HAVING HAWKED its magnetic levitation technology around the world for 20 years, Transrapid has finally found a buyer. A contract was signed on January 23 between Transrapid International and a consortium led by Shanghai City Council for a 30 km maglev line from Longyang Road in the southeast suburbs of Shanghai to the new airport at Pudong.

Due for completion in 2003, the route will offer passengers a 7min trip, but this excludes the time taken to travel to and from the city centre. Services at 10min intervals will be worked by three six-section vehicles running at 430 km/h. These and the stator packs for the double guideway will be supplied from Germany. We understand that the cost of the project is around DM2·5bn, of which DM200m is likely to be a grant from the German government.

On January 21 Transrapid International, now formed of ThyssenKrupp and Siemens, reached an agreement with Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji and Shanghai mayor Xu Kungdi. In 2003 the Chinese will decide whether to extend the route to form a 200 km inter-city link to Hangzhou. By then it should also be clear whether or not maglev will be chosen for the 1300 km Beijing - Shanghai high speed line.

Given the difficulties experienced in the past at the Transrapid test site in Germany’s Emsland, ’the beginning of 2003’ looks optimistic for the start of operations. We shall be watching with interest to see if the first application of high speed maglev technology turns out to be commercially viable.