Tren levitacion

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Probably the world's fastest train
China's superfast express launches next week. Sean Dodson reports on a revolution in public transport
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• Sean Dodson
• The Guardian, Thursday 15 January 2004 02.14GMT
On the southern bank of the Yangtze river, about 30km north of Shanghai, lies Pudong international airport. Since it opened its first terminal in 1999 it has served China's irrepressible 21st-century megalopolis with nothing more futuristic than a fleet of taxis and a schedule of buses.
If you are lucky, and the roads are clear, you can be in the city centre in 40 minutes. But as of nextweek, to coincide with the Chinese New Year, passengers arriving at Pudong will be able to reach the centre of town in a fraction of the time.
The world's first commercial high-speed maglev now connects Pudong with downtown Shanghai in a very, very nimble seven minutes 20 seconds. Shanghai's new express can reach a top speed of 430kph (267mph) in just under two minutes.
Maglev - shorthand formagnetic levitation - is basically a train that floats on an electromagnetic cushion, which is propelled along a guideway at incredible speeds. Magnetic levitation has been a long-standing dream of railway engineers - the first patent was issued in 1934 - but the first new mass transit system since the advent of the aeroplane has suffered more delays than the average London commuter train.Little wonder. At first glance, maglev technology appears extortionately expensive when compared with conventional rail: a mile of track costs at least £3.5m to build and that's not including the cost of the giant electricity substations. But, say its advocates, the long-term benefits are many. Not only can it cut journey times in half, maglev is cleaner and cheaper to run than passenger aircraft.According to Transrapid, the German manufacturer of the Shanghai maglev, the technology uses five times less energy - per passenger mile - than jet aircraft. Maglev trains cost a few million pounds per vehicle, compared with $200m for the average Boeing 747.
Moreover, maglev schedules should also be less affected by bad weather or congestion than air travel and are cheaper to maintain. As the maglevhas no wheels there is far less erosion of track, radically cutting operating costs. "Maglev offers the prospect of first-class style for a lower cost than economy air travel," explains Robert Budell of Transrapid, "there will be less need to pack you in like sardines".
But for a maglev fast enough to compete seriously with passenger aircraft you must travel to Japan. In the foothills of MountFuji, 100km west of Tokyo, lies the tourist town of Tsuru. Why would anyone build a test track for the future of mass transit in such mountainous terrain? "Because Japan is a mountainous country," answers Tadao Okai, a senior engineer for Japan Rail. "The vast majority of 18.4km of our test track is underground because when we come to build the maglev network we must build it beneath our cities."At Tsuru there is a small observation deck and visitor centre that overlooks the single kilometre where the maglev emerges from its tunnel. In December, the Japanese maglev reached 581kph, breaking its own Guinness World Record of 552kph (with passengers aboard) set in 1999. However, most analysts believe that Japan's proposed inter-city maglev could be decades away from being built. Even inChina, maglev has suffered setbacks. Plans for a 1,290km Shanghai-to-Beijing line are officially on hold. While in Transrapid's back yard, plans for a maglev line between Hamburg and Berlin were derailed by the Green Party. As part of Gerhard Schröder's ruling coalition, it argued that the proposed line would damage wildlife with electromagnetic radiation, and that its concrete track-supports would...
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