Shanghai Transrapid:

The technology is mature, safe, and reliable

(a report by Mr Hong Chong´en)

Overall contractual acceptance of the Shanghai Transrapid project was successfully completed last month. That means that with the demonstration line in Shanghai Pudong, the pioneering "Transrapid technology" will stand as a success in every respect in the history of transportation.

In order to subject the Shanghai Transrapid line to thorough testing, German and Chinese experts defined a great number of complicated and extremely difficult constraints and rigorously tested the construction and assembly of the guideway, electromagnetic system and vehicle control system, as well as the safety measures, emergency management system, passenger service system and environmental impact, etc. during the safety test period in the first 3 months of this year. The result was the compilation of 300 documents assessed by safety experts. They came to the main conclusion that the maglev system developed in Germany and mutually completed by German and Chinese engineers had attained full technical maturity and was not only completely functional, reliable, and safe in every situation, but also capable of competing economically with all existing high-speed steel-wheel transit systems.

For that reason, the Shanghai Transrapid project center was authorized by the Shanghai city council to grant to the Shanghai Transrapid demonstration line the operating license for trials with passengers.

A few days ago, Commander WU Xiangming from the Shanghai Transrapid project center answered questions from journalists on the licensing and safety assessment process for the Shanghai demonstration line and its scientifically recognized key technologies, the economic data, and the state of operation.

Transrapid offers more safety than any other system

An interview with Commander Wu from the Shanghai Transrapid project center

From signing of the contract in January 2001 to the recent overall contractual acceptance, the Shanghai Transrapid project has gone through its "24-month pregnancy" and subsequent "16-month test phase" with imagination and miracles. All posts on the Shanghai line are now occupied by Chinese technicians and engineers. We have achieved our goal of having operation and maintenance tasks performed exclusively by Chinese personnel.

To give interested readers more information about the internal workings of this project, an interview was conducted a few days ago with Commander Wu Xiangming in which he explained the technical characteristics of the world's first commercially operated Transrapid demonstration line and countered the rumors that had been circulated in the past.

Safety ---

Built-in multiple safety.

Passenger safety guaranteed!

Nearly everyone is wondering whether the Transrapid can convey passengers to their destination safely at a speed of 430 km/h.

As there is no contact between wheels and rails in the case of Transrapid, the maglev vehicle "envelopes the guideway" as it moves along and fully ensures the safety of all mechanical components. Therefore, the most common accident with steel-wheel systems, namely derailment, is inherently impossible.

The safety focus of the Transrapid is consequently on ensuring the supply of power and ensuring the safety of the Transrapid vehicle and passengers in case of failures in the power supply.

WU Xiangming provided very detailed information on that point. He explained that "overdimensioned" measures have been incorporated into the power supply system of the Shanghai Transrapid on several levels in order to ensure the supply of power.

In a serious voice but with a bit of humor Wu Xiangming said, "Of all the transit systems in the world, none is safer than the Transrapid."

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. From that successful VIP trip with the first 3-section vehicle on December 31, 2002 to today, no problems have occurred on the Shanghai Transrapid line that affected safe operation. Transrapid Shanghai has always run on schedule – right to the second. By end of shift yesterday, the Shanghai Transrapid had already traveled 770,000 km and conveyed 790,000 passengers safely to their destination.

Environmental protection –

The magnetic radiation is negligible.

Mobile phones work without any problem.

The advanced nature of German maglev technology can be seen by the environmental protection aspect. It produces none of the exhaust fumes, waste water, or other waste associated with conventional systems. Transrapid is truly a "modern, green mode of transportation".

Some environmental experts express doubts: How severe is the annoyance caused by excessive noise and the magnetic radiation created by the Transrapid? Are there negative impacts on people and the environment?

Wu Xiangming points out that the noise on the Transrapid comes from the nose of the vehicle "penetrating" the air at high speed and from friction between the outer skin of the vehicle and the air. Repeated measurements have shown that at a speed of 430 km/h these friction noises reach 90 db(A) and can be unpleasant to people in the immediate vicinity. But it is important to set the record straight: 1.) At the same speed, the noise in the Transrapid is much lower than on conventional modes of transportation; 2.) The friction noise with the air at high speed occurs for a short time only; 3.) Improvement of the outer design and use of new materials could reduce noise caused by friction between the vehicle at high speed and air; 4.) By reducing the Transrapid's speed to 200 km/h, the noise all but disappears. So if the Transrapid is later routed through built-up areas, it is enough to limit the speed to 200 km/h. That would eliminate annoying noise problems for people. The same cannot be said of other modes of transportation.

A word about magnetic radiation: In the early years of maglev, German scientists proved by theoretical experiments that the strength of the magnetic field within the electromagnetic vehicle is approximately equal to the Earth's natural magnetic field. That is roughly the amount of radiation you are exposed to when watching a 14-inch TV from a distance of 4 to 5 meters. The data gathered since the beginning of operation of the Shanghai Transrapid line have proven that negative effect of this radiation on human beings is negligible. Back in February, a Swedish businessman wanted to ride the Transrapid at the ripe old age of 70. On boarding, his assistant wanted to stop him, saying that since the boss had a cardiac valve prosthesis he should not ride the Transrapid. However, after Chinese employees explained the magnetic field in the vehicle to him, the elderly gentleman was confident and climbed aboard the Transrapid. The result: he was fully satisfied with the trip. A further example, mobile phones: "Passengers using mobile phones know that reception is just as good inside the Transrapid as it is outside. The voices and photos received are good and clear.”

Costs –

Lower than metro, light rail, and high-speed rail

The final financial statement for the overall investment in the complete project was audited simultaneously with the acceptance.

Several "versions" of the overall investment have been circulating. Some experts even frivolously believe incorrect data about the per-km construction costs for the Shanghai Transrapid line of more than 400 million yuan RMB. That has led to many strange and even comical discussions.

WU Xiangming explained that when the project application was filed for the Shanghai Transrapid 4 years ago in accordance with the building permission procedure, the total budget approved by the state authorities for the project was 10.0299 billion yuan RMB (1.2084 billion USD). Although this completely new project encountered many unexpected problems in the course of its realization and additional expenditure was necessary in some areas – in order to provide some basis for similar projects in the future – the overall construction costs remained within the budgetary total. This was due to rigorous management at all interfaces and controlling at all levels.

According to the final financial statement approved by the SMTDC board at the end of April, the total costs of the Shanghai Transrapid line are 9.943 billion yuan RMB (1.198 billion USD). These include building the guideway, purchasing vehicles, substations, auxiliary equipment, and interest during the construction phase. If this total is applied to the 30-km main line, you arrive at an average per-km price of 330 million yuan RMB (39.759 million USD).

Compared with other rail-based transit systems in Shanghai, the per-kilometer costs are just half what they are for metros and less than the per-km price of 370 million yuan RMB (44.578 million USD) for the elevated light rail "Mingzhu (Pearl of the Orient) line".

Compare the above costs with the costs of high-speed rail systems that have already been completed or are being built for a speed of about 300 km/h: for example, the high-speed link being built from Seoul to Pusan in South Korea using TGV steel-wheel technology; the high-speed link being built from Taipei to Kaoshing in Taiwan with Shinkansen steel-wheel technology; the recently completed ICE line between Frankfurt am Main and Cologne; or the line now being built from Amsterdam to the southern port with its own high-speed technology. The per-km costs are about 40 million USD (about 300 million yuan RMB) in all cases. In some of these projects that figure does not even include the price of the vehicles. These costs are much higher than for the Shanghai Transrapid line – a "super short" line for demonstration and test purposes.

He also mentioned that, even based on the current ridership forecast, the operating revenue of the Shanghai Transrapid line can already cover direct operating costs. But media reports simply transferred the "daily loss of 200,000 yuan RMB (approx. $24,100 USD)" of a railway line in south China to the Shanghai Transrapid line. That is unprofessional and irresponsible!

WU Xiangming's response to rumors

Over the past few years, there have been many rumors of the type "burned out cables" and "guideway subsidence" in the media concerning the Shanghai Transrapid line. These have been deliberately conceived and circulated in the press. In his interview, Commander WU commented on these rumors for the first time.

The "burned out cables" story is completely exaggerated. There was just one "fire on the outer layer of a cable" in June 2002. A copper layer was attached to the surface of the cables supplied, because the Germans wanted to use it to improve operational monitoring of the cables. This resulted in sparks and the outer layer of the cable was damaged. However, this fault had no effect on the safe functioning and normal operation of the Transrapid vehicle.

As for the subsidence in the Shanghai Transrapid project, Commander WU said that it was already recognized during the planning and construction phases that the foundation on soft terrain would sink. The problem of how to equalize subsidence was chosen as a main topic of research and development. "Several special supports that can be adjusted continuously in 3 dimensions" were developed independently and filed as a patent. So, the solution to the problem was found early on. During the recent safety tests, the testers found a subsidence difference of 15 millimeters in the foundation under one pylon. This was immediately adjusted using the support to enable the guideway to remain level "without the slightest deviation". During the setting work, the Transrapid vehicles continued to travel normally. There were no negative effects for passengers.

Some media spread reports of alleged falling out in the German-Chinese cooperation. They like to "make a mountain out of a molehill". WU Xiangming pointed out that the Shanghai Transrapid project – repeatedly praised by the German and Chinese heads of government – is an example of successful international cooperation between Germany and China. Of course, there are differences of opinion on details even among brothers. To better ensure building progress and to defend one’s own rights and obligations, both sides had some disagreements and even disputes. But dispute is dispute and cooperation is cooperation. The world can see the success: we got the Transrapid "flying" in just 24 months.

Wu Xiangming said that despite the constant claims in the press about disharmony in the German-Chinese cooperation, renewed cooperation between Germany and China is being planned: Chinese engineers will assist Germany with the construction of the first German maglev line between Munich International Airport and downtown Munich.

(originally translated from Chinese to German by Hanan Wang)

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