REPORTS reaching us from Shanghai suggest that the world’s sole commercial high speed magnetic levitation route is short of customers. Not only that, it could soon be facing competition from a slower form of transport on steel wheels.

The city authorities are reported to be considering proposals to extend the rapidly-growing metro network to Pudong international airport, outer terminus of the Transrapid maglev. At the moment air passengers arriving at Pudong can zoom in a mere 8min from the airport terminal to Longyang Road, 31 km closer to Shanghai. But there they must abandon their magnetic cushions and continue their journey by metro, bus or taxi to reach the city centre.

Clearly a direct metro link all the way to Pudong airport from the central Shanghai would be attractive, as it would avoid the need to change modes. Fares would almost certainly be cheaper than those charged for riding the maglev. Already the difference between the Transrapid ticket price and the fare for buses or taxis plying parallel routes to the airport is enough to dissuade some would-be riders. On the other hand, the South China Morning Post reported last month that the maglev is busy at weekends ’due to interest from tourists’. Obviously, magnetic attraction is a true curiosity.