It's cool here in Phoenix in the spring of 1999, and one of the coolest things of all is the city's Maglev transit system. Unlike the old noisy, cumbersome, ValTrans proposal that savvy voters rejected with a laugh way back in the Eighties, the new Phoenix Area Maglev system has magnetic-levitation trains, much like those used for decades in Europe and Japan.
I've bicycled the few short blocks from my home to Park Central Station. Purchasing a ticket inside the three-story terminal, I notice others checking their bikes at the on-site park-and-ride facility. But I'll need mine again at the end of my journey, so I'll just bring it along for the ride (at a slight extra fee) in the handy bike-transport car.
The sleek, silver Maglev train arrives. Upon boarding, I spot a few gossipy blue-haired shoppers from Sun City, a gaggle of giggling schoolgirls and some rubbernecking snowbirds among the regular commuters. The train takes off with a swoosh.
The ride is incredibly smooth, because the Maglev floats on a cushion of magnetic resistance along a trough-like channelway that serves as a track. No fuel is burned, and no pollutants are released into the air. And except for small, retractable casters used only during stops and start-ups, our train has no wheels. The Maglev never actually touches the track, so there's no friction, no wear and no noise. Because of the silence, convenient boarding stations are located inside many Central Corridor high-rises and most of the big malls. Electricity to run the Maglev is virtually free, provided by gleaming strings of tiny solar collectors that outline the entire track system.
Had today been a regular work day, I'd have simply ridden the train to Patriots Square, disembarked and pedaled my bike a few blocks to work. But it's a day off, so I've headed north up Central Avenue and transferred to an eastbound Maglev on the Arizona Canal Line.
The Maglev's narrow, elevated channelways snake along major thoroughfares and old freeways and wind around foothills. Banks of windows permit breathtaking views of the Valley's deep-blue, crystal-clear skies. As we swoop swiftly and silently thirty feet over a lushly landscaped canal, we can see water-skiers, bicyclists, picnickers, and couples strolling under palo verdes. In no time, I'm at my destination, Squaw Peak Park Station, where my friends meet me for a game of Frisbee.
Next year, they tell me, I'll be able to zip north on an express Maglev to Williams, where I'll catch the historic steam train to the Grand Canyon.