Maglev trains speeding toward greener future

Updated: 2014-02-19 08:52

By Zhong Nan in Tangshan, Hebei (China Daily USA)

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China CNR Corp Ltd, one of the country's biggest train makers, will deliver by year's end 10 six-coach maglev trains to Beijing's subway system for what will be the country's second commercial urban maglev rail route.

Anxious to tackle environmental problems caused by heavy car use, coal-burning industries and the fast pace of urbanization, Beijing is building a maglev urban rail route - the Daitai line, also known as the S1 - that will start at North Beijing's Haidian district, pass through Shijingshan district and end in Mentougou district in Beijing's western outskirts. The 11-kilometer line will become operational some time between September and December 2015.

"Many of the opportunities we are being presented with arise from China's fast wealth accumulation and urbanization. Many cities are upgrading their urban rail systems, including introducing green technologies, extending their subways and building new ones," said Hou Zhigang, general manager of Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co Ltd, a main subsidiary of CNR in Hebei province.

In comparison with other types of urban rail transportation, maglev trains are quiet and can achieve high speed because they don't actually ride on rails with wheels but hover centimeters above the track through the use of magnets, avoiding slower speeds caused by friction. Maglev is an abbreviation of magnetic levitation.

The world's first maglev line was launched in Shanghai in 2002, connecting a metro station to Pudong International Airport. With speeds up to 430 kph, its 30-kilometer route takes less than eight minute to travel.

Unlike the high-speed maglev technology being used in Shanghai or Germany, Beijing's S1 line will adopt a low-speed maglev version that can run at a top speed of 100 kph, considered fast enough for the city. All the high-end trains will be designed and built at CNR's Tangshan plant.

Because the train produces zero emissions unlike conventional trains that run on diesel or coal, Hou said the maglev train is ideal and environmentally friendly for large-scale transportation, especially in major cities or tourism hot spots like Beijing. Its manufacturing cost is also 20 percent less than a conventional light-rail train.

"The populations of many of China's second- and third-tier cities are much bigger than those of such cities in Europe or the United States such as Stockholm, Madrid and San Francisco so building and enlarging subway networks is also a practical way of keeping up with China's fast urbanization process," said Hou.

The National Development and Reform Commission, approved subway and light rail construction projects to be built in 37 Chinese cities between 2012 and 2015, with a total investment of 840 billion yuan ($134 billion).

A further 21 railway and highway projects, 10 environmental protection projects, 76 clean energy projects and several hydropower station and airport construction projects also have been approved in the past two years.

In addition, CNR is hoping to grab a bigger share of China's booming subway and light-rail market. It supplied more than 2,000 subway and light-rail vehicles and carriages to 12 Chinese cities, including Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Chongqing, in 2013.

The market is still enthusiastic this year: CNR signed a 939 million yuan deal and a 320 million yuan contract with Beijing Subway and Chongqing Rail Transit Group for a comprehensive number of underground and urban light-rail products in recent months.

Sun Fuquan, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology for Development in Beijing, said even though China's gross domestic product growth was lower last year than in previous ones, public transport and other infrastructure investment can effectively add to prosperity.

The importance of improving the environment was underscored by figures from the Ministry of Environmental Protection this month that showed more than 74 percent of Chinese cities failed to meet new air quality standards.

 Maglev trains speeding toward greener future

The workshop of Tangshan Railway Vehicle Co Ltd in Tangshan, Hebei province. Zou Hong / China Daily

(China Daily USA 02/19/2014 page15)