Insanity Rears its Ugly Head in Michigan

Michigan Hydrogen Train ProposalState is now considering private proposal for elevated, hydrogen-powered maglev trains from Detroit to Lansing and Ann Arbor

The Detroit Free Press reports today that the Michigan State House is holding hearings on whether to consider a private plan to build a maglev rail line between Detroit and Lansing, the state capital, and Detroit and Ann Arbor, where the main state university is located. The company making the proposal, Interstate Traveler Company, claims that it could build the $2.3 billion system without public money, as long as it gets to use highway right-of-way for free. As an added bonus, profits would be split 50-50 with the government, and the line could begin construction by 2010! Does it get any better?

Yes! The line would have stations at every interchange along I-96, the trains would be built by Detroit auto manufacturers (of course), and the system would be designed to handle passengers, freight, and cars! The lines themselves would carry electricity, fiber optics, and hydrogen gas, allowing them to act like giant utility lines. Trains would travel at 200 mph.

Perhaps most astonishing of all, “fares could be 5 cents a mile.” That means a trip between Detroit and Lansing would cost… $4.50!

To put it mildly, this plan is completely ridiculous. Not only does little of the technology these entrepreneurs are advocating exist, but they’ve invented a financing system that seems to rely more on witchcraft than reality. The fact that Michigan’s legislators are taking this proposal seriously enough to consider it in a legislative session reaffirms my sense that the state is on the edge of complete collapse.

Image above: Interstate Traveler System, from Interstate Traveler Company

20 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Patrick M

    Before I worked in transportation, I worked as a web developer for a $350 million company. Our shop considered any company that set up its website in Microsoft Frontpage was not an enterprise to be taken seriously.

    ITC fits this criterion as well.

    The most hilarious part is the video shows a guideway (described as maglev) with NO MAGNETS and suggests that a tilted cabinet will help provide jet-plane style lift to help raise the vehicle above the magnets.

    Here’s a hint, ITC guys- if it is correctly levitated by the magnets, it doesn’t need any help!

    Anyway, I hope Michigan puts some money into this. Seriously, that would be an appropriate self-punishment for giving airtime in their legislature this tremendously unserious proposal mixing PRT, Monorail, and maglev ideas while misunderstanding all of them.

    In closing- watch the video. Keep watching until they get to the part about mobile hospitals showing surgeons operating while in the vehicle. Try not to laugh too hard.

  • Unfortunately, this concept has been floating around for several years now, attracting interest from local elected officials and others who’ve bought into all the promised features.

    I sure wish the ‘milestones’ for the Interstate Traveler included some actual technical developments instead of lists of papers, endorsements and public appearances made on the system’s behalf.

  • Andy Lynch

    What the hell is wrong with off the shelf, cheaper then MagLev trains? Not sexy enough? Hire Scarlett Johanssen as the conductor and call it a day.

  • Yonah, have you ever written a movie review without seeing the film? I tend to think you have because your statements about the Interstate Traveler clearly indicate that you read one news story and then decided to trash a project based on EXISTING technology which will create millions of green jobs and billions of dollars in spare revenue, along with many ancillary benefits.

    If the technology behind the Interstate Traveler (HyRail) were unproven, would the Interstate Traveler Company be listed in the Pentagon’s Defense Technical Information Center? Would the Department of Homeland Security be abuzz with using the HyRail for urban evacuations ahead of hurricanes? Would the government of Indonesia be just weeks away from making it the country’s carbon-free transportation medium of the new millennium?

    Get your facts straight. I’d be more than happy to arrange a conversation with the inventor, Justin Sutton. After all, the American Computer Science Association would not have given him its coveted Sir Isaac Newton Award over the iPod and Windows XP if its underlying principles and technology were unproven.

    In the meantime, take a couple of hours and listen to my 3-part telephone interview with the inventor. I guarantee that you’ll learn something:

    http://www.progressivepathway.com/justin.htm

  • Joe Klein

    The only point well made by the proposal is the efficient use of right of way. If new electric railroads and trams where designed to have wind generators, fiber optics, superconducting energy storage systems, and superconducting power lines within a standard 100ft rail right of way, the revenue from the fiber rental, power transmission lines, less than a carload freight, and sale of excess power would subsidize the cost of passenger service, making it both affordable and less dependent on government subsidy.

  • Jasper

    That is possibly the worst website i’ve ever seen.

    But here’s another one:

    http://www.jpods.com/

  • Patrick M

    Corbett, I see you are a partner with ITC. If the technology exists, surely you could:

    1. Create a non-animated video of the cart floating effortlessly up and down a very short, 50-yard or less magnetic track, with the full champagne flute on a table in the car not spilling. (this is what your materials tout)

    2. Explain why your maglev concept is the only one in the world that is on stilts and doesn’t have the main, weighted body of the car just inches above the track. (the standard for the proven, in-operation maglevs in Europe and Asia that has been developed by much broader teams of talented scientists who surely explored a variety of designs before settling on the ones they came up with)

    Bottom line- if this was a serious effort, and could be done with private money because it was that good an idea, they’d have a prototype vehicle and a very short track to demonstrate the levitation technology. They don’t. Or, at least they’d be able to pay someone to make a half decent website. They can’t.

    Like all PRT enthusiasts, this is a lot of computer-modeled hokum from a few guys who are probably great with computers, and really naive with physics and passenger transport in the real world.

  • Chris

    Hey ITC! 1996 called. They want their website back.

    Seriously, the only thing missing from that homepage is a dancing banana.

  • Jason Bennett

    Mr. Kroeler, I’m afraid a bunch of untestable assertions don’t sound very convincing. I can’t find any evidence that Interstate Traveler is “listed with” the Pentagon’s DTIC, whatever that is supposed to mean. And why would anybody be expected to believe that “the Dept. of Homeland security is abuzz” or that “Indonesia is weeks away” from adopting this technology with no more evidence than your assertion?
    You’re welcome to prove me wrong, but I can’t find evidence that anybody else has ever won the “coveted Sir Isaac Newton Award.”

  • Jess

    Once again we have people touting unproven, pie-in-the-sky technology rather than adopting proven technologies that are being used daily everywhere else in the world.

    The Japanese have been studying Maglev from here to Sunday, and have a good operational test track running. But even with all their experience they can’t figure out to build a production Maglev system that makes financial sense.

    We can’t even manage conventional High Speed Rail (HSR) in this country that comes close to the Europeans or Asians, yet we want to chase “Futurama” when we use a pitiful 110mph as the definition of HSR here.. I do think it’s about time we made better use of Interstate Highway right-of-ways and monobeams/monorails for transit alternatives; and let’s retool the shuttered auto plants to build alternative vehicles, but let’s leave the Jetsons alone and just concentrate on crawling, then walking, and maybe running before we set our sights on flying!!!

    I’ve seen too many “private” projects that turned into public buy-outs. I’ll take a real world HSR that travels at 200mph+ over a pipe dream any day.

  • Jess

    Besides…. we still don’t know enough about the long term effects of electro-magnetic fields on human tissue. The French managed 370+mph with their TGV without the health risks that might be involved with long term exposure to EMF, why don’t we just try building ONE real HSR train in this country with proven technology before we start trying to build experimental technologies?

    Talk about your Springfield Monorail con jobs.

  • Jess

    “the American Computer Science Association would not have given him its coveted Sir Isaac Newton Award”…. what award? The ACSA website reads like a Dr. Bonner’s Soap label and their page about their 2006 Board of Directors nominations that apparently never held elections to became the Board of Directors implies more snake-oil to me…. not mentioned the Google Ads…. It’s 2009, you’d think if they were so technologically advanced they would have managed to confirm their board and update their website by now.

    I commend people for thinking outside the box, but looking over that Interstate Traveler Website I see all kinds of issues. Free Fuel? What free fuel? Water is NOT free, and huge quantities of distilled water certainly aren’t free.

  • Speaking only about the German Transrapid maglev (not the Japanese high-speed system) its electromagnetic field effects have been tested by experts over the years and have been found to have no short- or long-term effects on humans.

    See the federal report at http://www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/RRdev/fra0211.pdf to see that maglev is fully compatible with
    environmental performance goals and with current human exposure safety limits.

  • erok

    here’s a website of his promoting a biodome project: http://www.jesuttons-biodome.org

    it starts: I began the BioDome concept with the goal in mind of creating extra-terrestrial habitats for a permanent Lunar Colony. However! It did not take long for me to realize that we need to build these right here on earth!!

  • I am glad to see some people have brains in their heads. The concept is great, to massively improve our transportation systems, but nothing is technically correct with his proposal. He seems to be able to make sh*t flow uphill. Dreams are good but lets not waste time and effort on one not possible when we have so many important things to do.

    If you visit my website be easy on me I made it myself and host it from home.

  • SpyOne

    I’ve been looking at Interstate Traveler’s site for some time, and I still can’t figure out how this thing is supposed to work. The link labeled “Hydrogen Maglev” leads to a gallery of pictures, which collectively offer some clue. However, the picture titled “Energy Cycle” appears to show solar photovoltaic cells being used to electrolysise water which is then used in fuelcells to generate electricity to add to the power grid. At no point does it show power being used for anything other than putting it into the grid, so the system is far less efficient than it could be, since connecting the solar cells directly would be better. I suppose it could be providing water purification also, but that could also probably be done more efficiently by other methods.

    Oh, and the entire thing is being watched by a human brain provided by Sun Microsystems, but not actually attached to anything. If the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain” taught us nothing else, it illustrated the dubious merit of using disembodied brains as a control system.

    The 12-year-old in me thinks the fire engine looks cool, but the adult realizes that no government is going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a vehicle with such limited uses, and that other adults would realize that too, so the presence of that image argues against the artist and the web designer being adults, regardless of their chronological age.

    Simply put, that site looks BAD. It looks like a Junior High student’s site for his Really Cool Idea(tm), not like the site for a real company or a real engineer. If Interstate Traveler expects to be taken seriously, they need better information on a better looking site. Their failure to provide something better lends credence to the idea that they don’t HAVE something better.
    What patents does Interstate Traveler hold? What patents does it hold license to? Are there existing blueprints for ANY of the system’s components?

    Why does their claim that they can build miles of track in a day link to a Google search for the term “miles of rails”. How could anyone expect a site like that to be taken seriously? Or rather, anyone over 12.

  • Eric G.

    I used to think that Maglev was really cool – for the obvious reason that it floats on air. What kid doesn’t love playing with magnets? and trains? so the marriage seems like a child’s perfect fantasy – and that’s just what it is. When you pay some respect to physics, the apparent advantages of Maglev actually turn to liabilities. The advantage of floating on air is supposedly overcoming friction, but friction is not always bad. Trains need to stop. It takes a lot of energy to make a heavy trainset move forward, but with friction you can recapture and reuse some of that energy with regenerative braking on the stopping end of your trip segment. If your train is floating on magnets, you need to use massive energy to start it up — AND to stop it. That just doesn’t make sense.
    Why spend so much on maglev when today’s state of the art HSR is capable of doing 300mph. If you need to go faster, you can use an airplane.
    Maglev is fascinating but impractical. Disney should build one. Taxpayers should not.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I’d be worred about what happens when maglv meets up with the age old habit of defurred railroad repairs like all the railroad lines like to do in the US and have been doing for the last 40 years. Say if there was a maglv line that manged to break even but didn’t pay off wouldn’t they start cutting costs on repairs. Also wouldn’t buying parts for the maglv lines be far more expensive then buying off the self stardard rairoad parts.

  • Matt

    I met the inventor, Mr Sutton, around 2001 in a personal meeting when he pitched this idea to government agency where I worked. I’ll always remember it as a particularly surreal experience. It was like watching a man being eaten alive by his own obsessive idea.

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