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China Abandons Long-Distance Maglev Effort 291

Posted by michael
from the they-blinked dept.
Ralph Lee writes "China has chosen to abandon its Maglev train effort from Beijing-Shanghai, according to this AP story: 'Besides cost, "the maglev technique was excluded because it does not match the wheel-track technique used by railways in China," the report said, citing Wang Derong, vice-chairman of the China Transport Association.... The scrapping of the 9-year-old maglev project - two weeks after the country's first maglev, a short stretch in Shanghai, began regular operation - represents a setback for the development of the technology in China, which many had seen as one of its key markets.'" The short 18-mile MagLev run mentioned earlier remains in operation, but China is not going to use magnetic levitation for the planned 750-mile Beijing-Shanghai link.
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China Abandons Long-Distance Maglev Effort

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  • Inevitable? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Neppy (673459) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:12AM (#8012751)
    Normal trains can now be gotten to rather extreme speeds and still be safe. Is there any real point to maglev trains anymore other than "cool its floating"? Other than neatness why are people even persuing this technology? maglev seems to be all but dead in the United States - Is this just an extension where other countries are abandoning an aparently pointless technology?
    • Re:Inevitable? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by mirko (198274)
      . Is there any real point to maglev trains anymore other than "cool its floating"?

      the noise, for one.
      physical wear...
      want another ?
    • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by torpor (458) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:25AM (#8012775) Homepage Journal
      maglev is cheaper to run and maintain in the long run, but given that rail technology (existing rail technology) is cheap, prevalent, easy on industry, and doesn't require as much beaureaucratic rubbish and nonsense as maglev does (welcome to a world where 'intellectual property' is serious business...), then it stands to reason that the chinese gov't is simply taking the 'cheapest right here right now' option.

      the big draw to existing rail systems is that they are -standardized- ... and not just the 'so-easy-grandma-can-use-it' kind of standard, but industrially standardized... i.e. thousands of contractors can make rail, and thousands of contractors can make the foundries to make the rail, etc.

      due to patents, maglev is a minefield of dangers in the licensing/sub-licensing realm. either invest in -tons- of research to find work-arounds to other teams' intellectual property, or put all that money back in the tried and true: rail.
      • The thing is - it's in China. Do you think the maglev IP is actually patented in China? Probably not.
        • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by torpor (458) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:21AM (#8012924) Homepage Journal
          Ummm... any large-scale engineering effort of these sorts of things are usually a -very- international effort.

          This does matter, to China, and any other government with strong business to maintain, on an International level.

          Flippantly assuming that just because the Chinese are the 'Bad Guys' they'll ignore all business regulation, well ... thats just a tad ignorant my friend, and extremely blissless.
          • Flippantly assuming that just because the Chinese are the 'Bad Guys' they'll ignore all business regulation,

            Why does ignoring impediments to a free market make them bad guys? It shows that they are more concerned about an open economy than the US, "land of the free", is.

          • Re:Inevitable? (Score:3, Insightful)

            by uradu (10768)
            > any large-scale engineering effort of these sorts of things are usually a -very- international effort

            Not in this case. Most patents are held by Thyssen and Siemens, both of which are German companies.

            > Flippantly assuming that just because the Chinese are the 'Bad Guys' they'll
            > ignore all business regulation, well ... thats just a tad ignorant my friend,
            > and extremely blissless.

            Or hopelessly starry-eyed in your case. The Chinese are already under strong suspicion of having hijacked much o
        • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:19AM (#8013031) Homepage
          > Do you think the maglev IP is actually patented in China?

          China signed the TRIPS agreement. (as did every developed country and 95% of developing countries.)

          The deal was: the rich countries will trade manufactured and agricultural goods with the poor countries, and the poor countries will enforce the patents and copyrights of the rich countries.

          The proclaimed trade benefits for the poor countries never happened (and what power do they have to complain?), but the enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights has been enforced (the US threatens to cease trade and cancel IMF and WorldBank funds when the poor get angry). This is why Africa can't manufacture AIDS treatments even though they cost less than 35 cents to manufacture each daily dose.

          (For more info, and excellent book is Information Fuedalism, by Peter Drahos)
          • by Waffle Iron (339739) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:57AM (#8013152)
            The proclaimed trade benefits for the poor countries never happened

            Last time I was at Wal-Mart, I was thinking: Gee it's sure a shame that China hasn't benefitted from trade agreements. They only produced a token 80% of the stuff in this store. Clearly, we need to do more.

            • by ciaran_o_riordan (662132) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:06PM (#8013415) Homepage
              > Clearly, we need to do more.

              No, if the poor coutries wanted "more" of what the US deals out, they would have agreed to the Cancun trade round. They rejected it because it sucks, just like the TRIPS agreement.

              (and America making use of foreign sweatshop labour is not a form of charity, y'know.)

              What the developing nations want, is for the US to take it's foot off their throats so that they can work on building their own economies. Instead, coutries without decent educational systems are currently sinking funds into the prevention of illegal sharing of software and music. Countries with AIDS epidemics are banned from producing the treatments. (and on a less serious note, countries without decent mass transport infrastructures cannot build maglev trains :)

              • Nobody is banned from producing AIDS treatments. What they are banned from is selling the treatment at far below actual cost and giving the companies that formulated it nothing. Do you think it would be a good idea to allow poor nations to manufacture any patented drug they want without compensating the inventor at all? Let me give you a hint, if this ever happened, it would be the end of new drug development. Who would spend upwards of a billion dollars on R&D knowing that they would get no real reward
          • How can you say this: The deal was: the rich countries will trade manufactured and agricultural goods with the poor countries, and the poor countries will enforce the patents and copyrights of the rich countries.

            Then this: The proclaimed trade benefits for the poor countries never happened

            Followed by this: but the enforcement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights has been enforced (the US threatens to cease trade and cancel IMF and WorldBank funds when the poor get angry)

            If there were trade no ben
            • the same site you link to has "serious" articles with titles like:

              Illegals gang-rape New York woman
              Marriage amendment: Its time has come
              Gwyneth Paltrow won't raise child in 'weird' U.S.

              i'd take their reports with a grain or two of salt. whether or not the articles are factually correct is not my issue. its my concern that real journalism isn't just about the truth, its about the whole truth. telling one side of a story is not news, its propoganda.
      • Re:Inevitable? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by GMontag (42283)
        If it were truly cheaper to maintain in the long run it would be in much wider use, ESPECIALLY in command economies like China. Welcome to the world of Economics.

        Also, word to the fellow bringing up friction as a reason for maglev, welcome to the world of grease.

        The giant advantage that wheeled trains have over maglev trains is that none of their energy is used to keep them standing.

        Another overlooked item is that a diesel-electric wheeled train loses much electricity in transmission than a maglev train
        • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by torpor (458) <ibisum.gmail@com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:27AM (#8012936) Homepage Journal
          If it were truly cheaper to maintain in the long run it would be in much wider use, ESPECIALLY in command economies like China. Welcome to the world of Economics.

          Uh, whatever. Just because the current administration has budgets and targets to meet, does not mean that they're going to be ambivalent when choosing the 'best option'.

          Maglev is unproven on grand-order scales. Rail is seriously proven technology, and more to the point: standard. If the Chinese gov't want to outsource the mfr/design/engineering of super-fast rail-based carriage systems, they can: because these systems exist in an International market, and will be developed. As has already been noted, existing rail systems can be developed to support high-speed/efficiency carriage platforms.

          Were there actually maglev implementations committed and standardized in such areas as Europe, the US, perhaps even Australia, then China may have invested a little more in the long-run into grand-order scale (i.e. not just going from here across town) engineering required to do maglev across their vast distances.

          They had the potential to do maglev, and do it well, but they also had the potential to end up with a lame duck system which nobody else was using, and therefore which became expensive in the reality of the New World Economy.

          Welcome to that, by the way...
          • Maglev is unproven on grand-order scales. Rail is seriously proven technology, and more to the point: standard.

            Travel on horseback and by horseback carriage was once standard too. That didn't stop the advent and adoption of horseless transport though, did it?
        • by Daniel Dvorkin (106857) * on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:55AM (#8013148) Homepage Journal
          If it were truly cheaper to maintain in the long run it would be in much wider use, ESPECIALLY in command economies like China. Welcome to the world of Economics.

          Uh, right. I present the following parable:

          So, this economics professor and his student are walking along the street, and the student spots a $20 bill lying on the sidewalk. Being a starving student, he says, "Look, there's a twenty! We should pick it up and buy some lunch."

          And the professor, being an economist, shakes his gray-bearded head and says sagaciously, "No, no, that's impossible."

          "What are you talking about?" asks the student. "It's right there!"

          "Well, you see," says the professor with a chuckle, "if there were really money lying on the sidewalk, someone would have picked it up already."
      • Re:Inevitable? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bigpat (158134)
        "maglev is cheaper to run and maintain in the long run"

        How the heck would anyone know? The only mag lev systems have been small and haven't been around very long... sure theoretically it is great, but if it takes Billions of dollars to prove it, then maybe you should use private money to do so.
    • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Informative)

      by jabberjaw (683624) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:26AM (#8012778)
      If I recall correctly, maglev trains are extremely difficult to derail due to the high walls surrounding them. They can also go really, really fast, as in some have proposed 650 km/h fast (This is just a number I recall hearing, if anyone has any more info. please post). In addition to this they could revolutionize travel due to the fact that, let's face it, airports suck. If I could show up at a train-station spend a few minutes there and then be on my way to where-ever, I think that would be wonderful.
      • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Ancil (622971) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:30AM (#8012941)
        Why would train stations "suck" any less than airports, anyway?

        We're not talking about the subway station on the corner. Maglevs would only be used for very long-haul routes, meaning you would be going to a central train station serving an entire metropolitan area. There would be a lot of people and luggage there, trying to get processed. And given the extreme speed, you would have to search everyone for bombs, weapons, etc. Sound familiar?

        • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Walterk (124748) <dublet AT acm DOT org> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @11:40AM (#8013305) Homepage Journal
          Why would you have to search everyone for bombs and weapons? What are they going to do? Shoot the passengers? Blow up the train? These are no more threats than they are on a TGV, or ICE. All one does it kill a couple hundred passengers at most, and destroy a piece of track (if at all).

          It is impossible for any maglev to take off into the air, and fly into an important building. The Maglev also does not carry extreme amounts of flammable liquids, so it is not a bomb in itself. Remember, the former WTC did withstand the impact of the plane flying it, but the fuel burning melted the steel structure which collapsed after a certain period. Even if terrorists managed to get a Maglev airborne, then they would at most cause a dent in most buildings.

          This of course if no more possible than getting a TGV airbourne, and using it to bomb the French president, or using the ICE to bomb Berlin.
          • Why would you have to search everyone for bombs and weapons? What are they going to do? Shoot the passengers? Blow up the train? These are no more threats than they are on a TGV, or ICE. All one does it kill a couple hundred passengers at most, and destroy a piece of track (if at all).

            It is impossible for any maglev to take off into the air, and fly into an important building. The Maglev also does not carry extreme amounts of flammable liquids, so it is not a bomb in itself.

            No, it is enough to them th
        • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jrumney (197329) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @12:15PM (#8013460) Homepage
          And given the extreme speed, you would have to search everyone for bombs, weapons, etc.

          What does speed (physics, not pharmaceuticals) have to do with bombs, weapons etc?

        • Ah yes, "Tokyo doesn't exist" argument gets modded +4, insightful.

          There is a shinkansen departing tokyo (or shinagawa) for osaka what--every 6 minutes now or something during peak times. Each one with some few hundred passengers. You can buy a ticket now and be on the next one in a few minutes in many cases and in Osaka in 2.5 hours.

          remember too: train stations, unlike airports, can be centrally located within cities.

          • And in the west, several times a day trains leave Paris for Marseille, covering 800+ km in 3 hours. The first TGV track (Paris-Lyon, 2 hrs, 500+ km) decimated the air traffic on that route; the extension to Marseille has done the same to Paris-Marseille. I was reading recently that the Eurostar now has 60% market share for the Paris-London route. Of course, these (and the shinkansen) aren't maglevs, but they're pretty fast all the same -- 300 km/h. It's not a "Tokyo doesn't exist" argument, it's a "the
          • Look, it's not a question of how often the train leaves. If you happen to live right across the street from the central train station, then yes, it would certainly be convenient. But in fact, most people will have to commute to the train station, just like they commuted to the airport. And often, that commute will be the biggest obstacle to getting on the super-train or airplane.

            Maglev, however, presents larger obstacles. Trains with wheels are at least able to share tracks with "normal" trains for a

            • You're right, but, you're wrong.

              Unlike airplanes, trains (including maglevs) a) are capable of making multiple stops in a short distance and b) have a natural system of possible "feeders" such as other trains, subways, etc. Today's airports rarely have this - ever try to get to a major airport by mass transit? there are a few places where it's possible--not many. However, even if we buy your argument that maglevs need to be located outside of cities and towards the edges, well 1) this is where today's p

    • Re:Inevitable? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by riskyrik (708727) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:42AM (#8013083)
      I think it's an error to consider maglevs as trains. Maglevs have many things in common with planes, so you should make comparisons between maglevs and planes. Why? Because of their sheer speed- and safety-potential. They can , once it becomes a mature technology , replace planes on many occasions: 1) They are almost predestined to commute at distances between 200 km and 1000 km (2000?3000?). You don't stop/start a thing of several 100tons every odd 10km; so by it's nature a maglev could stop/start every 1 to 3 hours ,roughly every 200 to 800 km. 2) It is very difficult to derail, 3) It can't fall out of the sky, 4) It should be able to travel in weather conditions impossible for planes, 5) you don't need something as big , loud and expensive as an airport-infrastructure In my opinion it's only a matter of time...
      • In France we always consider the TGV as an alternative to planes. For the exact reasons you are giving here.

        Our country is much smaller than the US and so the TGV is a true alternative.

        It's very secure, it can cross France in 3 hours and 15 minutes (1 hour and a half with a plane not counting commuting to the airport, wait, etc).

        I think that the real point here is that we don't need the Maglev because trains are already very efficient. And a lot less expensive.

  • by achurch (201270) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:15AM (#8012756) Homepage

    From the article: "The maglev cost can be as high as $36 million to $48 million per half mile, twice that of wheel-track lines, the China Daily said."

    Why in the world are they quoting price per half mile? Or is it really "price per kilometer" and they think the American public is too stupid to understand what a kilometer is?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:20AM (#8012770)
      If you're american, you just proved them right. There is 1.6 kilometers in a mile, not 2.
    • Why in the world are they quoting price per half mile? Or is it really "price per kilometer" and they think the American public is too stupid to understand what a kilometer is?

      A half mile is 800m, or 0.8Km.

      Ooops, should've used the preview button. Insert foot in mouth now ...
    • by JohnDoe.Slashed (717301) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:44AM (#8012831)
      Why in the world are they quoting price per half mile? Or is it really "price per kilometer" and they think the American public is too stupid to understand what a kilometer is?
      Funny that a lot of mail I receive from that part of the world doesn't measure my penis estimated growth in 1/2 inches...
    • by jrumney (197329) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @11:27AM (#8013259) Homepage
      I wouldn't be surprised if it was REALLY the price per half kilometer, and some journalist just plain got it wrong. The Chinese have a unit of measurement called the "li", which last century was standardized to 500m, or half a kilometer to be easily interchangable with metric units (before that was 576m).
    • There was a great article somewhere about a year ago with examples of cases where, in the process of translating wire stories, editors would do metric-to-imperial or imperial-to-metric conversions, but fail to round things off, resulting in phrases like "going the extra 1.6km" or "the whole 8.23 meters".

      I can't find it with Google, but I did find a whole lot of other examples of that type of stupidity, including a travelogue about Grand Teton National Park directing tourists to "listen for the sound of the
    • I like how you didn't even realize they converted the costs to American dollars as well. The nerve of these people.

      I'd suggest you take a look at who wrote the story. It's written by the Associated Press (an American organization) that has a very set style for how it refers to distances. The AP is going to default to miles because Americans (there readers) have a better idea of the distance of a kilometer than a mile.
  • by Cochonou (576531) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:17AM (#8012763) Homepage
    Even if the long distance Maglev is scrapped, the development of high-speed railway links is still a good thing.
    Trains like the TGV or ICE have proven that it was feasible to run such a service at up to 320km/h, please passengers (most of the time), have no major impact on the environment AND be profitable.
    Maybe it's still too early for the Maglev, or maybe the technology isn't that attractive for its associated costs...
    • The maglev is still being considered for the Shanghai - Hangzhou and the Shanghai - Nanjing connexions, according to this article (in German).
    • The truth is that in a competitive economy (world) most technologies are applied too early. Witness Linux on the desktop (5-10 years ago), Iridium, Final Fantasy movie, all kinds of gadgets, etc. This is mainly because
      1) most people are overoptimistic and believe they can pull it
      2) there is a certain first-mover advantage that makes greater risk acceptable.
      We just have to cope with it. Many things will be tried and fail, only to be redone correctly in a few years. Maglev might become successful, but we don'
  • by windi (231689) <windi@m[ ]albox.com ['yre' in gap]> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:27AM (#8012780) Homepage
    Even China cannot justify the expense of a maglev train from Bejing to Shanghai.

    I remember reading somewhere that they've decided to construct a regular high speed rail line instead, similar to France's TGV or Germany's ICE. Economically, it makes a lot more sense, and until the dedicated high speed line is constructed, the trains can use the current railroad infrastructure that is already in place.
    Here's [railway-technology.com] a link to the proposal, which has been in planning for a while already. The Chinese have already constructed a prototype high-speed train engine based on the Swedish X2000 train.
    Regular high-speed rail as opposed to a maglev line also makes expansion to other regions of the country a lot easier.

    Still, a long-distance maglev line would have been really cool, and there's got to be a region where it would make economical sense as well. Maybe we'll see one in Japan first.
    • Still, a long-distance maglev line would have been really cool, and there's got to be a region where it would make economical sense as well. Maybe we'll see one in Japan first.

      That's debatable, seeing as the current (rail) Shinkansen is partially financed by the government as-is. (Nonetheless, as a resident of Japan I'd be delighted to see it become reality.)

    • Even Japan is moving toward high speed trains that run on their already existing infrastructure rather than specially built track for future expansion of their Shinkansen network. Last I heard they were working on dual guage trains that could run on both normal track and the wider Shinkansen track for extending the Shinkansen service from Fukuoka to Nagasaki and eventually on to Kagoshima.
    • It was expensive ($14B USD).

      This kind of failed project makes me wonder about the health of China's economy in general. There's talk of an investment bubble [nytimes.com] in China right now with huge amounts of money going into projects that don't make a lot of sense. This maglev train seems like just one of many examples.
  • by 2.246.1010.78 (721713) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:37AM (#8012807)
    I'm from germany. I've always liked the maglev/transrapid and I really like the fast normal trains (ICE/TGV). But I hope the chinese know that in order to let these trains reach their high speeds you have to build modern tracks. If you put a fast train on a 100year old track, you will never be able to reach 300km/h. And if you intend to use the existing tracks, probably along with freight-trains and normal slow trains, you won't reach them either. In france the TGV is so fast, because it has its own sperate track system and because the french don't give a f*ck on the people living along those tracks.
    • by Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:47AM (#8012833)
      If you put a fast train on a 100year old track, you will never be able to reach 300km/h.

      Yes you will, but only once. The French did speed trials in the 70s with conventional train engines and cars (well, apart the engine that had more power), to test the limits of conventional railways, and they reached about 300Km with that train, but the rail track behind the train was all bent out of shape as a result. I saw a very impressive photo of that bent track once, but I can't seem to find it anymore.
      • why would a faster train warp the rails? was this around the corner, or did this happen along the straightaways also? how did they know that they were warping the rails? can you provide some sort of links/googleable search phrases? this sounds interesting to read up on. Thanks.
        • by Chep (25806) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:15AM (#8013024)
          Vibration.

          Actually, this bent track was more in the sixties, the '70s tests were around 250-280 km/h in a very straight corridor (Mulhouse-Strasbourg), and didn't actually destroy the tracks (with the amount of traffic on that line, they'd better not to :-P) More modern pendular systems such as the ones build by the Swedish, the Italians or the Canadians, achieve 230-250 in commercial speed on reasonably modern classic tracks.

          Another challenge the TGV (and ICE) solved is the power supply: conventional electric feeding systems vibrate too much at 300 km/h, and even if you managed to reach that speed despite the poor contact, you'd rip the cables away. (in fact, the TGV 001 prototype, still displayed on the A35/A36 motorway near Belfort (place of construction) and Brumath (large maintenance facility), as well as its commercial predecessor, the Turbotrain (still in little use on Paris-Normandy and a few even more remote regional lines), used a gas turbine specificially to avoid this problem.

          X-2000 or Pendolino would probably make a lot of sense given what I perceive should be the state of China's tracks and maintenance procedures.
    • by Cochonou (576531) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#8012863) Homepage
      When building a new TGV line, the RFF (railtrack infrastructure division of the french railroad company) not only buys the lands needed to build the high-speed line, but also proposes to buy the surrounding lands in a 200m radius.
      As they don't want the construction to be delayed furthermore, the prices are usually very interesting.
      However, I believe the noise of the TGV goes farther than 200m away...
  • Swiss Metro (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dojobi (700658) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:39AM (#8012817)
    It's a shame that this failed as I can see Maglev providing a cheaper, safer, more comfortable and environmentally friendly way of replacing planes for internal (country wise) travel. The Swiss seem to see the benefits of this method and take it one step further. They have the Swiss Metro project (www.swissmetro.com) coming up, and that looks very promising. Imagine a train running down a vacuumed tube (so no air resistance to slow the train down and you've got no wheels with friction) and you only have to use energy to get up to the speed you want plus of course the energy to keep the train afloat. It cruises the rest of the way like you're in space at 100s of km/h - maybe even 1000s. Check the link out - it's a good read.
    • Re:Swiss Metro (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:04AM (#8012880) Journal
      You don't really need ultra high speed to beat the airlines. A typical airline journey involves up to two hours waiting at the departure terminal, and half an hour in the disembarkation process at the other end.

      On the train? Turn up 10 minutes before it leaves to ensure you don't miss it, get on, find a seat, spend under 5 minutes disembarking at the other end. Also, train stations generally are placed more conveniently than airports which by necessity have to be out of town. It's much easier to put a railway station in the middle of a city.

      A TGV-style train going 180 mph will beat an airliner door-to-door on some surprisingly long journeys. If China builds a standard high-speed conventional rail link, it'll probably be good enough.
      • Re:Swiss Metro (Score:4, Insightful)

        by hanssprudel (323035) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:15AM (#8013025)
        To make this more concrete, consider the given 750 mile distance between Shanghai and Beijing. Between Hiroshima and Kokura in Japan, the bullet train averages 262 km/h, so with few stops along the way it isn't unplausible that a newly built line could average 220 km/h over the entire distance.

        In that case, the trip by train would take about five and half hours. And that time is spent calmly on board a train, where one can read, work, make phonecalls, and possibly even use the Internet. Compare that to a 90 minute flight, plus at least two and half hours of airport travel, embarking, taxying, disembarking, security etc etc.

        Except for exceptional cases, conventional high speed rail always beats flying when the distance is less than 1500 km.
      • I would think that after 9/11 and the increased hassles in flying in the US, we'd get better train service. An airplane trip has become a real hassle, from both a security perspective to the cattle-car mentality that passengers are treated with.

        Yet its still faster to fly even short distances here on planes than it is to take the train. Even counting security, a flight from Minneapolis to Chicago is about 3 hours door-to-door (my house to a downtown office), including security. You can literally commute
      • Also, train stations generally are placed more conveniently than airports which by necessity have to be out of town.

        Oh Really?
        Check out Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. [phoenix.gov] It happens to be placed right in the middle [mapquest.com] of the 6th largest city in the USA. [proximityone.com] (It's unofficially grown larger than Philly, making it 5th) It also happens to be the 5th busiest airport in the world for takeoffs and landings. [phoenix.gov]

        I've learned that the secret to getting in and out of the airport is to not drive to it, but to

        • Re:Swiss Metro (Score:3, Insightful)

          by _Sharp'r_ (649297)
          Yah, most people don't realize that it's not any sort of necessity that airports have to be out of town, it's stupid "planning" boards and commissions that decide they want to grow that direction and not upset anyone who may live near one because of the noise.

          So to not have to pay off a few homeowners at market price for their houses if they don't like the noise, they make the whole area travel an extra 30 minutes to the airport.

          And of course, then they regulate things so that no one can compete with thei
      • Except that the train will have to slow down when in the city, so there goes most of your speed advantage.

        I rode the Shinkansen regularly when I lived in Japan. Once you got out of Tokyo, the thing screamed, but when you were in the city, it chugged along just as fast as every other train for safety reasons.
    • Re:Swiss Metro (Score:2, Insightful)

      by madpierre (690297)
      > you only have to use energy to get up to the speed you want plus of course the energy to keep the train afloat.

      And supply the energy to slow down and stop presumably. Er and the energy to evacuate the tunnel in the first place and to keep it evacuated.
  • I believe that the world should not sit and watch Maglev train projects in China get scrapped. Personally, I think maglev trains could change the way we travel today. They are quiet, stable, and they run on electricity.

    Of course, other things (like... trains) run on electricity, but with the potential speed of an airplane, I don't see why maglev trains shouldn't be a great victory for the environment.

    This said, electricity isn't always environmentally safe. But the future holds many other ways of creating electrical energy from recyclable and healthy sources - wind, water, waves - and when they get more publicly accessibly, fuel cells (hydrogen). As of now, these cells are too expensive and pollutive to create in a large scale.

    The progress that maglev trains or vacuum tunnel trains (also magnetic, I believe) create for the ways we transport ourselves today, is worth a lot, in my opinion. Therefor, my view is that the world should finance China in creating this. Not as a good deed, but as scientific collaboration in making maglev trains publicly accessible and, in the future, cheaper.

    This might sound unreasonable, but what better place to start this is there than China - where they REALLY need to transport their masses quickly and reliably more than anywhere (except, possibly, India). Given time, this will gain us all.

    All this is a bit unclear, but feel free to comment with your opinions.
    • by moonbender (547943) <moonbender@gmai l . com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:56AM (#8012982)
      Well, you've said it yourself, existing trains already run on electricity. And as a poster above has pointed out, existing high speed trains are already fast enough to be more convenient than airplanes on many of the short to medium routes (which are the vast majority).

      On a side note, hydrogen fuel cells are batteries, not a way to create electrical energy. You still have to refuel them, either with "mined" hydrogen, or with hydrogen created by the use of electricity. Furthermore, while there are technologies on the horizon that may help us generate electricity without polluting the environment as much as we do now, they're still just that on the horizon. Where they have been, and remained, for years now.
  • by Beretta Vexe (535187) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:47AM (#8012834)
    Maglev isn't ready for long distance track, the cost per mile of track of the maglev is 15 million of $ the mile ! When a TGV/ICE line isn't more expecive than twice the cost of a regular line. A this time the TGV/ICE are cheaper, proven technology, safe fast enougth.
  • by Chatmag (646500) <editor@chatmag.com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:50AM (#8012838) Homepage Journal
    I remember seeing an article last year regarding China's Internet connectivity. Their copper wire phone system is so fractured, that they were moving to wireless access points.

    Maybe they scrapped maglev, and are working on a Star Trek styled transporter.
  • by lingqi (577227) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @08:58AM (#8012860) Journal
    Funny I am writing from Shanghai at this moment.

    The airport maglev is kinda interesting in the way that nobody actually rides it.

    Price conscious people takes the bus to major transportation hubs, and convenience / time consicous people takes the taxi (which is only like 15 dollars compared to 10 dollars that the maglev costs - besides the point that the other end station is nowhere near the city and you have to take a cab anyway so it's not that much faster)

    so, after a buttload of money, it's not making any of it back except wow points - it might be worth it for an airport shuttle, but you'd bet money has everything to do with it.

    that said, I am still taking it in a few days just for the wow factor - but after that it's all taxi since it's so cheap.
    • by frostman (302143)
      Last week's Economist had an article on the Shanghai airport train.

      The guy running the show basically said that as Shanghai becomes more prosperous and more people buy cars, traffic will become MUCH worse, and within a few years road-based transportation to the airport will be insanely inconvenient.

      At that point he expects the train to be full all the time, and to make a profit.

    • by Dylan2000 (592069)
      Nobody rides it because it's not actually 'open' yet. It's only running a couple of hours a day, nobody seems to be sure why, but it will start running full time next week or the week after (can't remember).

      The taxi ride to and from the airport is just *painful* after a 10-hour flight from Paris or Vienna; it can easily be 1.5 hours and vs. the Transrapid's ten minutes or so is for me just unthinkable. The money difference is negligible considering what stuff costs in Shanghai. $US5 is like seven cans of
  • by thebes (663586) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @09:43AM (#8012960)
    I have read that a number of you are arguing that "regular" highspeed trains are better, and one of the arguments is that it can interconnect with the tracks in other country, the infrastructure is already in place, etc.

    The true high speed trains (like some in france, and the new one going under the mountain chain in Europe, I don't remember what it's called) have to use specially layed track. Those sorts of high speed trains (due to the speed and the wave in the track that it generates ahead of the train) cannot handle the "flaws" used in regular track. It needs track that is bound much more securely to the ground to limit the wave generated in the rail, requires a sturdier railbed, require very strait track (only very gradual curves due to the speed) and many of them are electric requiring lines to be run anyways.

    It's not as simple as everyone thinks to just slap a high speed train on regular track.

  • Hero projects (Score:2, Interesting)

    by CdBee (742846)
    The comment from the Chinese spokesman that the technoogy was not compatible with the rest of China's railways must surely have been a major consideration even before research into the project was started.

    Having said that this was always going to be a vaguely improbably blue elephant. Communist countries may love their hero-projects but this kind of trend-setting is expensive and usually causes egg-on-face incidents.
  • Waaaa! Haaaa! Haaaa! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:12AM (#8013014) Journal
    The hard wake-up call of compatibility, network flexibility, infrastructure simplicity and plain economics has, yet again, taken it's toll on yet another hare-brained surface guided-transportation venture...

    The French were right 30 years ago by scrapping the Aerotrain [aernav.free.fr] project (pictures [aernav.free.fr], films [aernav.free.fr]) in favour of the TGV [unipi.it]...

  • Speed and risk (Score:5, Insightful)

    by panurge (573432) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @10:38AM (#8013074)
    Whatever Al-Queda has done, it has significantly slowed down air travel. The bit in the middle is just as fast, but the delays on departure and arrival are now very much greater. Since I first started traveling by air on business (over 25 years ago...) air travel has got progressively harder and less pleasant, though much cheaper. Gone are the days when you drove up to the airport, parked the car, walked to the terminal, hung around for half an hour and then took off. In fact, their airport now seems to be the major part of the whole business, what with retail opportunities and endless corridors, shuttle trains, conveyors and other irrelevant crap. As a result, in Europe at least, the train door to door is often quicker and much less stressful than the airplane.

    As rail speeds increase, so does the damage that can be done by a terrorist. A 650km/h maglev sounds interesting at first sight - but how much damage could be done by a well placed bomb? Although the thing contains no fuel on board, the combination of released kinetic and magnetic energy would, I guess, be pretty destructive. And because the infrastructure (track) is so expensive, the cost of any damage would be enormous.

    Now consider a conventional technology HST. At 300km/h the kinetic energy is less than a quarter that at 650km/h, and the risk of major track damage from a derailment or explosion is less. My conclusion: the risk to a conventional HST from things on board is far less than a maglev. Chances are that the security on a high speed maglev line would be as intrusive and time consuming as that on airplanes. So in fact, the real city center to city center time for a maglev might not be significantly faster than a conventional HST. And it costs more. It's the usual balance: faced with the choice between spending shitloads of money on a technology that may actually have few benefits, and very much less money on a technology that is known to work well, governments do not have the same choices as private citizens. While, as a private individual, I might have a hankering to do my commute in a Porsche, even though it won't be any quicker or more comfortable than my VW, governments should be accountable for public money and make the "obvious" economic decision.

    And in China, where most people are still desperately poor, the government has even more responsibility to make the economic decision rather than the vanity decision.

    • Re:Speed and risk (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mshultz (632780)

      But the thing about trains is that it's probably pretty hard to hijack them and run them into buildings, like you could do with a plane. Airborne terrorism can destroy not only the plane (and kill passengers), but ground targets as well.

      And with electric (or Maglev) trains, if the thing got into any serious danger, it could always be remotely disabled for safety reasons. Sure, it'll have inertia, but it's not a loose cannon in the same way that an airplane in the sky is.

  • by danharan (714822) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @11:05AM (#8013183) Journal
    In a lot of countries, more cell-phones are in use than regular land-lines. This bypassing of stages of development is being called "leap-frogging" by some analysts.

    Many people here seem to think that the Maglev could be one of those technologies, where China leapfrogs TGV/ICE trains. While it's cheaper in the long-term, in other cases of leap-frogging the capital outlay has often been lower for more advanced solutions. Installing the infrastructure for a cell-phone network, for example, is 10 times cheaper than putting in old-fashioned land-lines.

    In some cases, the capital outlay is a bit higher, but the pay-back period is very short.

    Compact fluorescent light-bulbs are more expensive than regular ones, but if you have it on 4 hours a day you will save more in energy cost than the cost of the light-bulb. Return on investment is 100%, and you don't even need to but such items on a budget. China is also in the lead for LED cluster bulbs, which give even better energy efficiency and full-spectrum light.

    Other good candidates for leapfrogging:
    • subway with high-speed buses on dedicated lanes for commuting
    • internal combustion engines with "hypercars"
    • solar aquatics for sewage treatment...

    Unlike the Maglev, these technologies save capital that is scarce in growing economies, and have multiple positive side-effects. Much as my geeky side would like to one day replace planes and very noisy TGVs with levitation trains, prices are still prohibitive.
  • Isn't that sort of the point of maglev? Isn't that like saying that we decided not to use word processors because they don't match the paper-on-pen technique we've traditionally used?

    Surely it didn't take them nine years to realize that there were no wheels. I suspect this was imprecisely translated, and I'd love to know what they really said (or meant).
    • I read the story in a Chinese website. The major reason is indeed that the two technologies are not compatible. The new maglev line cannot be incorporate into the existing network (the line between Beijing and Shanghai connects more than 20 major lines in the existing Chinese railway network). If they use maglev, they have to build separate stations for it. So many people have to go from a maglev station to a tranditional station to transfer trains, which defeats the benefits of having high-spead lines. Th
  • by Scott 22 (743057) on Sunday January 18, 2004 @05:59PM (#8015563)
    This is my first post on slashdot so please bear with me. Some rail/maglev information: - power consumption increases in a non-linear fashon due to air turbulence. After about 350 km/h the curve gets mighty steep so expect to pay a bundel. To get around this problem, the Swiss have toyed with the idea of building a line in a vacum underground crossing the country, but that's a whole other story. - Noise also goes up in a non-linear fashon. After about 320 km/h the aerodynamic noise overtakes the wheel/rail contact noise. - High speed rail lines have a base line cost of about 10 M euros / km. This ratio can easily double (or more!) if a lot of the line is in tunnels or on viaducts. For example, only 20% of the new Taiwan line will be at grade, in contrast to some older high speed lines in other countries at about 90% at grade. Another multiplying factor, which typically is greater than structures, is politics. Not to get down on your local politican, its just that "in the good old days", they big boys just moved inhabitants out of the way and poured the concrete. Now days, it is relatively easy to mobilize the "not in my back yard" types. - The difference between designing a conventional rail line and a high speed one is too great to make any fair comparison. It's like comparing the design of a freeway versus a two lane highway. One thing that can be said though is that if a high speed line is designed correctly, it works like the trunk of a tree: you zip across the country in the trunk at a high speed, then branch off on the conventional rail lines to many different cities, resulting in more fair use of public money. Hope this is of interest.

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