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Magplane uses individual passive vehicles, levitated above a magway trough of semi-circular cross section. Vehicles are propelled by a linear synchronous motor winding in the magway and controlled by a central computer.
The vehicles are supported resiliently on a magnetic cushion, and are free to roll ten degrees in either direction from the bank angle of the magway. This enables them to negotiate horizontal curves of 2 km radius at 360 km/h with airplane comfort. Coordinated self-banking also permits vehicles to negotiate vertical curves typical of highway alignments without passenger discomfort by a "chandelle" type of maneuver in which negative vertical gee-forces are canceled by horizontal curvature. The maximum size vehicle weighs 45 tonnes gross, and carries 175 passengers, three and two abreast. Minimum headway at 500 km/h is 20 seconds, which permits a maximum single vehicle operation capacity of 25,000 seats/hour in each direction, as compared to about 10,000 for light rail and about 3,000 for a highway lane. With headways of 60 seconds in keeping with current state-of-the-art automatic controllers, three coupled intercity vehicles would be used to achieve the 25,000 seats/hour intercity capacity.
The magway structure is a curved box girder whose upper surface forms a trough of aluminum sheet with an open slot at its center. A meander-shaped propulsion winding occupies the center slot. Vehicles carry permanent magnets.
Levitation forces, guidance forces, and righting moments are exerted by currents induced in the magway surface by the motion of the vehicle magnets. Propulsion forces are produced by AC current in the guideway propulsion windings which generate a traveling wave. The vehicle rides this wave like a surfboard. Wayside power conditioning units spaced at 2 km intervals, synchronize the traveling wave with the vehicle, and generate active damping forces on the basis of position and acceleration information transmitted from vehicle sensors. Vehicles can leave and re-enter the magway at full speed to stop at off-line magports. The Magplane system thus achieves continuous traffic flow similar to highways, rather than the batch flow process of railroads with on-line stations.
Because magways carry only vehicles with low footprint pressure they can be significantly lighter and less expensive to build and maintain than railroad tracks. They need to carry only 1/20th the live load and provide 1/10th the wayside power (6 MW instead of 60), and can be compatible with the curves, grades, overpass, and right-of-way requirements of highways. Because of the large clearances possible with the Magplane concept, magways do not require high stiffness and accuracy of alignment or of banking.