A Marietta-based company that has developed a mass transportation system supported by magnetic energy instead of wheels is negotiating contracts with potential customers in Mexico and Puerto Rico.
American Maglev Technology Inc. adapted a zero-emission form of mass transit at its test track in Powder Springs in 2006 that uses magnetic force to lift a single train car above a track. The 65-foot, 50,000-pound vehicle can carry about 220 people, suspended above the track.
Despite its focus on creating an American-made product with 118 parts from 26 states, the company has received most of its attention from outside the U.S., Tony Morris, president and CEO, told GlobalAtlanta.
The company is currently in the process of negotiating contracts to build a 6.6-mile track in Guadalajara, Mexico, and a 16.7-mile track in Caguas, a suburb of San Juan, Puerto Rico, deals that could be worth over $500 million.
Mr. Morris said that there has been a lot of support for and interest in the system from rapidly developing nations that need affordable mass transit systems.
"They need to find cheap solutions that can be implemented now and I think in that regard some of the emerging countries that have such perplexing problems are actually ahead of (the U.S.),” said Mr. Morris.
Stephen Fleming, vice provost of the Georgia Institute of Technology's Enterprise Innovation Institute, visited the track two years ago and told GlobalAtlanta that the technology could take off in developing nations where the lack of infrastructure allows countries to explore new and innovative transportation options.
In these countries, there is no old technology to maintain or to hamper the implementation of new systems, like American Maglev.
"For a country that doesn't have the existing rail infrastructure, like Brazil, which is one of the most attractive economies in the world right now but they don't have any trains, this could look really really good to them," said Mr. Fleming.
The company is also working with the Spanish civil-works company Actividades de Construcción y Servicios (ACS) S.A. to secure a specific project in Seville, Spain, and is looking into several projects in India and three specific projects in Montreal.
Jordan Morris, chief operating officer and Tony Morris' son, said that negotiations are promising with officials in Caguas and the surrounding areas because funding allocated for a bus system could instead be put toward a maglev.
"We introduced them to our systems and showed them that our technology is significantly cheaper than the buses, especially from an operating standpoint,” said Jordan Morris, adding that maintenance of the system is also low because of the lack of friction between the rail and vehicle.
Compared to other rail systems, the maintenance cost is also low, because the actually track is very simple, said Mr. Fleming.
He said that by storing all the complicated technology in the vehicle and not the track, operators do not have to worry about fixing a short-circuit or other technological problems on the track.
At an estimated cost of $20 million per kilometer and a speed of 120-150 mph, this technology is vastly different than the expensive, high-speed, German-built system in Shanghai.
The feasibility of a high-speed maglev train similar to the Shanghai train, which runs at around 260 mph, from Atlanta to Chattanooga was the focus of a study by the Atlanta Regional Commission in the late 1990s.
Bob McCord, a management analyst for the commission, said the study concluded that a high-speed maglev between the cities would cost $4-6 billion. The mayor of Chattanooga, Ron Littlefield, told GlobalAtlanta that the city is still studying the possibility of a high-speed maglev train.
At $20 million per kilometer, a slower version by American Maglev would cost about $2.36 billion for a track from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
Jordan Morris said that some local officials have visited the test track including Washington officials, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. Phil Gingrey, both of Georgia, but these visits have failed to lead to any definite projects.
“The general consensus is that it’s very interesting and they’re very intrigued by it. But they generally cannot figure out how to make the next step about how to implement this,” he said.
He added that “governments are broke” and implementing new transit systems in the U.S. requires a big shift away from government-funded rail systems.
He said that American Maglev has an alternative business model that uses private companies, like ACS, to fund, implement and operate the systems.
ACS has been studying Maglev's transit system for the past three years and sent a team from the Madrid Technical Institute to validate the technology and company.
Using ACS, which has over 140,000 employees and projects in countries around the world including China, Brazil, India and South Africa, American Maglev has been able to promote itself globally, said Jordan Morris.
While President Obama's put $53 billion into expanding high-speed rails in the U.S., American Maglev will probably not receive this federal funding.
Tony Morris described their technology as “mega-regional transportation” that connects large urban areas and is completely different than high-speed rails because of the slower speeds and magnetic technology.
For more information on American Maglev Technology, visit www.american-maglev.com, or call 404.386.4036.
For information on a Swiss producer of transit system technology, visit http://www.globalatlanta.com/article/24350/ , or a German manufacturer of electrical systems for transit systems, visit http://www.globalatlanta.com/article/24404/.
And for information on Atlanta's Beltline and Paris' Grand Paris system, visit http://www.globalatlanta.com/article/24439/