The cars are planned to weigh only a few hundred pounds empty, much of it in the frame and array of powerful neodymium-iron-boron permanent magnets up in the track. Making cars this light will require extensive use of composite material.
This light weight allows the guideway to be just a 1 foot wide continuous-formed steel or plastic composite shell surrounding the aluminum maglev track, which generates repulsive force as the magnets move over it. Crucially, such a light guideway can be supported by standard utility poles every 30 feet (only one car is allowed between each set of poles at a time) -- so no expensive right of way or city-disrupting excavations are required. Unimodal currently quotes track construction costs of around $10M/mile, or $15M/mile for bi-directional tracks on the same set of utility poles. However, Malewicki projects that once the technology is fully developed and the components mass-produced, this cost will drop dramatically, to as little as $2M/mile, similar to the cost of paving a city street; 20-30 times less than light rail or subway.
Drawing on experience from different points in his long consulting and inventing career, he has backed up these claims by designing machines for efficient guideway construction and making detailed estimates of how fast they could install the track and how much labor and materials would cost. One machine would allow a single operator to quickly place utility poles in precise alignment before their concrete footing is poured. Another he estimates could install a mile of guideway per day. From boring 1' holes in the sidewalk until the guideway is in use should require just weeks, not months or years like today's highways or subway systems. (As a long-time controls engineer, I understand his confidence; his 1988 Robosaurus design (a 40-foot "entertainment robot") required much more sophisticated automatic control, and it has survived two decades driving all over the country on the auto show circuit).
Assuming that the cars can be packed in tightly enough (see SkyTranSafety and SkyTranBusinessProposition), a bidirectional SkyTran track can carry as many passengers as a 6-lane freeway. At that price, you can afford to space tracks every mile in a spread-out megalopolis like Los Angeles, and much closer in a dense one. In the latter case, with the low cost of adding stops, the walk to the nearest stop can be just a block or two. Since the cars don't need parking space (10 feet is above legal right of way and requires only an easement as telephone lines do) and yet are used many times a day (and don't need most of the components of an automobile), trips can be cheap and the system self-supporting, unlike almost all public transport systems today.-- 21:43, 4 April 2009 (UTC)