China starts building levitating train

Thursday, March 01, 2001
China has started building the world's first commercial levitating high-speed train.

The magnetic levitation or "maglev" line from the Shanghai financial district to one of the city's two airports is to open in 2003.

The German-designed train is meant to carry 600 passengers at 250 miles per hour on a cushion of magnetism instead of wheels.

Huang Ju, Communist Party secretary for Shanghai, pushed a button to start a piledriver that began sinking the first foundation girder for a railway workshop.

German firms Siemens and ThyssenKrupp have spent decades and billions of dollars developing maglev and hope to use the Shanghai train as a model to show prospective buyers.

They are supplying the trains and stations, while Chinese companies are building the magnetic track.

Neither side has disclosed a price, though the Germans say their portion should cost less than 2 billion marks (950 million dollars).

Maglev uses powerful magnets to hold a train a few millimetres from the track and drive it with little noise or vibration. Japan has developed its own version of maglev and both countries operate trains on test tracks.

Critics say maglev is too expensive and will waste energy. They say Japanese, French and German high-speed trains using standard rails can go almost as fast and have proven reliability.