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Cut-price Chinese Maglev plan sparks controversy

01 September, 2006

China has announced plans to develop a home-grown Maglev (magnetically levitated) transport technology which, it says, will cost a third less than systems from foreign suppliers.

The project has sparked controversy in Germany which supplied China with the world`s first commercial Maglev system a few years ago. Some German critics are accusing the Chinese of plagiarism and the Bavarian state leader, Edmund Stoiber, has said that the Chinese plan "smells like technical theft".

In the $3.1m project, the Harbin Tech Full Electric company will work with Institute of Electrical Engineering of the Chinese Academy of Sciences to develop a train and track system driven by high-powered linear motors. The aim is to achieve industrial-scale production of the linear traction motors, as well as the accompanying conversion and control systems. The developers hope to test their technology at Beijing Airport before the end of 2008.

Since 2002, a Maglev system (shown above) designed by the German Transrapid consortium — whose members included Siemens, ThyssenKrupp and the German Government — has been carrying passengers at speeds of up to 430km/h between Shanghai airport and the city`s financial district. The train and its 30km-long track cost $1.2bn.

In August, a fire aboard one of the Shanghai Maglev trains disrupted operation for a week. The German designers blamed a faulty battery, but a Chinese engineer working for one of the German consortium members suggested that the train had not been designed to cope with Shanghai`s humid summer conditions.

The fire came at an embarrassing time for the Transrapid consortium which hopes to build a short extension to the Shanghai line and is negotiating to build a much longer Maglev line to the city of Hangzhou.

China`s current five-year plan foresees Maglev systems becoming a major mode of urban transport in many of its cities within ten years.

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