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High-speed Beijing Rail Technology Debated

Top Chinese scientists arrived in Shanghai yesterday to debate whether the country should adopt magnetic levitation-based technology or conventional wheel-based cars on a proposed high-speed transportation railway between Beijing and Shanghai.

During their one-day stay, the scientists, some supporting and some opposing the maglev technology, listened to a presentation by the Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Co. They also rode on the maglev line and visited major maglev facilities, including its maintenance yard.


"At the request of the central government, we come to Shanghai for further research and comparison between the two technologies," said Piao Aihua, a China International Engineering Consulting Corp official.


It was the first time that scientists, both for and against the technology, collaborated on a collective study. Shanghai hosts the world's first commercial maglev line, which has been operative since earlier this year. It is expected to be open for public use early next year.


Reporters were barred from having direct talks with the scientists.


Group members came from the Ministry of Railways and various other important research bodies, such as the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Chinese Academy of Engineering.


Among those present were the CAS' Yan Luguang, an ardent supporter of the maglev technology, and Shen Zhijie, ex-chief-engineer from the Ministry of Railways, who is against it.


With a total of 10 billion yuan (US$1.2 billion) in investment, the 30-kilometer Shanghai line, linking Longyang Metro Station and Pudong International Airport, is the world's first commercial line of its type.


Using German technology, it takes only eight minutes to reach the airport from the station with a peak speed of 430 kilometers-per-hour. In comparison, it takes 30-40 minutes by taxi to cover the same distance.


Despite the apparent advantages of maglev, those against the technology argue it is too costly, relatively untested elsewhere and not compatible with conventional wheel-track rail transport. They believe high-speed wheel trains are a better choice for China.


However, those who support the technology maintain the maglev is faster and technologically superior. Also, they believe, there is plenty of room to cut costs.


The debate started in the early 1990s when the central government began to study a 1,300-kilometer, high-speed railway line between the country's two most important cities -- Beijing and Shanghai.


If maglev is adopted, the total investment of the project is estimated to exceed 200 billion yuan (US$24.1 billion).


Earlier this month, Ogi Chikage, Japan's minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, visited China and said that her country was ready to cooperate in developing a Beijing-Shanghai "bullet train" link.


(Eastday.com August 31, 2003)

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