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Monorail inventor attracted to Poulsbo

PORT ANGELES — Karl “Jerry” Lamb calls the braking mechanism on his monorail his “Dr. Seuss lever.”

But you won’t find any Sneeches or the Lorax around this workshop. In fact, the inventor is more akin to another character — Willy Wonka of the famed Roald Dahl tale, enthusiastically throwing switches and pressing buttons to unveil fantastic creations to anyone who takes an interest.

And like the fictional chocolatier, Lamb is hoping he has a sweet deal for Poulsbo. After four years working on his LEVX magnetic levitational propulsion system, Lamb is ready to try the technology out in a real world application. And if allowed, he’d like to do it by building a monorail from the Winslow ferry to Poulsbo’s Olhava.

“It’s gone from a pipe dream to now it’s, ‘OK this can happen. So now you have to make up your minds because we have to get our legislators to go down there and fight for us,’” commented Poulsbo Councilman Jim Henry, a tireless advocate for a monorail in North Kitsap.

Henry met Lamb at a regional economic development conference about two months ago. The councilman had recently been working on getting a monorail for Poulsbo to ease congestion on State Route 305 and Lamb had been looking for a place near home where he could build the first branch of what he hopes will become a nation-wide system.

“I’ve been asked to come into the market for a couple of years now but I’ve always held off because I’ve been holding out to make sure the technology is there and the patents are there and things like that,” Lamb explained. “I wanted to try and find a project close to home so I could watch it and react to it and try to fix it if anything goes wrong because people always remember your mistakes.”

Bolstered by initial conversations, Henry, Councilwoman Kathryn Quade and a handful of other Kitsap Officials recently visited Lamb at is Port Angeles workshop this month. The result was a presentation that will be made by Lamb at 7 p.m. Dec. 9 in Poulsbo City Council Chambers. Quade said area legislators, city council members and county commissioners have been invited to the event. No decisions will be made, although Poulsbo City Council members may ask questions.

Though Lamb has a 12th grade education, he’s been working with magnets for 26 years and has created a successful company around the force. His company, Magna Force, Inc. already holds patents on many other permanent magnet technologies, including couplings sans the wear that traditional forms suffer and that can be used at varying speeds to save energy. Called MagnaDrive, the U.S. Navy spent $2.3 million in March to be supplied with the coupling to be used in pump refurbishments in its Ticonderoga class cruisers and Arleigh Burke class destroyers.

The magnetic people moving technology, called LEVX is Lamb’s newest creation. The concept of propulsion is relatively similar to the tension created when two opposing magnets are pushed towards one another. A neodymium magnet is set opposite copper and aluminum, which are non-magnetic, creating a “cushion” of air on which platforms can be “floated.” There is no friction of wheels on a track, making it both energy efficient and more environmentally-friendly. A prototype 1,000-pound platform is able to be run by a single 2 horsepower motor fueled by battery and a backup propane generator. Lamb said that for a monorail-type passenger vehicle, he might use four of the small lawnmower-sized engines.

“Every 1,000 pounds of mass takes two pounds of force, so it’s the greatest, most energy efficient system you can find,” he commented.

Electromagnetic propulsion is already being used in transit systems in Germany and Japan. Lamb said the key difference with LEVX is that with or without its propulsion systems operating, the platforms remain suspended above the track by the magnets and can be easily moved. Electromagnetic cars crash to the tracks with a loss of power.

The prototype model of a LEVX system at Lamb’s workshop can go 45 miles per hour but Lamb said he thinks the technology could go as fast as 100 MPH. But he pointed out that even the trip from Bainbridge to Poulsbo at 45 MPH would be better than the current option because the monorail would not have to slow down or stop for signals or other vehicles.

“Personally, I don’t want to go too fast,” Lamb said. “The faster you go the more headway you need, the more headway you need, the less people you can move. I’m interested in moving people, not going fast.”

Besides the opportunity to be the first to showcase a technology that has caught the gaze of entities around the globe, Henry said one of the biggest benefits he sees to considering a deal with Lamb is cost.

“He doesn’t want any government money,” Henry commented. “Kitsap Transit wants to put some money into it and he doesn’t want it because if we put in money, we get a say in how it’s run.”

Lamb agreed that he envisions more of a public/private partnership driving construction of LEVX systems. He mentioned investors and grants as possible sources of funding for the system. But he said he wants any jurisdictions he works with to be behind him, but not necessarily as financial backers.

“I’m not asking the government for anything, I just want them to know I’m here and support me when projects come along with things like Right of Way and whatever else has to be done to get the job done,” he said.

Realistically, the hardware for a LEVX monorail would could cost about $11 million to $12 million per mile for the system without stations, cars and maintenance facilities. If Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island wanted the ability to also haul freight of as much as 25,000 pounds per platform on the system, that would add another $2 million per mile.

“So whatever they want will drive the cost,” Lamb said.

In comparison, the Seattle monorail, which is close to the same length as the 14-mile Bainbridge to Poulsbo route, is estimated to cost somewhere closer to $40 million per mile for the same components. Lamb said his costs are kept down because he can pre-fabricate much of the line and “put it together like Legos.”

If the Poulsbo and Bainbridge Island city councils and the Suquamish Tribal Council agreed with Lamb’s proposal and permits are granted, he said he believes he can be ready to build in about a year’s time. Construction, he added, could go as fast as putting up two miles each work day. But both Lamb and Henry agreed that the biggest hurdle will likely be winning over the opinions of the general population. Both are hoping many people will attend Lamb’s presentation Dec. 9 to hear what he has to say.

“My goal is the normal guy in the streets loves this technology and believes in it,” Lamb said. “But of course, if I gave away money, there’d be people who loved it and people who complained.”

“Getting people to realize we can actually do this,” Henry added of what he feels will be the biggest challenge. “It’s not like we have to go back to them for money. Just getting over the attitude that this can happen

Sidebox:

MagLev Presentation

7 p.m. Dec. 9

Poulsbo City Council Chambers, 19050 Jensen Way

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