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Friday, 9 August, 2002, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
China's supertrain takes to tracks
Maglev train
The maglev trains travel above the track at high speed
China has taken delivery of the first section of a futuristic high-speed train which levitates above the track.

The German-built "maglev" train uses powerful magnets to hold the vehicle a fraction of a centimetre (inch) above the lines as it travels at speeds of up to 400 km/h (249 mph).

Maglev trains
Levitate on magnetic tracks
Can carry 600 passengers
Travel at up to 400 km/h (249 mph)
Weigh 100 tons
The driverless train will initially run on a 66 kilometre (41 mile) route between Shanghai's Pudong international airport and the city centre.

If trials are successful, China is planning to build a 1,250km (777 mile) maglev rail link from the capital, Beijing, to Shanghai and other Chinese cities.

A group of Chinese VIPs will be the first passengers to ride the train, on a 30km (19 mile) pilot run on New Year's Day next year.

The transport is likely to open to the general public in late 2003, at 50 yuan ($6) a round trip.

International project

The maglev technology has been developed and tested in Germany and Japan over the past 30 years.

Shanghai
The train will initially run in Shanghai

German consortium Transrapid International (TRI) won the first commercial maglev contract in January last year.

China has so far bought three trains - 15 carriages - from the consortium, which comprises engineering firms ThyssenKrupp AG and Siemens AG and the German Government.

Germany will supply the trains and stations, while Chinese companies will build the tracks.

Lucrative contracts

The success of the Shanghai trial holds out the prospect of future contracts worth $22bn for more maglev links, possibly including a southern loop joining Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou.

China is so far the only country to buy the technology, at a cost of $1bn.

In Shanghai, there are still 2km (1.2 miles) of track which have yet to be finished before the first train can run.

Critics of the maglev trains say it is too expensive and will waste energy.

They say high-speed trains already in use in Japan and Europe can travel nearly as fast as the hi-tech trains on standard tracks and have proven to be reliable.

See also:

21 Jan 01 | Europe
11 Nov 99 | Science/Nature
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