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A work in progress translation of the Transrapid article from German to English is currently underway. If you are confident enough in your fluency of German and English, please feel free to assist with this translation.

Original article in German: Transrapid

Current translation in English: Transrapid/German

Transrapid at the Emsland test facility

Transrapid is a German monorail system using magnetic levitation. Based on a patent from 1934, planning of an actual Transrapid system started in 1969. The test facility for the system in Emsland, Germany was completed in 1987, and on the 17th June 1993 the Transrapid TR-07 vehicle reached a record-breaking speed of 450 kilometers per hour. Today the maximum design speed has exceeded the 500 km/h (310 mph) mark and currently stands at about 550 km/h, with the fastest (and currently the only operational) scheduled passenger service reaching 430 km/h between Longyang Road station and Pudong International Airport in Shanghai, China. The system is developed and marketed by Transrapid International, a joint venture of the German companies Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp.


See also: Technology in the Magnetic levitation train article.

The synchronous longstator linear motor of the Transrapid maglev system is used both for propulsion and braking. It functions like a rotating electric motor whose stator is cut open and stretched along under the guideway. Inside the motor windings, alternating current generates a magnetic traveling field which moves the vehicle without contact. The support magnets in the vehicle function as the excitation portion (rotor). The respective magnetic traveling field works in only one direction, and therefore makes moving train collisions less likely, as more than one train on the track section would travel in the same direction.

The superspeed maglev system has no wheels, axles, transmissions, or pantographs. It does not roll; it hovers. Electronic systems guarantee that the clearance remains constant (nominally 10 mm). To hover, the Transrapid requires less power than its air conditioning equipment. The levitation system and all onboard electronics are supplied by the power recovered from harmonic oscillations of magnetic field of the track's linear stator (Those oscillations being parasitic cannot be used for propulsion anyway) at speeds above 80 km/h, while at lower speeds power is obtained through physical connections to the track. In case of power failure of the track's propulsion system Transrapid car uses on-board backup batteries that can supply power to the levitation system.

Economic and environmental consideration

At speeds below 300 km/h the Transrapid is less energy efficient than a modern high speed train, but considerably less noisy. It is also capable of climbing significantly steeper tracks, rendering it especially suitable for mountainous regions. It is possible to flexibly adapt its guideway to the landscape and to have it tightly follow existing roads, railroad tracks, and power lines. Therefore, no significant interventions in the environment are necessary and pristine landscape is protected. Furthermore, the original use of the landscape under the guideway is still possible (farming or grazing for example). However, track building costs are higher than for conventional high-speed trains.

Construction costs

Building a maglev track is much more costly than a comparatively High-speed railway (HSR) line, if the terrain is flat and still slightly more costly if low mountain ranges have to be crossed. This is because of the more elaborate maglev track. On the other hand, there is little if any additional cost for crossing traffic of any kind, and the impact on the environment is also much smaller. Although they are not powered, the maglev vehicles cost much more than conventional high-speed trains. In comparison, maglev technology may have equal or only slightly higher costs once the time-saving benefits of a faster trip are taken into account.[citation needed] Thus, maglev technology gives a favorable ratio of travel time to infrastructure costs.[citation needed] However, due to its high costs, passenger comfort may be compromised as interior seating takes on more of a commercial jet-aircraft configuration than a typical passenger train one.[citation needed] One important consideration is that on a daily basis, each guideway must be taken off line for approximately four hours for inspection.[citation needed]

Maintenance costs

While maglev costs more in terms of the overall project expenses, it saves in maintenance efforts and costs as well as energy consumption, as the Transrapid levitates and moves using contactless technology with minimal moving parts. Even though there is currently no long-time experience drawn from any commercial application, simulations and first data obtained from the Shanghai project currently support the assumptions.


Germany high-speed competition

The Transrapid originated as one of the competing concepts for new land-based high speed public transportation for Germany. Another competing concept was the InterCityExpress (ICE). The ICE "won" in that it was adopted nationwide in Germany. It is argued that the ICE won out in part because of its ability to run on conventional tracks and railway stations. Nevertheless, the Transrapid was seen as the next step beyond the ICE and a major asset for possible export and consequently development was not scrapped at this point, but continued as well.

However, in the 1990s, intense political discussions about the Transrapid started in Germany. Though technically superior to normal railroad systems, the Transrapid was considered too expensive, as the companies developing it relied on federal subsidies. The controversy mostly raged over the question whether public money should be invested in construction of a track for commercial use. Plans for a track from Berlin to Hamburg were canceled because legislators were not convinced that the project would ever become profitable in competition to the existing (very old and slow) conventional railway line and hence were unwilling to invest the money in times of tight budgets - in spite of the alleged importance of having a working Transrapid system in Germany in order to ease marketing of the system abroad. Some even got as far as arguing that the Transrapid was generally unsuitable for Germany itself because of Germany's many larger and relatively close cities (with the resulting many stops at short intervals, the time needed to repeatedly accelerate to operation speed and to decelerate before stations becomes a limiting factor in average travel speed for high-speed transportation systems) and that a demonstration line would be better situated in a country where distances between cities are far larger than in Germany. This argument however is flawed in that the Transrapid provides much better acceleration than any HSR alternative does with both in their standard (i.e. commercially viable and operational) configurations, and subsequently, can show its advantages as much with closely spaced cities (acceleration advantage) as with largely spaced cities (top speed advantage).


Transrapid magnetic levitation train in Shanghai, connecting the subway station to the Pudong International Airport

The only success so far was in the year 2000, when the Chinese government ordered a Transrapid track to be built connecting Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It was inaugurated in 2002. Regular daily trips started in March 2004. However, low passenger numbers, due to the remoteness of the terminal station from the city center and high ticket costs, hampered the line. During the first week, the average number of riders per train was only 73 people, while the maximum seating capacity is 440 passengers. One-way trip prices have since been reduced to 50 Renminbi ($6 USD).

Nevertheless, the Shanghai Project was designed primarily to demonstrate the state-of-the-art technology and capabilities of the Transrapid system. A high tilt compared with a relatively high speed of 430 km/h (267 mph) and leaving passengers in the outskirts of Pudong shows that the Chinese authorities were more interested in the technology transfer than commercial success. However, in terms of safety, reliability, availability, and functionality the Transrapid maglev system has demonstrated the readiness of this technology for commercial applications.

The Transrapid manufacturers hoped to obtain a subsequent order from China for a track connecting Shanghai with Beijing. Hence it was considered a serious drawback when in 2004 it is said that China considered to choose the Japanese high-speed train Shinkansen, to the disappointment of Siemens, which had hoped to sell at least the ICE which is manufactured by them as the Transrapid system partly is. Public disapproval of the idea shifted the decision further into the future. In 2006, Transrapid was officially excluded from the debate, even though the actual technology to be used remained undecided.

In November 2004 talks began about extending the track from Shanghai to Hangzhou, 180 km away. A maglev would shorten the travel time to less than a fifth of its current value, from 2½ hours to 27 minutes. On February 26th, Transrapid officials confided to German reporters that they had received initial approval for the line extension to Hangzhou, although they were quick to point out this is the first approval of many required for construction of an extension line. The extension was completely approved in 2006; however, disagreements about technology ownership and political interest continue to hamper the progress of the project.


Approval is being sought for a 28 km Transrapid connection from the Bavarian capital Munich to Munich International Airport; the approval is currently in the hearing phase and will face objections from residents along the route. Such a connection would reduce the travel time from the current 40 minutes via Munich S-Bahn (German suburban rail system) to 15 minutes.

United Kingdom

The Transrapid is also being considered by the UK government as a 500 km/h (310 mph) link between London and Glasgow, via Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and Edinburgh. One of the main advantages of Transrapid over high-speed rail is cited as the requirement of at least two primary lines by HSR to provide the same reach as a single Transrapid route. UK Ultraspeed, the name of the project, provides further information on their website. The project has already gained considerable acceptance from politicians and local councils in the north of England and Scotland, including the CEO of First Scotrail [1][2][3]. However many senior rail chiefs, as well as Network Rail in their recent report remain apprehensive towards the idea. Further information is available in the High-speed rail in the United Kingdom article.

Projects elsewhere

Since the 1990s there have been plans for two Transrapid lines in the Netherlands, one circular (Randstad) and one straight (Zuiderzee line: Amsterdam–Groningen). Some local politicians even envisioned an extension to Northern Germany via Bremen to the then planned connection Hamburg–Berlin. The current situation is stalled and if these lines will be built, the Netherlands probably will choose a conventional system. There has been an EU study in the 1990s to co-fund a high-speed train network for Eastern Europe using Transrapid technology with lines from Berlin to Warsaw(–Moscow), Krakow(–Kiev) and Prague–Vienna–Budapest(–Thessaloniki). Realisation of this huge project in the near future is unlikely.

In the USA[1] there have been several evaluations for federal funding of pioneering links since 1997, especially on routes from center cities to airport and suburban hubs (Atlanta, Las Vegas[2], Pittsburgh[3], and Baltimore–Washington[4]). These routes are shorter than 100 km, but could be extended to other cities if successful (Chattanooga, Los Angeles–San Diego/Anaheim, and Philadelphia–New York City–Boston, respectively).

There have been first talks for a project in the Gulf Region, connecting Bahrein–Qatar–UAE.


August 11, 2006 fire

On August 11, 2006 a fire broke out on the Shanghai commercial Transrapid, shortly after leaving the Longyang terminal. This was the first accident on a maglev train in commercial operation. Passengers were able to disembark the train safely and no casualties were reported. The fire was thought to have originated below the passenger compartment, possibly as a result of battery malfunction.

September 22, 2006 accident

On September 22, 2006 an elevated Transrapid train collided with a maintenance vehicle on a test run at 170 kilometers per hour in Lathen (Lower Saxony / north-western Germany). The train did not derail. The maintenance vehicle destroyed the first section of the train, and came to rest on its roof. This was the first major accident involving a Transrapid train. Most of the passengers were in the first of the three sections of the Transrapid. The news media is reporting 23 fatalities and several severely injured after end of salvage work, these being the first ever fatalies on any maglev.[5][6]

There were two men on the maintenance vehicle. They saw the train approaching and jumped to the ground. This was four or five metres down - a minor fall. The passengers on the train had no way to escape, and those that survived were evacuated by emergency personnel.

The accident is reported to have been caused by a combination of human error and a technical flaw. The maintenance vehicle carried out routine sweeps of the track to remove debris, fallen branches, etc. and is supposed to report back to the control centre via voice radio once it has cleared the track. Control personnel should not allow the main train to depart the station before the maintenance vehicle has cleared, but it appears that they failed to check the maintenance vehicle's position before the Transrapid vehicle departed.

The compounding technical flaw was that although Transrapid vehicles on the guideway are automatically tracked and controlled by the OCS, the maintenance vehicle did not operate in the same way and thus was not known to the computerized control system. Had the maintenance vehicle reported its position electronically as all Transrapid trains do, redundant computerized safety systems would never have allowed the passenger vehicle to approach.

The test track in Lathen is very simple. It consists of a main track and a single station with a side track. When you are in the station, it is easy to see whether the maintenance vehicle is somewhere on the track: if it is not parked in the station, it must be somewhere else.

The accident had also alarmed Shanghai, China, which also have their maglev train facilities built by Transrapid.

Alleged theft of Transrapid technology

In an incident in December 2004, Chinese engineers entered into the Transrapid maintenance room in the middle of the night in Shanghai, took measurements of the train, and even filmed the whole incident, according to the German Economic Weekly, Wirtschaftswoche. Wirtschaftswoche further speculated that it was a case of Transrapid technology theft. Furthering the Transrapid Consortium's unease, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group has announced it has developed its own high speed maglev technology, which it claims to be superior to that of Transrapid's, less than two years after the break-in. Trials are supposed to begin this year of the new Chinese maglev technology in Shanghai. According to the Spiegel Online however, the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group has been tinkering with maglev technology since 1986, so it is unknown if the maglev train about to run test trials in Shanghai is the result of technology theft or actual domestic research culminating in the creation of this new maglev train system or a combination of both.

However, the Changchun Railway Vehicles company announced in 2001, before the Transrapid maglev was in operation in Shanghai, that it was developing a competing maglev system and project in northeastern China. It is one of a few Chinese companies now extensively and independently researching maglev technology.

Recently new announcements by Chinese officials planning on cutting maglev rail costs by a third have stirred some strong comments by various German officials and more diplomatic statements of concern from Transrapid officials. The Deutsche Welle reports that the China Daily quoted the State Council encouraging engineers to "learn and absorb foreign advanced technologies while making further innovations." *[4]

Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber commented, "What's happening in China smells suspiciously like technology theft," shortly after learning of the new Chinese plans to build their own maglev train. The Premier suggested that the G8 take up the issue of Chinese intellectual property rights violations at their next meeting.

The China Aviation Industry Corporation said in their defense that the new "Zhui Feng" maglev train is not based or dependent on foreign technology. They claim it is not only a much lighter train, but also has a much more advanced design.

See also

For an overview of competitors to this system, see High-speed rail.


External links

af:Transrapid da:Transrapid de:Transrapid es:Transrapid fr:Transrapid it:Transrapid nl:Transrapid ja:トランスラピッド pl:Transrapid ro:Transrapid simple:Transrapid sv:Transrapid