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Uploaded 07/01/2007

Transrapid Maglev: The Story

Distributed to SCVTV by the Orangeline Maglev Development Authority

and the City of Santa Clarita



In 5 parts:


* The Transrapid Story (17:34)

* High-Tech for Flying On the Ground (8:14)

* Transrapid Test Facility Emsland (7:35)

* Shanghai (4:51)

* Munich (7:28)


The feasibility of maglev (magnetic levitation) trains as a high-speed rail option was studied by the Southern California Association of Governments in the latter part of the first decade of the 21st Century. The following is an executive summary of a preliminary report from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, published Aug. 30, 2009.
The Study

This is a seed grant study to perform a preliminary investigation of the system components and generalized costs of the magnetic levitation type of high speed rail system that is proposed for the Southern California Region, TGV-based high speed rail, and urban rapid transit with special focus on bus rapid transit (BRT). This technology overview summarizes the key aspects of these transit technologies and provides comparative cost information to feed a more comprehensive feasibility analysis.


Definition of High Speed Rail

High-speed rail (HSR) refers to high speed ground transportation by rail operating at speeds exceeding 125 mph (or 200 km per hour). Japan initiated the concept of high speed rail when the Shinkansen Line started operation between Tokyo and Osaka in 1964 with cruising speeds of 210 km/h. Notable HSR systems are operational in Japan, France, Germany and China. There are three wheel-on-rail type technologies that may be referred to as standard high speed rail: (a) the Japanese Shinkansen (called bullet train), (b) the French Train a Grande Vitesse (TGV) and (c) the German Inter City Express (ICE). Then there is the magnetic levitation (Maglev) system that has been tested for decades but has only recently seen one line in commercial operation in China.


The Southern California High Speed Rail Proposal

Originally studied as a way of accessing various airports in southern California, planners soon recognized the potential for the high speed system to serve large volumes of commuter traffic. The planned Maglev system now has the additional objective of helping to provide some relief for travel between major origins and destinations in the midst of roadway traffic congestion in the Los Angeles metropolitan region.

There are five main project segments with many alternative alignment options for each of the segments.

There are specific station locations that are to be connected by each of the alignment options. The details of these alignments are in various project study reports (FRA, 2000; SCAG, 2002a; SCAG, 2002b; SCAG, 2006). The collection of reports provides varying levels of detail about the different segments. Differences in alignment affect distances, time, passenger and cost estimates.


Literature on High Speed Rail

The literature reveals certain general findings about high speed rail:

· There is usually a significant difference between maximum experimental speed and maximum operating speed. The latter is what should be applied in planning for high speed rail

· Increasing maximum speed has decreasing marginal gains in travel time savings. The lesson is not to seek the highest possible speed for a new system being planned, but one that would enable significant improvement from existing operations.

· Travel time reductions due to higher speed depend very much on the length of the run between stations. The lesson is to seek high speed systems for long distance spacing between stops; they will bring little gain to short distance trips.

· Marginal cost grows more than proportionally with increases in maximum speed. The lesson is not to necessarily seek the cutting edge of the technology if cost effectiveness is an objective.

· High-speed rail can play a key role in providing transportation for trips between 62 and 621miles (100 km to 1000 km) in length.


Modal Comparisons

Comparison of standard high speed rail and Maglev technologies revealed the following:

Speed – Advancements in standard high speed rail technology in recent times have removed the higher speed advantage that Maglev previously had, making travel time differences between the two modes very small over typical spacing between stations.

Interconnection – HSR holds a huge advantage over Maglev in its ability to use existing infrastructure and thus facilitate better interconnection with existing rail networks.

Investment Cost – The maturity of the technology and its ability to use existing infrastructure enables HSR to be deployed at a lower investment cost than Maglev.

Operating Costs – These are not certain for Maglev, but HSR consumes less energy per comparable unit of train capacity.

Maintenance Costs – Because Maglev trains lack physical contact with the guideway, this feature would suggest lower maintenance costs, but the highly complex electronics on both the guideway and the trains could result in costly repairs when the need arises.

Comfort – HSR has an advantage over Maglev in terms of ride comfort.



The data clearly indicate major differences and overlaps in the costs of the various technological options. The relatively short distances between proposed stations in southern California make other fully grade separated, urban transit modes contenders among the technological choices. If alignments chosen are feasible with relatively little tunneling, BRT would be the most economical choice in terms of capital costs per mile at $30 million or below. If much tunneling is involved, then all capital costs can easily approach or exceed $100 million per mile. In this case the rail modes would be more efficient choices. If the lower range of the costs for urban rapid rail (Metro) construction were the case then Metro could be an efficient choice. If the upper end of the costs for Metro construction were to be the case then HSR would be the more efficient choice. Maglev would have the disadvantages of: (a) higher capital costs than HSR; and (b) the inability to share existing facilities with other rail such as AMTRAK and the future intercity HSR to be implemented in the State of California.



There are differences of opinion between proponents of Maglev and high speed rail. There are major differences and some overlaps in actual construction costs and cost estimates associated with the various technological options for intercity and intra-city public transportation. These call for careful study rather than emotional appeal when considering these systems for deployment.

A more thorough study needs to be conducted toward the choice of technology for the Decentralized Airport Connector and Commuter system for Southern California. The detailed study needs to assess the appropriateness of the technology to choose in terms of speed of travel vis-à-vis associated capital and operating costs.

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