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Author's theory envisions magnetic, 'high-speed subway'

(The Bremerton Sun posted the following article by Niki King on its website on June 8.)

BREMERTON, Wash. -- At the turn of the 20th century when America's roads were haphazardly hewn of dirt, brick and cedar blocks, the Interstate Highway System would have sounded like fool's folly, pipe dreams, a theorist's wishful thinking.

Such was the scene in 1919 when a young colonel, and future president, first traversed the country with the army.

As tanks bumbled over barriers and slugged through muck, an ideological seed was planted. But it would be nearly 40 more years before Dwight D. Eisenhower would finally authorize funding for his dream, the Interstate Highway System, later named in his honor.

His legacy, born of need and vision, was transportation capability, but not perfection. That's this generation's job.

At least, so goes the thinking of Brad Swartzwelter, a Kingston man who just published his first book, "Faster Than Jets," with Alder Press.

The book theorizes that the solution to America's transportation problems is another highway system, this one underground. He envisions a "super-high-speed subway train," powered by magnetic energy and vacuum propulsion. Like the name suggests, it would go as fast as airplanes.

"There is no reason your generation can't create this, the technology is there," Swartzwelter said during his first lecture about the book at Olympia College.

The benefits of the idea are plentiful. Its use of fossil fuel is close to zilch. It would be safer and more environmentally sound than anything else.

"The drawbacks are simply hard to find," said Swartzwelter.

Well, almost. The cost of the system means that it will be nearly impossible to move it off the drawing board and onto the agenda of mainstream America. All costs included, construction would run about $55 million per mile. The American family would have to shoulder a $350 tax per year for 40 years.

Swartzwelter said people should think of the project in relation to the Interstate Highway System.

"With maintenance, it has cost us $22 million a mile and took 40 years to build," said Swartzwelter.

Despite the costs, Swartzwelter said that with enough support, his AmericaMetro system could be built. After all, he says, the Swiss almost built their own.

Swartzwelter's book is based largely on work the Swiss have already done. In the early 1980s the group of Swiss scientists who first dreamed up the maglev vacuum technology behind the system began to get widespread attention.

The government spent millions on testing and research. The debate over whether to build a full-scale national system finally failed by one dissenting vote in the Swiss Parliament last year.

"We are in an excellent position to capitalize on what the Swiss have already done," said Swartzwelter.

Swartzwelter's full-time job as a conductor for Amtrak Cascades was what first inspired him to write the book.

He said one day in 1996 a mudslide in Edmonds blew a freighter into the Puget Sound. As a result he was furloughed for weeks.

"I thought, I'm gonna find a better way of transportation," he said.

He traveled widely, looking at the above ground maglev test tracks in Germany and Japan. He found the Swiss model to be the best.

He spent two years writing and researching the book. So far, it has won acclaim from several prominent people in the field.

While the book is largely technical in nature, he said he intentionally wrote it on an USA Today reading level so anyone could understand it.

He just joined a distribution company, so his book should hit shelves soon. He said his goal isn't to make money, though. Rather, it's to rally people to join his political movement, American Metro Group.

"I think people will appreciate that this system alleviates our reliance on fossil fuels," said Swartzwelter.

And what of the costs that make the AmericaMetro seem implausible? Swartzwelter says he understands it would be hard for Americans to swallow. But vision takes sacrifice, he said.

"Can you imagine what America would be like without the Interstate Highway System? It was a gift, a legacy we all enjoy. That's how I want people to look at this."

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

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