COMPETITION to obtain federal funds towards magnetic levitation projects is hotting up again in the USA. Congress has appropriated initial funding of $12m to kick start three or four schemes, and 10 applications have been sent in so far - not that $12m will go very far. One proposal covers a 64 km line from Baltimore to Washington, whose backers envisage a trip time of 16min thanks to a maximum speed of 300mile/h. Another scheme is for a 110 km line from Orlando to Port Canaveral.

US transport officials appear to have succumbed again to the extraordinary appeal of maglev, although a commercially viable operation remains as far away as ever. High speed trials on Japan’s Yamanashi test guideway are certainly impressive (RG 5.99 p261), but the likely cost of building a commercial route from Tokyo to Osaka would be higher than a steel wheel-steel rail route.

Germany’s plans for a Transrapid route from Hamburg to Berlin are thought to have the support of Transport Minister Franz Müntefering, but doubts continue to plague the 290 km scheme. Ways are being sought to bring down the cost, and one of these is to reduce part of the alignment to a single guideway. This would also significantly reduce capacity - and hence potential revenue - although that may be less of an issue as an unpublished report leaked earlier this year suggests that traffic forecasts need to be revised down by nearly 30%. German Railway, the nominated Transrapid operator, is pursuing a strict ’no comment’ policy, perhaps until after a board meeting set for early July. Meanwhile, one wag has raised the question of open access to the line. Now there’s a thought.