Over the Summer, I was working at Minnetex over on the West Bank of the University of Minnesota. I would get up in the morning and ride my bike along the transitway between St. Paul campus and East Bank; then make my way to Wiley Hall. The ride was about 5 miles from the house on Lindig to the West Bank and took me about twenty-five minutes to a half hour to get to work.
As I was riding, I noticed the existing rail infrastructure that ran parallel to the transitway and into the big industrial complex near the Huron lots. I also noticed the seldom Campus Connector that would run past from time to time. It was Summer and the busses weren’t running as often as they do during the school year. The rails were often empty, except for the occasional large freight train burling down the tracks at top speed, and another morning I was up early enough to cross over the tracks and see an Amtrak passenger train making its way towards St. Paul.
One particular morning it was raining really hard, and I had slept in so I was already late for work and had missed the Campus Connector at Gortner. As I am riding I am thinking to myself, “This really sucks, why did I sleep in? I swore my alarm clock went off, and on top of that I have to ride in the rain!! I wish there was a faster way to get where I am going.” And then it came to me. One of the craziest ideas I had of the summer, building a Maglev line between the St. Paul campus and the East Bank.
Maglev stands for Magnetic Levitation and is a transportation technology involving the use of magnets to propel passenger trains at higher speeds than existing rail technology. There are test guideways in Germany and in other countries and China has already developed some lines that use this technology. We discussed this technology in my Fundamentals of Transit Planning class last semester. My professor had been to the test track in Germany and had a chance to ride on it. Speeds could be reached of upwards of 256 Miles per hour, but where not tried any higher due to the length of the guideway.
There are some disadvantages associated with Maglev. The first and most important is the cost of building and maintaining the guideway that maglev runs on. Maglev runs similarly to a monorail type of track, no rails, often just concrete with lots and lots of magnets and sensors built into them. This is why the technology is not as popular as it could be. Most of the world still has a ton of regular rail infrastructure that can be upgraded for the use of High Speed passenger trains as has been done in most of Europe and Asia, but not here in the United States. The cost of building the new guideway is often what kills the enthusiasm for the project.
However, if the University of Minnesota and specifically the Center for Transportation Studies where to try and get a test track similar to the one in Germany , we may be able to get some of the cost of the guideway paid for by the Federal Government. I know a lot of students would rather see a stadium ( I want one of those too) or reduced tuition (me too as well), but imagine for a second, getting on a train at the newly completed Gophers stadium after a Gopher victory, and being “zoomed” over to the St. Paul Campus in under 7 minutes!!! Same with people who have live on St. Paul campus or near the St. Paul campus (as I do), they could get themselves to the St. Paul Student Center and then take the train to the East Bank. The system could later be extended to the West Bank, and could initially connect the State Fair grounds as well and limit the number of buses coming from the Huron lots.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but the idea of getting on a train and being able to travel from the St. Paul campus to the East Bank in under 7 minutes compared to the bus system (which is great I admit) that takes 15 minutes to a half hour, will sound awful nice come December.
In the meantime, see you on the bus!!