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Ground-breaking ceremony sets work on track to maglev railway

By William Kazer, South China Morning Post, Friday 2 March 2001

Shanghai broke ground yesterday on its ambitious maglev rail line, the Sino-German project expected to become the world showcase for the high-speed transport technology.

In a brief ceremony on the city's outskirts, a few thousand people watched as the first pilings were symbolically driven for the factory that will produce girders for the elevated rail line.

The Shanghai maglev train demonstration line is a key project for our country, said Shanghai mayor Xu Kuangdi at the ceremony.

It is a new and important step in the history of Shanghai's development as well as the history of China's transport development.

The maglev, or magnetic levitation, train is expected to be in operation by September 2003 and will link the Pudong International Airport and the eastern terminus of the city's metro system.

With a maximum designed speed of about 420 kilometres an hour, it will cover the 31.5 km distance in about eight minutes, sharply reducing commuting time. A bus ride from the old Hongqiao airport in the city's west to the new airport in Pudong can take 1.5 hours.

This will be important in boosting use of the Pudong airport, said Huang Qifan, Shanghai's chief economist.

China will provide construction while Germany's Transrapid International consortium will deliver the rail cars, the electrical power system, signalling and other technology. Transrapid includes Siemens and Thyssen-Krupp.

The project has had top-level backing from both the German and Chinese governments.

Premier Zhu Rongji was said to have been personally impressed with the technology when he took a ride on the demonstration line in Germany in July.

Among the guests were China's Minister of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation Shi Guangsheng and Germany's Ambassador to Beijing Hans Christian Ueberschaer.

Balloons soared above the site and hundreds of workers applauded as Shanghai Communist Party boss Huang Ju symbolically started the pile driving.

Maglev technology has waited 30 years to be put into commercial operation, stalled by a combination of vested interests from railway operators to labour unions and suppliers of competing technology.

Germany cancelled plans for a maglev line between Berlin and Hamburg, concerned about the cost and the environmental impact of the high-power magnets.

After difficult negotiations, China and Germany reached an agreement in January that called for German government grants of 200 million deutschemarks (about HK$734 million) divided equally between the Chinese Government and Transrapid.

Germany and China have been coy about the project cost but some estimates put it at about 2.5 billion marks.