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Imagine getting out of bed, walking outside and climbing into a hydrogen-powered magnetized monorail pod, only to be shot 150 miles per hour down a track to your destination.

No need for cars, gasoline or even concentration.

That's the future envisioned by a group of scientists at Missoula's Montana Technology Enterprise Center.

Their personal rapid transit system would run down arterial streets and interstates, with pods waiting at each station to take individuals to their destinations, so there would be no wait and each pod would go directly to the desired stop.

"The whole idea is you have a spiderweb network, and you find your own way," said developer John Kropf.

The project is funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. John Brubaker, of the DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration, was on hand Friday to check out the progress.

"I think it's time for a paradigm shift. It's time for some innovation," Brubaker said. "We think this is a great investment of taxpayer money."

The investment does not just include the monorail, but also funds two other projects. One is to educate emergency workers on how to respond to situations involving hydrogen fuels. The other focuses on how to extract hydrogen from gaseous environments, thereby making hydrogen fuel production more efficient.

"I'm pretty bullish about the future of hydrogen fuel cells," Brubaker said.

He listed the reasons for the DOT's interest, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving transportation efficiency, increasing capacity and reducing the United States' dependence on foreign oil.

"We view it as one very major source of innovation to help us achieve our energy independence goals," Brubaker said. Along with such things as electric or hybrid vehicles, "these things are going to represent the future of transportation."

On Friday, the team of researchers gave a public demonstration of their monorail system on a working model about a fifth of the size of a real monorail.

The pod hangs down from an enclosed track, and a rack above the pod hovers atop opposing magnets. When it passes through a gate, the motor senses its presence and releases an electrically charged magnetic pulse, powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which then pushes the car along.

"Hydrogen is the answer," said R. Paul Williamson, the team's leader. "It's the only thing we have enough supply of to solve our energy needs in the United States or the world."

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Williamson said the monorail would cost about $1 million per mile.

The team expects to have completed a full-size monorail by the end of its four-year grant period, which it is now halfway through.

They still need to work out the bugs though, such as how much wind the pods would be able to take, and what happens when they turn corners. The only model they have made is straight.

To keep the monorail's track centered, the design currently has wheels in place on the sides of the track. But the team of researchers is working on a way to center the track using magnets.

"Nobody else in the world is doing this," Kropf said.

The researchers have been contacted by NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in California. Researchers there want to build a 1,000-foot maglev monorail and do tests on it. The current model is 30 feet long.

Commercial interests have also cropped up, with Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, expressing interest in the system. Eventually, though, it declined and went for different technology.

"We're excited about the future and the potential this holds," Brubaker said.

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