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Maglev-HSR conflicts and other China rail news

There’s lots of rail related news coming out of China this week.. not surprising considering the massive investments they’ve been putting into the technology in recent years.

The first item relates to the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev extension we talked about last week. According to the mayor of Hangzhou, the maglev line may face delays due to a conventional HSR route also being planned to connect the cities. He seems adamant that the project will go ahead.. but one would think that this sort of redundancy with such expensive proposals would put one of the lines on the chopping block eventually.

In a more dangerous example of bad coordination, an archaeological site containing ancient artifacts was badly damaged by construction of China’s newest HSR line, connecting Beijing and Shanghai.

The builders of the railway, which will allow trains to travel at 236 miles a hour, discovered shards of pottery and bones in the Yuhuatai district of Nanjing last October, during an initial site survey.

A subsequent survey found a 250,000 sq ft area filled with “countless relics dating back to the Shang (16th to 11th century BC) and Zhou (11th to second century BC) dynasties.” Nanjing has been the capital of China on several occasions in the past.

However, the company never replied and simply proceeded with the construction, destroying around 20,000 sq ft of the site in the process.

Municipal authorities have now halted the work and are likely to fine the building company up to 500,000 yuan for the damage. Mr Yang said the area had been “severely damaged”.

A spokesman at the Ministry of Railways said the mistake “should not have occurred”.

According to the BBC, this new HSR route will be the longest in the world and will go up in only four years.  In this country however, environmental studies and legal red tape can drag out construction time tables in the best of circumstances. Yet it’s examples like this archaeology hiccup that remind us why we undertake these studies in the first place.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , ,

Shanghai maglev to be extended

The world’s most prominent maglev train line, China’s 18 mile (30 km) route running from downtown Shanghai to the regional airport, is about to get a 125 mile (200 km) extension. When completed in around 2015, the line will connect Shanghai with neighboring Hangzhou, capital of the Zhejiang province. From the China Daily:

In accordance with an action plan of the provincial government regarding construction of key projects for 2008-2012 period, this affluent Chinese province is determined to complete the Zhejiang part of the maglev project in five years starting 2010 at a cost of 22 billion yuan ($3.14 billion).

In accordance with an early construction schedule, the maglev project would begin construction in 2007, get completion in 2008 and start trial operation in 2009 before a formal operation by 2010, when Shanghai plays host to the World Expo.

The action plan, which was distributed to government departments at lower levels inside Zhejiang over the weekend, also set a timetable for construction of another high-speed railway line, reserved for passenger transport only, between Shanghai and Hangzhou.

Impressive considering that ridership hasn’t exactly been impressive on the currently rather limited route. This seems to be the train that American politicians tend to gawk at and reference when talking about such projects on this side of the world, so a more comprehensive rail line couldn’t be a bad thing for the future of this technology over here.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , , , ,

Chattanooga VW plant reignites Atlanta HSR talk

Auto-maker Volkswagen recently announced its intention to open a new assembly plant in the east Tennessee city of Chattanooga. The jobs and economic stimulation the facility will bring to the area has gotten lawmakers in Tennessee and Georgia talking about the planned HSR/maglev link between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

“Chattanooga is a tourism destination for Atlanta,” Sen. [Jeff] Mullis [R-GA] told a luncheon audience at the Chattanooga Pachyderm Club on Monday. “If a maglev (magnetic levitation) train was connected here to the Chattanooga airport, it would improve that situation a lot.”

The high-speed rail line has been pitched for years as a way to relieve crowding at Atlanta’s airport and get more use from Chattanooga’s airport, by linking the two with a fast commuter train.

The announcement this month that German automaker Volkswagen will get back into car manufacturing in the United States with an assembly plant at Chattanooga’s Enterprise South gives added reason to build a mag-lev line between Chattanooga and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Sen. Mullis said.

This is also another interesting example of air travel driving the development of high-speed rail. This project would never have even been brought up if not for the need to relieve stress on Atlanta’s gargantuan airport. It does seem that planners are looking beyond simple airport annexation, as a downtown terminal seems to be in discussion for Chattanooga, at least. An extension of the line from Chattanooga to Tennessee’s capital of Nashville has also been on the drawing board for a while.

As Chattanooga’s larger neighbor, Knoxville, is my hometown, the news that Chattanooga could become Tennessee’s future rail focus is a bit disconcerting to me. Our own political and media  figures have had their heads buried deep in the sand about passenger rail for quite some time now.

Filed under: Regional USA Passenger Rail, United States High Speed Rail, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Maglev company closes doors, returns to parent corporations

Siemens and Thyssencrup have announced that they are dissolving their joint maglev technology company, Transrapid. Transrapid’s system was used to build Shanghai’s 20 mile airport train, an oft-cited example of a functioning commercial maglev train.

The decision on Thursday, May 8, came after the city of Munich decided in March to abandon plans for a 37-kilometer (23-mile) line linking the city center with the airport.

Despite the dissolution of the company, “the core competencies of the Transrapid technology” would remain in the possession of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, they said.

The companies said they remained dedicated to promoting the system and were continuing talks with possible customers in China and the United States.

Though the article makes it clear that Transrapid’s assets will be reabsorbed by the parents companies, who will continue to promote the technology, this has to be something of a blow to maglev proponents.

A number of readers of this blog have argued that more conventional high speed rail technology is imminently more practical and affordable, despite lacking that ‘ooh.. ahhh’ factor of magnetic levitation trains. Most conventional HSR stock is capable of running at reduced speeds on old tracks, and there is more competition and real-world precedent for fast steel wheels. Despite this, maglev has it own advantages. Trains run more silently, have fewer moving parts, and perhaps most importantly, capture the public’s attention in a country where no one seems to give passenger rail a second thought. Perhaps standard HSR is more practical for America’s new rail projects, but it pains me to see a competitive and interesting technology such as this flounder.

Filed under: International High Speed Rail, , ,

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