WHEN Peer Steinbrück, President of the Land of Nordrhein-Westfalen, sensibly decided on June 27 to dump plans to build a 79 km Transrapid maglev line between Dortmund and Düsseldorf, he was calling a halt to a project that had driven a deep rift in the local coalition of Social Democrats and Greens. In fact, he may have unwittingly spared a lot of other politicians from fruitless battles, not just in Germany, but also in China.

Plans to build a high speed maglev route between Hamburg and Berlin were abandoned in 2000, and the Dortmund - Düsseldorf Metrorapid project was little more than a face-saving arrangement to keep the concept alive in Germany. According to Steinbrück, Metrorapid will be replaced by an express S-Bahn route to be completed between Dortmund and K