This one is for the transport geeks among you, judging by past threads on trains and cars, these are quite the majority.
Yesterday, March 25th was the big day. Well, not huge but still big enough for a ride on German politicians' most favourite and most twitted high-tech toy also known as the Transrapid maglev.
In thirty years of research, inventing and testing, various projected tracks have been declared "agreed upon", cancelled, revived and then cancelled again. There is but one commercial track in the world, and that one is halfway around the globe in Shanghai, China. But anyway, the test track near the border between Germany and the Netherlands offers 20 minute rides on the Transrapid. The moderate prices bear testimony to the experimental nature of the 20-minute trips - they'd be conducted anyway as part of the project, so you might as well earn a little extra money by allowing curious passengers in those compartments of the train that aren't used up by test equipment.
I've seen people in the trip reports forum write their reports in a "time line" fashion, I'll try the same.
7:30 My parents and me got going after no more than the mandatory half-hour delay. We were to meet some of our relatives near the test centre at 11:30, the ride was going to take about four hours. That is, if you take web-based route planners seriously.
The weather could have been a lot better, but at least the streets and the Autobahn were quite empty. So the rain didn't get to slow anyone down too much.
10:15 We're already 30 minutes out from our destination. I wanted to go to Holland (well it was actually Drenthe province, but screw typing "the Netherlands"!), we had lots of time and the next town with, probably, some grocery shops wasn't far away from the border. The diesel tank was nearly empty as well, so we got back to Germany with a full tank of cheap diesel and loads of vla, "De Ruijter" hagelslag and vlokken, stroopwafels and Chocomel.
11:30 So we didn't really find the Dutch road we were looking for. But that's not something an empty German Autobahn and 180 km/h can't take some basic care of.
11:50 Finally, we're there. I hadn't really bothered to imagine the test facility to be anything, but I had thought it would stand out more. It hardly stands out at all, but that's not too surprising more than 20 years after it was built.
The test facility is little more than a complicated voltage transformer station, a large-ish building with the maintenance hall and the control room inside, the the "marshalling yard", a small building housing the visitor centre and of course the test track.
That's it. Looks fast!
The buildings as well as the track are visible in Google Earth at 52°52'19.00N 7°20'57.82E, however web-based Google Local doesn't have good imagery. You do need to download Google Earth. The track is the fine grey/light grey line running through the landscape:
This is one section of a former testbed Transrapid trainset, nowadays used as a makeshift museum offering some basic information on the project.
There's a small cinema next to the visitor centre where you can watch short video clips on the history of the train, the technology and other aspects. I watched two of those films, quite nice to get an overview of the thing you're about to board.
This is the train entering the boarding area. "Station" would be a vast overstatement.
There isn't much fuss to be made about the visitor centre, but that's OK since it's free of charge and the train trip is what you're there for, right in the middle of nowhere.
13:20 It's time to board! While you get on the train, it sits on the track as opposed to levitating, using a set of runners. Until all passengers have found a seat in the 3-3 cabin, the Transrapid is totally motionless. All you notice when it starts levitating is a short bump followed by a little wobbling.
boarding the beauty
Initial acceleration is no faster than in a car, according to our guide on the train, but that's because the people on it would get highly uncomfortable if it was as fast as technically possible. All I can say is that is very seamless and just the right thing if you want to be fooled into thinking "hmmm... this is slow" at 200 km/h.
While going through the loops at the ends of the track at 266 km/h, the most prominent sensation is the lateral force bringing you closer to the person in the neighbouring seat. However, the ride does get noticeable bumpy above some 300 km/h - no control software is perfect and the test track was built using lots of different materials for testing purposes. Wind noises are very prominent as well, which is due to the lack of sound insulation on the train - they want to hear what's going on.
Accelerating through 400 km/h on the straight part of the track, you can see the landscape flying past the window. We got to 411 km/h (255 mph) which is faster than Concorde's average take-off speed was.
All you hear when a Transrapid "flies" past is a slight buzzing from the magnetic coils and the wind noises. Compare to that some conventional trains going a quarter of the speed which you can hear for miles.
Our "flight at FL000" got to an end after three crossings of the straight high-speed part of the track. It was a magnificent experience!
Comparing the maglev to Germany's conventional ICE bullet trains is difficult - the latter have been in constant commercial service for 15 years. The ICE cabin, 2nd class, is configured 2-2 but feels less spacious than the 3-3 Transrapid. Then again, the overhead baggage racks on the maglev are tiny and you spend a mere 20 minutes on it as opposed to several hours. Lastly, the excitement certainly doesn't make you care about seats; but nevertheless they're comfortable enough to go completely unnoticed. For a seat, that is a good thing.
An ICE at 250 km/h is less noisy than the Transrapid you ride on the test track. But, like I said, the test Transrapid lacks sound insulation and runs on an experimental track. ICE trains don't.
My conclusion is: I would love to see this project turn into a commercially used track in Germany. It has been sold once, to a country where "bigger is better" comes right after "high-tech is best". But why on earth can politicians feel good about throwing million after million at it when they can't even show anyone an existing and working commercial track in the country it has been developed in?
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Cheers,
In the middle of the lake, there are three structures running straight through it. The outer two ones are streets, the centre one is the maglev track. Follow it to the right until you get to the rather cubic station building. The small black bar is the windows, the white area around it is the painted part of the train.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
Thanks for that, Aloges! There has been talk over here about putting MagLev lines in service in various parts of the country: Miami-Tampa via West Palm, Orlando, and Winter Haven; Keystone Corridor (Pittsburgh-Philly); California Corridor (San Diego-LA-San Francisco); the Chicago Hub (links to Detroit, St. Louis, Indy); and the Texas Triangle (Dallas-Houston-San Antonio-Austin-Dallas). The land appeared to be acquired already in central Florida the last time I was down there, they were just waiting for governmental approval.
Very neat transport system, thanks again for sharing!
"I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library."
I have been on the Shanghai Maglev and it is very impressive - it reached a top speed of 435km/h briefly before slowing down. Ride was very smooth with the only bump being caused by the other train as it passed.
You should have visited me cause if you were going to Drenthe you probably crossed the border near my hometown.
Anyway as I live so close to the project I never took a ride on it.
Shame on me cause it is fascinating indeed.
There is one problem with airbus. Though their products are engineering marvels they lack passion, completely.
Quoting Pelican (Reply 10): What became of the plans to connect MUC with the Transrapid to the city centre?
The folks at the test facility would have you believe construction is about to begin any minute, but that is not so. It's the same as the proposed line from Hamburg to Berlin: lots of planning, a finalised concept and then someone decides that it won't be economic. Well d'uh, you could have realised that before spending millions on planning.
Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened.
Quoting Texan (Reply 6): Thanks for that, Aloges! There has been talk over here about putting MagLev lines in service in various parts of the country: Miami-Tampa via West Palm, Orlando, and Winter Haven
The amendment approving the train was repealed in the last election, so no train for Florida! (good choice though, no one would have used it, other than us transit freaks going on a joyride)
Sometimes I go about in pity for myself and all the while a great wind carries me across the sky.
Quoting Aloges (Reply 14): Something along the lines of beancounting and "Geiz ist geil" I would assume.
No. The technology simply makes no sense within our economy and infrastructure. ICEs are much more efficient, are compatible with the extensive existing rail network (and with freight trains running on the same tracks), are much, much cheaper to build and offer pretty much the same net transport times vs. Transrapid.
It simply makes no sense in Germany, as neat as the technology may be in some respects (it is highly impractical in several others).