I told you so: Local maglev projects are dead

| Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2012

Now and then, people like to gloat.

They enjoy a chance to be smug and say, "I told you so."

Today I'm gloating.

Two futuristic "maglev" train systems ballyhooed for the region have fallen by the wayside.

For years, I told you so.

One was a 54-mile, high-speed prototype supposed to reach speeds up to 300 mph between Pittsburgh International Airport and Greensburg, with stops in Pittsburgh and Monroeville.

The other was a 2.5-mile, low-speed, elevated "people mover" using 70-passenger cars to link California University of Pennsylvania campuses and several mid-points.

Both systems were to have employed state-of-art electromagnetic technology to levitate and propel vehicles along steel guideways. They also were said to spawn new industry and jobs.

Millions of tax dollars have been spent on unfulfilled, lofty promises to develop and build the maglev projects.

"Planners" of questionable expertise and motive and some well-intentioned, qualified engineers have been paid big bucks for their participation.

They duped the public.

They persuaded elected officials to lend support and obtain government funds at the expense of other transportation investments.

McKeesport-based Maglev Inc. spent 20 years toying with the high-speed system.

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation became a "partner."

The company survived on $23 million in federal money, $7 million in state money and several union and corporate sponsorships.

Maglev tried to weasel another $28 million from the feds, but the state refused to put up more matching money.

Maglev Inc. officials repeatedly refused to divulge payroll information, expenses and fringe benefits.

Their public partners said they didn't know. Board meetings were private.

Minutes distributed to directors were prefaced "Confidential-Proprietary."

Thanks to a source, I learned that the salaries of the president and vice president had been doubled to $200,000 and $175,000 a year, respectively, in 2002, when federal money poured into the operation.

A former state lawmaker was rewarded with a still unknown "executive salary" as Maglev board chairman.

Not surprisingly, Maglev Inc. is now bankrupt.

Industrial equipment and office furniture that remains will be sold at a public auction on March 6.

We haven't heard of Cal U's once-ambitious maglev plans for a while. We probably won't.

U.S. Maglev Development Corp. of Pittsburgh shifted interest there only after its efforts were rejected to build a 2,200-foot-long, low-speed maglev system in Pittsburgh.

Officials continued to be paid as consultants and planners for their "work" at Cal U in conjunction with a private sector partner, San Diego-based General Atomics.

I once visited General Atomics for what was supposed to be a demonstration of its electromagnetic technology.

Instead, officials showed off MRI components, unmanned drones and other futuristic projects.

They had conveniently disassembled the maglev test track before I got there.

In 2003 when the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha visited Cal U, the powerful Democrat from Johnstown promised money to fund the project and predicted the first half-mile could be in operation in 18 months.

In 2009, university officials announced construction on the first leg of the system could begin "almost immediately," but "almost" has never arrived.

Meanwhile, support and money for all maglev transportation projects has virtually disappeared.


Thought du jour - You can't soar with the eagles in the morning if you hoot with the owls at night.

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