Plans for the magnetic levitation (maglev) rail route linking the eastern cities of Shanghai and Hangzhou have been put on hold, partly because of residents' concerns about radiation, it was reported over the weekend.
"The project has been suspended by the municipal government," Xinhua News Agency said, citing an unidentified official of Minhang District in Shanghai's southern suburbs, where the proposed line has encountered strong opposition from residents because of potential health concerns.
An official with the city's law-making body confirmed that the major reason for shelving the project was concerns over radiation, Xinhua said.
But an official with the Minhang District government told China Daily yesterday that the government and experts still need to discuss and conduct more research on the US$4.5 billion project. He refused to comment on the reported halt.
Last week, German technology supplier Siemens AG said it was close to signing a deal that would allow the world's only maglev train in commercial use - from Pudong International Airport to downtown Shanghai - to be extended to Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport.
In March last year, the central government approved a feasibility study on the 175-km Shanghai-Hangzhou route with speeds of up to 450 km per hour. But recent accidents and cost concerns, as well as strong opposition from local residents, have thrown a spanner in the works.
The project was expected to be completed by 2010 in time for the Shanghai Expo.
A maglev train on a trial run crashed in Germany last year, killing 23 people. In August last year, one of the maglev trains in Shanghai caught fire, forcing it to be evacuated.
Although the original budget was for US$4.5 billion, Xinhua cited experts estimating a final tally exceeding US$5.2 billion.
Xinhua said thousands of residents living along the proposed route had been petitioning for the suspension, and the local government has been under huge pressure over the past months with crowds of petitioners knocking at their doors every day and thousands of complaints flooding in.
According to residents along the proposed route, the maglev line would have been separated from communities by a greenbelt only 22.5 meters wide, although a blueprint at the local government indicated a protection belt 150 meters wide would be built on either side. German specifications require a 300-meter leeway on both sides of the track.
Supporters said the maglev trains would speed up urbanization and economic development in the Yangtze River Delta and help Hangzhou and Jiaxing, in East China's Zhejiang Province, catch up with their wealthier neighbor Shanghai.
(China Daily May 28, 2007)