Globalvia still game to bring maglev or rail to Orlando

Orlando may not be getting a magnetic levitation train after all.

The tenor of discussions among stakeholders has turned to include employing a light rail system. The system would likely follow the same 14.9-mile path proposed for the maglev, from Orlando International Airport to the Orange County Convention Center, with a stop at the Florida Mall.


The prospect of changing from a maglev to a light rail system appears to be the result of a lack of development and performance progress by the maglev system and the entry of Spanish transportation company Globalvia as the $400 million project's prospective financier.

Tony Morris, chief executive of American Maglev Technology, is spearheading the maglev project and is seeking the funding from Globalvia, which is interested but has yet to commit and is also offering a plan B.

"Tony was in a meeting with us and Globalvia, and the principals of Globalvia said if they determine maglev would not be feasible, they would offer a light rail system," said Phil Brown, executive director of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

"Subject to a number of investment conditions, Globalvia is committed to invest equity and raise project financing for the development of a fixed guideway transportation system connecting Orlando International Airport and the Convention Center/I-Drive area," said Globalvia spokesman Nacho Colmenero Arenado in an email. A fixed guideway transportation system could be a maglev or light rail system.

"Should maglev technology not be finally available for this project, Globalvia is still committed to invest its equity and raise project financing for the deployment of a light rail transit system," Colmenero Arenado said. The company is looking into a combination of debt and equity, say people familiar with the Globalvia's thinking.

Light rail is generally used to describe systems that are somewhere in the middle of the passenger train spectrum. On the low end are streetcars and trams, and on the high end are large-capacity rail systems like the New York City subway.

Once the system was built in Orlando, Globalvia would plan to operate it.

"Globalvia is looking forward to continue working with its partners and with all stakeholders involved in order to being able to shortly proceed with this significant investment, which we believe will add to Central Florida's economic development and generate around 3,000 jobs," Colmenero Arenado said.

Morris declined to discuss the development, saying "I'm not in a position to comment on anything."

Morris has wanted to dock the maglev at the intermodal transportation center the airport plans to open in mid-2017. It would join the airport's own people mover, SunRail and All Aboard Florida. Maglev is a transportation system that uses magnetic levitation to move trains without touching the ground. There are commercial maglevs operating in Shanghai, China, and in Japan.

Brown is being cautious. The maglev, which Morris has been talking about bringing to Orlando for the last several years, is untried, since there is not a single one in operation in the US, he said.

"There would have to be testing," Brown said, with the research taking into account weather in Georgia, where Morris' maglev prototype is, and that in Central Florida. "We would have to have a high level of reliability."

The Georgia prototype operates on a half-mile track with no inclines or turns, raising questions about its maneuverability, said people who have seen it.

Brown also echoed what's being said in maglev circles—the prototype doesn't move fast enough.

"I've heard 25 to 30 miles per hour and we would need above 50," Brown said.


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