Saturday, June 5, 2004

MagLev train hits bumps with station demolition
By Debbie Messina

NORFOLK — Two of the three passenger stations for Old Dominion University’s controversial maglev train have sat unused for so long that they must be torn down due to safety concerns.

Work on the project resumed this week as contractors began demolishing the stations, which had become structurally unsafe after languishing for a year and a half, supported by wooden scaffolding. Construction ended abruptly in October 2002 when money ran out and contractors were not paid.

The last of the $14 million budget was spent by American Maglev Technology Inc., the train’s inventor, trying to resolve technical problems with the vehicle, which is supposed to glide along an elevated guideway but instead bumps and vibrates.

Crews this week also resumed building a third station at Webb University Center. This station, which was further along in its construction than the other two, will not be made available for public use but will have stairs, a handrail and a platform to support the development of the experimental magnetic levitation train.

Tearing down the two stations and finishing construction of the third will take two to three months, said Ron Tola , ODU’s assistant vice president for facilities management.

“We’re trying to direct most of the money for research and development of the vehicle,” he said.

S.B. Ballard Construction Co. , the original station contractor, is performing the new work.

Ballard sued ODU and American Maglev for nonpayment, but the lawsuit has been withdrawn while the parties negotiate the terms of a settlement.

The Webb Center station will cost $93,000 to build and is being funded by a $2 million federal grant that was released in April to jump-start the stalled maglev project.

Tola said ODU is paying $42,000 to demolish the other stations.

The Webb Center station will be the starting point for future test runs of the vehicle, if the ride is smoothed out.

Engineers at Lockheed Martin in Orlando, Fla., have begun computer testing of what has come to be known as “The Fix” – new computer controls and sensors that they say should steady the train. ODU engineering professors and graduate students also are involved in the effort.

ODU, American Maglev and Lockheed Martin share a goal of producing a prototype maglev train that can operate smoothly at speeds of up to 40 mph along an 1,100-foot section of the 3,400-foot guideway that traverses the campus.

Additional funding will be needed to finish the stations and allow the train to begin carrying passengers.

ODU now hopes to incorporate the Hampton Boulevard station into the design for a new parking garage that could be complete in a year or two , Tola said.

Plans are uncertain for a future west end station, now at Powhatan Avenue.

Tola said its exact location hinges on ODU’s development plans in the area, which could include turning the field house into a recreation center and building more student housing and a educational building on the west side of Powhatan.

Reach Debbie Messina at 446-2588 or

© 2004

Workers take apart scaffolding around a partially built MagLev train station near Hampton Boulevard at Old Dominion University.
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