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With $7.9 Million FTA Grant, Massachusetts Company Will Work With ODU Researchers on New Maglev Testing

Old Dominion University and its research team in magnetic levitation (Maglev) has been working with a Massachusetts company that specializes in Maglev technology and is preparing to do prototype testing on an innovative Maglev system on the elevated guideway located on campus.

MagneMotion, Inc. (MMI), a company founded by Richard D. Thornton, emeritus professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, received a $7.9-million grant in 2008 from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to conduct a three-phase test of its patented Maglev technology. ODU researchers led by Professor Thomas Alberts have been an integral part of the MMI team on this effort.

To prepare for the testing, contractors are removing from the guideway the original AMT vehicle, which has been idle since ODU engineers built a different vehicle (or "bogie") based on their research, as well as taking down an incomplete stairway near Webb University Center over the holiday break.

"The vehicle is being removed from the guideway since this old vehicle no longer fits into our immediate future Maglev plans," said Jeremiah Creedon, director of Maglev Transportation Research at ODU.

"Moreover, removing it gives us more room to test Maglev concepts near the electrical and test complex we have near Powhatan Avenue."

The 18-month, first phase of the testing is almost complete, involving research largely done at MMI's facilities in Acton, Mass. It involved the testing of a prototype on a 160-foot test track at the company headquarters.

Once the FTA signs off on phase one, MMI will bring a Maglev test vehicle to Norfolk to conduct tests along 500 feet of specially retrofitted track on the ODU guideway. That FTA approval is expected early in 2010.

The retrofitted track will allow MMI to conduct a more comprehensive test of its Maglev vehicle, with help from ODU researchers. While the currently planned tests will be at lower speeds, MMI plans to produce a Maglev vehicle that is the size of a van or small bus, and can accelerate quickly to a target speed of about 100 miles per hour. By having numerous vehicles in operation simultaneously, a transportation system could accommodate a large ridership.

Approximately $700,000 of the $7.9 million MMI grant, earned in a competitive bid contest through the FTA, is pledged to researchers at ODU.

Last spring, ODU conducted tests using a 12-foot-long train base car -- called a bogie -- on the guideway. The bogie was moved back and forth at several miles per hour on the track. Since then, the Maglev research team has made improvements in its vehicle in the laboratory in preparation for its next tests.

"With both of these efforts, we've positioned ourselves as a center for Maglev research here," said Thomas E. Alberts, professor in the aerospace engineering department of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology. "A project like our effort with MMI brings funds to the university, keeps our Maglev research effort healthy, and allows us to both share and build on the knowledge that we've acquired here.

"We're not really tied to one technology. We just want to do research on anything that can help bring Maglev to the market in an affordable way," Alberts said. "We don't have any particular attraction to our own approach."

ODU is working to develop an energy-efficient Maglev train that would operate at slower speeds in an urban setting. The only commercial Maglev in the world is a high-speed train built in China for several billion dollars.

This article was posted on: December 22, 2009

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