UK eyes to adopt ‘flying train’

The Guardian

London, June 6:

Described as ‘flying on the ground’, Shanghai’s 270mph magnetic floating railway has impressed British ministers. But plans to build a London to Scotland line would cost at least 16 billion sterling pounds, according to feasibility studies. Known as the Maglev (magnetic levitation) train, China’s flagship transport system takes eight minutes to hurtle along a 19-mile track through the paddy fields surrounding Shanghai airport — a journey which takes up to an hour by car. The sleek white carriages, first of their kind in the world, are controlled by a magnetic charge which holds them 1cm above a metal track. Tony Blair has held a seminar to consider building a Maglev on a London-to-Glasgow route along the spine of Britain through Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh. His advisers say the project would pay huge environmental dividends as it would make domestic air travel virtually obsolete, with a trip from London to Newcastle taking just one hour 40 minutes. The finance minister, Gordon Brown, rode Shanghai’s Maglev in February. Backers of a British scheme want it to be a free-standing railway between the existing east and west coast mainlines to relieve chronic road and rail congestion forecast within 10 years. The German company behind Shanghai’s Maglev, Transrapid International, has spent 18 months working on a ‘pre-feasibility’ plan for Britain which has concluded a basic cost would be 20 million sterling pounds a kilometre. The entire 500-mile proposed route would cost 16 billion sterling pounds even before taking into account the purchase of land.

Jochen Kruse, Transrapid’s project manager in Shanghai, said, “We’ve had discussions with Blair’s office — now we’ll be going to the department for transport.” He said Britain’s hilly terrain was ideal for the Maglev, which can be angled at a gradient of up to 10 per cent, against the four per cent for conventional rail. This means less investment in bridges and cuttings. Existing, but unused, tunnels through the Pennines have been identified for part of the route. The Shanghai system has been open for 18 months and has carried more than two million people. But not everybody is impressed. Critics question the durability of the technology

— one of the two tracks has been shut for long periods while engineers adjust troublesome cables carrying the electrical charge which sparks the train’s magnetism. Furthermore, the entire system is sinking into the Pudong, Shanghai’s marshy outpost of land used as an economic boom zone. Special leeway has had to be built in to allow for sinkage of up to 5cm.

The Maglev is attracting followers around the world: Germany wants one for an airport link in Munich. The US government is due to choose imminently between three Maglev schemes: a Baltimore to Washington railway, an airport link in Pittsburgh or a 50-km track through the Nevada desert linking Las Vegas with casinos on the Californian border, which could be extended to Los Angeles. Kruse said a green light from Blair would enable Transrapid to come up with a detailed scheme in 18 months. But construction could take many years, “How long does it typically take to build such things in England? If you could import a thousand Chinese workers, it could be built in a year.”