J S. Miller

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - reliability, planning - safety/accidents, economics - appraisal/evaluation, mode - rail


Virginia Department of Transportation, Technological innovations, Safety measures, Safety, Reliability, Public safety, Prototype tests, Political factors, Political aspects, Performance, People movers, Passenger conveyors, Magnetic suspension, Magnetic levitation, Full scale tests, Evaluation and assessment, Electromagnetic suspension, Decision making, Costs, Automated people movers, Advanced technology


New transportation technologies, such as magnetic levitation (maglev), offer promise and risk as they move through the successive stages of research, development, demonstration, and deployment. The Virginia General Assembly's initial financial contributions to a low-speed, 3,400-ft (1,037-m), maglev-based people mover being constructed by the private sector illustrate the opportunities for potential reward and failure. Requests for additional funding to refine and deploy the prototype motivated the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to seek a structured decision process. VDOT did not want to spend taxpayers' money frivolously on a technology not yet in commercial service anywhere in the world, or to impede an affordable, new approach that could effectively reduce congestion. To help VDOT evaluate the prototype maglev system, the Virginia Transportation Research Council developed a set of broad-based performance measures applicable to different rail systems including maglev. This study links the standards of credibility, reliability, performance, safety, and cost to the types of detailed performance measures that should be obtained during an operational test. A strong link between technical data and broad-based metrics enables persons of disparate backgrounds to jointly evaluate the results of a new technology and establish reasonable expectations for what that technology should accomplish. This is a better approach than making decisions on the sole basis of preconceived notions of whether a technology is good or bad. These performance measures, therefore, offer a promising method for evaluating new transportation products. Although the concept of technology-blind criteria has received renewed emphasis over the past decade, this study highlights challenges and suggestions for using such criteria in a relatively political setting, which is less than ideal but common.