City should consider taking a ride on mag lev
The city and mayor seem bent upon "steel on steel" technology for their rail project. They have, nonetheless, turned down bus transit and rubber on concrete for legitimate reasons. For one, bus transit is not rail -- that is "mass" reason enough. Rubber on concrete has performed unsatisfactorily wherever it has been introduced; for example, engineers haven't still been able to stop rail cars swaying from side to side in Taipei, a technical phenomenon known as "hunting." But why did they turn down magnetic levitation? Why would we want to live in the past with old technology when we want to go into the future?
ML is a proven "future" technology that has been used successfully for decades wherever it has debuted -- Japan, Germany and China, for instance. ML looks sleek and sexy -- trains "flying" through the air -- with much less noise than "screeching" steel on steel.
ML requires lighter track and bridges because the trains don't need to place their weight on them. As a result, civil engineering infrastructure costs for ML are lower than for steel on steel. The mechanical and electrical engineering technology are more expensive, but the ride is smoother and operating costs are lower. Altogether, ML trains are estimated to be cheaper or equal in price to steel on steel.
What's more, because of lower friction, ML trains are more efficient and able to climb grade better than traditional trains. This means Honolulu wouldn't have to construct bridges that are too monstrous, which can be an eyesore.
What sort of City Council and administration would forego something potentially cheaper, quieter, more efficient, smoother and sexier?
I can imagine the following impediments that our city guys might have expressed: ML has not been used anywhere in the U.S. (what does that say about the U.S.?), so our city officials are unable to put their arms around something they are too weak to grasp; there is a strong steel-on-steel lobby in the U.S.; city officials are afraid to import the ML technology, which is essentially Japanese or German, and feel incapable of communicating or adopting "foreign" technology; and they wouldn't know how to procure ML technology.
The technology panel judged that ML was not proven in urban settings. But that's like saying 40 years ago that jet engines could not operate on short-haul distances, while now we know the reverse is true. Where was the imagination and creativity of that panel? Something was probably wrong with how the technology panel was picked.
In other words, for all these deficiencies of our engineers and politicians, we are doomed to live in the past, and consequently forego a competitive technology that is proven and available. Doesn't that sound ridiculous for an advanced society?
Our city needs a brave pioneer who can bring in futuristic technologies. Rail can help Oahu, but we must select the right technology. Is there a hidden agenda or lobby at work here to force steel on steel on us? At the very least, detailed proposals for ML should be considered. Why should the residents of Honolulu forego ML just because our engineers and politicians are incapable? If we are so dug in the past, how will we boldly go into the future?
We simply have to bite the steel to use futuristic technology, which I think most of the citizens of Honolulu prefer. The future is not distant -- it is here. If we wish for rail, there is no point rolling to the future when we can fly there.
Amarjit Singh is associate professor of construction engineering management at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.