Unity endangered

Sir - Useability of a rail network depends heavily on the continuity of its main parameters. Introduction of incompatible elements hampering through working will not just hit the economy of the region involved, but will affect the entire community. Thus the proposed development of a Berlin - Hamburg - Amsterdam Transrapid maglev route (and now also a Hamburg - Budapest line) would lead to isolation of the region traversed and a weakening of the entire European rail network.

The question arises whether European Union member states should have the freedom to do with their rail networks as they see fit, if their decisions compromise network integrity. The point seems all the more relevant as EU members strive to achieve a more efficient and more truly "European" rail network. Germany and the Netherlands - both EU members - should be conscious of their responsibilities in this respect. Moreover, their railways are members of UIC and CER, organisations dedicated to harmonisation, standardisation and development of international traffic. Do these bodies realise that it may be their duty to act as watchdog when network coherence is threatened?

This does not mean that railways should close their minds to innovation. But replacement of a widely used technique requires fulfilment of two conditions - the existing system must be unsatisfactory, and that proposed must offer worthwhile improvement. Neither appears to be fulfilled in the case of maglev. Decades of experience and research reveal no reasons why current rail technology should be abandoned. On the other hand, even if dissatisfaction did exist, maglev would still fail to qualify as a replacement. It may lend itself to high speed operation (as does rail), but its potential seems to end there. It notably lacks the ability to run trains of vehicles - a major asset of railways - and thus fails to meet the needs of freight haulage. This seems to me sufficient reason to rule it out altogether as an alternative tool for the railway task. This challenge to the unity of the rail network would appear to justify prompt action by European authorities.

J A van den BoschHarmelen, Netherlands