Politicans Just Love Gadgetbahnen


MAGLEV, the great Philosopher’s Stone for transportation, yet in practice, MAGLEV’s are extremely expensive and today, the high speed train is only slightly slower, much cheaper and far more flexible in operation.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Rumour has it that the Conservative Ontario Government wants to make the Ontario Line a MAGLEV.

Politicians love gadgetbahns because they firmly believe it makes the voter feel that they are forward thinking and up to date, untill the bills start coming in.

So Ontario, once again, maybe, is getting into the transportation business and wants something to be built so it can be sold world wide, politely forgetting all the others ones have failed so far.

See Go Urban

From Wolfgang (mechanical engineer who consults on transit/rail systems), from Germany.

The Germans spent 20 years developing Mag-Lev but they gave it up when they found there was no way to make it economical.

The whole maglev project (“Transrapid”) over here was based on a false assumption. And when the assumption turned out to be false, it was already to late to stop the project, because it had already been institutionalized.

The assumption was that the wheel-rail system had some kind of techno-economical speed limit at ~250 km/h. This was an idea developed in the 60s. As soon as the issue was actually scientifically investigated with roller rigs (among others, at Muenchen-Freimann) as well as on actual lines (among others, by SNCF), it turned out that the only practical limit is the density of air, resp. the traction power required to overcome aerodynamic drag.

But by that time, interested corporations (Thyssen, Siemens,…) had already founded a dedicated company, together with “public” money. So the “solution” was institutionalized before the problem had been investigated. Once it had turned out that the project was a non-starter from the technical and economical point of view, it took almost 40 years to overcome the “survival instinct” of that purpose-built institution.

In the end it turned out that the electro-magnetic suspension and guidance system had far more technical problems at high speed than the good old wheel-rail system. Essentially because it requires active control due to its inherent instability. And that control gets quite difficult with rising speed and due to aerodynamics (turbulence’s acting on the “cars”).

The Germans were able to sell it to China for their High Speed Rail program so the Chinese built Mag-Lev to the Shanghi Airport.

Just another “Gadgetbahn”. Un-technology that has no valid reason to exist.


The ICTS (SkyTrain) debacle all over again.



4 Responses to “Politicans Just Love Gadgetbahnen”
  1. Haveacow says:

    No maglev, but the Ontario Line could be a Skytrain like technology.

  2. zweisystem says:

    This leaves me the with the question: “Has the 2016 estimates for the Broadway subway (and Expo Line extension) now gone up by a factor of 25%?”

  3. Haveacow says:

    When you have structural concrete and steel going up in price every year 2-3 times the rate of inflation (which is now at almost 3% per year), combined with low carbon concrete formulations that construction firms have to pay fortunes to use, 25% increases for construction costs over 3 to 5 year periods is not that surprising. Why do you think Skytrain fans are so shocked and awed when they find out their favorite line extension has gone up in price? A Skytrain line to Fleetwood, built on nothing but expensive low carbon above grade concrete viaducts and a budget of only $1.62 Billion, sorry you only get 7 km. Both the current estimates for the Fleetwood and the Broadway extensions are priced at expected 2021-2022 prices.

  4. Haveacow says:

    The real danger for projects such as the Broadway and Fleetwood Extensions are the increase in associated construction costs.

    For example, because a low carbon concrete formula is used, you have generally accepted that far cheaper but more pollution producing pre-built concrete segments that fit together like pieces of Lego, won’t be used as much. The cost of using these pollution reducing concrete formulas, get cheaper the more you use. So then there is a balancing act of using enough anti-pollution concrete so you don’t blow your budget but don’t use too much of the far cheaper pre-cast segments brought to the site by delivery trucks instead of expensive mixers. Or you choose the initially more expensive on-site mixing stations (instead of a steady stream of cement mixer trucks) that get cheaper the more concrete you poor but it is manpower intensive.

    Then the news media find out your using expensive low carbon concrete and freak out because it’s a prime example of what they believe is government waist. The more environmentally inclined members of the public point out that, up to 20% of all the carbon dioxide and other air pollutants in our atmosphere is released from curing (drying) concrete . So one group wants you to blow the budget to save the planet, another wants you to cut corners at all costs because the don’t want to pay any taxes. Not realizing that, using nothing but cheaper pre-cast concrete has big problems of its own, especially when you deal with long term up keep costs and how long it will really last, compared to form poured-reinforced concrete. Canada’s climate is extremely hard on concrete, doesn’t matter where it’s used. Concrete has rough time in Canada.

    Still another group of people question the need for the entire project because they don’t like Skytrains and think LRT, BRT, monorail, insert your favorite operating technology here, is better. Then there’s the, “why don’t we just build some more roads” group!

    At this point some local politician or politicians smell blood in the proverbial water and call for the whole project to be paused, until all these issues can be dealt with usually, after the next local election. It didn’t matter that they were against the whole project in the first place and construction contractors have been chosen and already have signed contracts with the city.

    Don’t laugh too hard, this happened this past summer in Calgary over tunnel costs on the Green Line LRT project. Only the mayor with help from the Federal Government, stopped the ending of the whole project. The local counselors were actually against the whole project from the beginning but used the tunnel costs as away to stop the project, then kill the whole thing while debate went on and on, making sure any vote to restart the project would be endlessly delayed. This is a very, very, very common trick among anti-transit or any politician for that matter, who sees the project effecting their own business or land they own, negatively.

    All of this was just over the cost of concrete!

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