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450-MPH TRAIN, OTHER PLANS VIE FOR RIGHT TO FLY

There's a way to travel by land from Ogden to Provo in 13 minutes.

All it takes is an air-cushioned train that's made of recycled commercial-airliner fuselages and runs on natural gas.Or hydrogen peroxide.

Proposed by a company called B.A.T. International of West Valley City, the Pegasus SST 2000 Eliminator was one of a number of oddities surfacing this week at a three-day Salt Lake conference exploring mass-transit alternatives for the Wasatch Front's fast-merging band of cities that stretches for 100 miles over four counties.

"We saw a set of interesting guys with some nice ideas," said Mick Crandall, program director for the Wasatch Front Regional Council, the group hosting the event. "We saw some very interesting technology."

Which is not to say anybody will go for it.

Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini quickly distanced herself from anything that hasn't succeeded elsewhere, putting several proposals at an immediate disadvantage. Salt Lake County Commissioner Brent Overson, who called for the conference, made it clear the light-rail alternative he likes is the one Houston has - a system that dedicates freeway medians to car-poolers and buses.

But their preferences didn't do much to blunt the zeal of several promoters backing entirely different options.

"This is the train of the 21st century," insisted Mike Near, a research-and-development specialist for B.A.T., a company whose acronym stands for Battery Automated Transportation.

B.A.T. has enjoyed some success in recent years with its sale of battery-powered Ford Ranger pickups and Geo Metros, but its proposal for a train that would glide at up to 450 mph on a soft pillow of air over tracks supported by 10-foot pillars hasn't gone much beyond the conceptual stage.

And if the Pegasus SST 2000 Eliminator sounds like a futuristic toy, that's because "at this point in time it is," said Near. Still, the selling points are there: It's safe, it's clean, and it sure is fast, he says.

Davis County cowboy poet and engineer Ray Lashley's mass-transit proposal is a snail by comparison.

Lashley's train, still in the very abstract stages of development, would plug along at 100 mph, relying on a system of satellite cars to feed passengers on and off the main convoy, which would never stop.

"The most important shortcoming of every light-rail system I know about is that they have no feeder system," said Lashley.

With his, that's no problem.

"A feeder train collects passengers, switches up, overtakes the main train and docks," he said, doing away with any need for stopping and starting. "Those leaving get on the feeder and it goes back to the station."

Energy is saved. So is time.

Not as intriguing but certainly more tried is the monorail train recommended by Horizon Transportation of Draper, whose owners say if it works in Disneyland it can work here.

The Mark IV, like most other mass-transit trains, would be powered by electricity and would ride an elevated platform. But because it would require just one rail, it would be relatively cheap to build.

Infrastructure costs are worth a hard look because they can account for more than half the cost of a mass-transit system, according to John Dearien, senior program engineer for the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory outside Idaho Falls.

That factor alone is the big reason to pick INEL's Cybertran, said Dearien. Because the electrically powered Cybertram uses cars smaller than typical light-rail systems - seating only six to 30 passengers - it wouldn't need much rail support.

"It's not meant to be a New York or Paris subway system," said Dearien, who has shown the new technology to Boise as well as to cities in Nevada and California. In each case, it was "a real crowd-pleaser," he said.

Though Cybertram has been tested over INEL's vast proving grounds, an area the size of Rhode Island, it hasn't been tried outside a research setting.

Paul Smith, one of the principals with Horizon Transportation, the company proposing the monorail system, said his presentation on Tuesday got a polite response, which ultimately was the thing it had most in common with the other alternatives to light rail.

"They said, `We'll look at it. Thanks for your time.' "