IT HAS long been clear that the much-hyped project to build a Transrapid magnetic levitation line between Hamburg and Berlin was going nowhere fast. The only question was how much longer it would cling to life as successive governments chose weasel words in their statements about its future to avoid accusations of being responsible for killing it off. But German politics are not what they used to be, and on February 5 Transport Minister Reinhard Klimmt decided to call time.

At a meeting in Frankfurt am Main attended by newly-appointed German Railway Chairman Hartmut Mehdorn and representatives from industry, Klimmt agreed that the maglev line from Hamburg to Berlin should be abandoned. There was a formal acknowledgement that the line had no chance of being profitable, and neither government, industry nor German Railway was prepared to commit on-going financial support. Mehdorn in particular was adamant that DB could not take on loss-making projects as he tries to groom it for a stock market listing in the next few years.

Of course, it would be unthinkable to abandon the whole idea of maglev transport in Germany. After all, DM340m was spent on preparations for Hamburg - Berlin, and if the costs of the Emsland test track are totted up, the amount spent so far is around DM2bn, most of which came from the taxpayer. So Klimmt made it clear that other locations were being sought for Transrapid applications, with a choice of route to be made within two years. Among the frontrunners are links from München or Berlin-Sch