BEIJING, June 7 -- Described as "flying on the ground," Shanghai's 270mph
magnetic floating railway has impressed British ministers.
Known as the Maglev (magnetic levitation) train, China's flagship transport
system takes 8 minutes to hurtle the 30 kilometres from Shanghai airport to the
city's outskirts - a journey which takes up to an hour by car.
A magnetic charge lifts the train's sleek white carriages, first of their
kind in the world, one centimetre above the track.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has held a seminar to consider building a
Maglev route along the spine of Britain through Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds,
Newcastle and Edinburgh.The project would pay huge environmental dividends
making domestic air travel virtually obsolete.
Finance minister, Gordon Brown, rode Shanghai's Maglev in February.
The German company behind Shanghai's Maglev, Transrapid International, has
spent 18 months on a "pre-feasibility" plan which reckons on a basic cost of
GBP20 million (US$37 million) a kilometre. The entire 800-km route would cost
GBP16 billion (about US$29 billion) even before taking into account land
Jochen Kruse, Transrapid's project manager in Shanghai, said: "We've had
discussions with Mr 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.
The Shanghai system has been open for 18 months and has carried more than 2
million people. But critics question the durability of the technology - one of
the two tracks has been shut for long periods while engineers adjust cables
which spark 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.
The Chinese Government is considering an extension into the city and
possibly to the neighbouring city of Hangzhou in time for Shanghai's hosting of
the World Expo in 2010.
The Maglev is attracting followers around the world: Germany wants one for
an airport link in Munich. The US Government is to choose between three Maglev
schemes: a Baltimore to Washington railway, an airport link in Pittsburgh or a
50km track through the Nevada desert linking Las Vegas with casinos on the
Californian border, which could be extended to Los Angeles.
Mr Kruse said a green light from Mr 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."
(Source: China Daily)