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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 03:50 GMT 04:50 UK
Monorail disaster shakes Germany
Crashed Maglev train
Rescuers had to use ladders and cranes to reach the train
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is shocked at the scale of the country's monorail accident, in which 23 people were killed.

The magnetic train was on a test run when it hit a maintenance wagon, near the northern town of Lathen, at a speed of nearly 200km/h (120mph) on Friday.

An inquiry will examine why they were on the track at the same time.

Prosecutors said the crash appeared to be the result of human error, possibly due to a radio communication failure.

Damaged carriages were left balancing on track 5m (16ft) above the ground following the collision.

This massive extent of devastation is so gruesome and frightening
Martin, Neuss, Germany

Rail officials said the service vehicle was used every day to clean the track but it should not have been in operation while the train was running.

The track operators said no sign of any technical fault had been found in initial checks.

The Transrapid train was developed by a joint venture between the Germany companies Siemens and ThyssenKrupp.

The high-speed train uses magnetic levitation known as maglev technology, enabling the trains to float above the track.

In mourning

Reports suggest that most of those on the train were employees working on the system and staff from a local utility company, while the maintenance vehicle had two crew members.

Map showing area of north-west Germany where train crashed

"Words don't really help on a day like this," Ms Merkel told reporters after a visit to the crash site on Friday.

"By being here I just want to show that our feelings are here in the region, especially with the relatives of the victims and the rescue workers.

"This is perhaps a small gesture to show that many, many people in Germany are in mourning and are suffering this evening."

The accident happened at about 1000 local time (0800 GMT), on a 31.8km (20-mile) test track from Lathen to Doerpen, which is used for tourist trips and to demonstrate the technology.

The only train of this kind in commercial use is a shuttle linking Shanghai's Pudong international airport with the city.

In August, a fire broke out on a Transrapid train in Shanghai, adding to concerns about the safety of the technology.

Despite being state-of-the-art technology, it is highly expensive and rail operators around the world have been reluctant to use it, the BBC's Tristana Moore reports.

Graphic showing how a maglev train works
Opposite poles on magnets keep train above track
Train is propelled by electro-magnetic system in the sides of the "guideway" instead of onboard engine
Top speed (with passengers) - 450km/h (280mph)
Developed by Transrapid Int in Germany
Operating commercially in Shanghai
Test facility in Emsland, northern Germany, is longest of its kind at 31.5km (19.5 miles)
Source: Transrapid International

Here are a selection of comments received:

I have travelled on the MagLev train in Shanghai and it is a truely amaizing experience, I hope that the tradgic event in Germany does not hamper its development. Paul, Barcelona, Spain

Maglev is expensive to build and operate, visually intrusive and operationally inflexible. While limted applications such as airport people movers or certain point-to-point inter city routes may be appropriate in future, more resources should be commited to developing conventional rail systems. Alan Colquhoun, Warsaw, Poland

Having used the Maglev train in Shanghai, this should not be used as an excuse to delay further development of this fantastic, environmentally friendly piece of technology. This train could offer London - Brighton services in 7 minutes, and further development should continue. Sam, London, UK

What an absolutely tragic and mournful day this has been. Although I'm living several kilometres away from the crash scene, this massive extent of devastation is so gruesome and frightening. Martin, Neuss, Germany

I recently rode the Mag Lev train in Shanghai. I've travelled many forms of transit from the underground to Concorde. I came off my round trip feeling very ill at ease - and I remember saying to my friend that if something were on the track at these speeds we would be finished (which is one reason the tracks are elevated). The feeling is very different from the Japan bullet trains or the French TGV. My heart goes out to the family and friends of those killed and injured. David, Santa Monica, USA

I was in the cab of the Transrapid train during a high-speed run at the test track in Lathen on August 18 in connection with my work as a transport journalist. They showed me some of the maintenance vehicles and I can only imagine it would have been a terrible crash if the train hit one of them at speed. It strikes me that the accident does show a weakness in the technology. If a maintenance train were left on the track on a normal railway, it would be impossible to turn the signal behind it to green. There clearly wasn't any such system at Lathen. Robert, London, UK

Train wreckage hanging from an elevated section of track

In pictures: German train crash
22 Sep 06 |  In Pictures
Should UK trains look to magnets?
07 Sep 06 |  Business
China maglev train line 'sinking'
13 May 04 |  Asia-Pacific

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