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Maglev Track Sections to Be Removed and Auctioned; Money Raised Will Augment Continued Research

A portion of the guideway of Old Dominion University's magnetic levitation (maglev) track that has never been used is being removed to generate funds to continue maglev research.

Starting June 15, 2,200 feet of unused track will be taken off the concrete supporting structure, and the steel and aluminum pieces will be auctioned off as scrap. The sale of the materials is expected to generate $60,000 in additional funds for ongoing maglev research.

"The track being removed was placed on the guideway by AMT (the company that partnered with ODU to build the concrete structure and track) and its contractors in 2001 but has never been aligned so it could be utilized for our testing, and much of it only is held in place by a few bolts," said Thomas E. Alberts, professor of aerospace engineering in the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

"We are testing an 80-foot prototype of a new track design that we believe is superior to the older track."

The removal of the older track, which is scheduled to take about a week, will help clear space for MagneMotion Inc. (MMI), the Massachusetts company that received a $7.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration to test its patented maglev technology at ODU. University researchers, led by Alberts, have been an integral part of the MMI team on this effort.

"We remain committed to our collaboration with MMI to demonstrate their technology on our guideway. A portion of the guideway being cleared will be reserved for testing their system," Alberts said.

After the track is removed, it will be separated into aluminum and steel components for auction. That process is forecast to take an additional two weeks.

The first phase of MMI's testing has been largely done at the company's facilities in Acton, Mass. It involved the testing of a prototype on a 160-foot test track.

Once the FTA signs off on phase one, MMI will bring a maglev test vehicle to Norfolk to conduct tests along specially retrofitted track on the ODU guideway.

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 test 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. 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, the university 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 to its vehicle in the laboratory and plans to test it again on the track this fall.

"With both of these efforts, we've positioned ourselves as a center for maglev research here," said Alberts. "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 added. "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: June 15, 2010

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