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Munich cancellation threatens to derail maglev

28 March, 2008

The prospects for large-scale commercialisation of magnetically levitated trains have been dealt a severe blow with the cancellation of a planned maglev link between Munich’s city centre and airport. Germany’s transport minister has scrapped the project after costs soared from the €1.85bn originally budgeted, to €3.4bn, mainly because of the cost of building the 37km-long track.

Munich Maglev

To date, the only commercial maglev line built by Germany’s Transrapid consortium has been a 30km-long link between Shanghai and its airport. Following the Munich cancellation, the consortium – including Siemens and ThyssenKrupp – is reported to be considering selling the venture to China.

Maglev trains "float" on a magnetic cushion, about 1cm above their track, and are essentially propelled by linear motors. They offer the prospect of travelling at speeds of up to 450 km/h, but have been dogged by high costs. Their potential speed advantage has also been eroded by the increasing speeds achieved by conventional trains, which are much cheaper. Alstom’s AGV (Automotrice à Grande Vitesse), for example, has already been tested at speeds of up to 574.8km/h, although its commercial operating speed will be 360km/h.

News of the Munich cancellation comes shortly after Ultraspeed, a British company championing the case for maglev in the UK, announced plans for a £220,000 study to look at the possibility of building a maglev link between Manchester and Liverpool, which would cut journey times to just ten minutes. Ultraspeed is sharing the costs of the study with the Mersey Partnership.

Ultraspeed is also investigating the possibility of maglev lines from Manchester to Leeds and, in the longer term, to London. This line could reduce Manchester-to-London journey times to just 50 minutes.