200 million yuan per kilometer.

The United States Federal Railroad Administration 2003 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed Baltimore-Washington Maglev project gives an estimated 2008 capital costs of 4.361 billion US dollars for 39.1 miles, or 111.5 million US dollars per mile (69.3 million US dollars per kilometer). The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) conducted their own Environmental Impact Statement, and put the pricetag at 4.9 billion dollars for construction, and 53 million a year for operations.

The proposed Chūō Shinkansen maglev in Japan is estimated to cost approximately US$82 billion to build, with a route blasting long tunnels through mountains. A Tokaido maglev route replacing current Shinkansen would cost some 1/10th the cost, as no new tunnel blasting would be needed, but noise pollution issues would make it infeasible.

The only low-speed maglev (100 km/h) currently operational, the Japanese Linimo HSST, cost approximately US$100 million/km to build. Besides offering improved operation and maintenance costs over other transit systems, these low-speed maglevs provide ultra-high levels of operational reliability and introduce little noise and zero air pollution into dense urban settings.

As maglev systems are deployed around the world, experts expect construction costs to drop as new construction methods are innovated along with economies of scale.

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