Suspended Procedure

If you want to make public transport fit for the future, you have to consider solutions that abandon classic wheel-rail systems. One of these is the magnetic levitation train. A brief interim result.

The partly elevated concrete route for the TSB has a length of 800 meters. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

The partly elevated concrete route for the TSB has a length of 800 meters. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

Among urban and transport planners, it is recognised that local public transport needs a comprehensive fitness programme in order to cope with the growing demand for mobility in metropolitan areas and between cities and the surrounding countryside in the long term. It would, however, hardly be the wisdom of the end to simply put more suburban trains, trams and underground trains on the track in order to better connect rural areas. First of all, trains of different model series cannot be easily coupled with each other, which makes mixed trains difficult. Secondly an infrastructure with new tracks is not really cheap. Thinking about the future of public transport therefore means including transport modes beyond the combination of wheel and rail.

Renaissance of the Wheelless vehicles in Local Transport

How about, for example, a suspension railway with wheelless vehicles, which is guided along iron tracks by means of magnetic fields? The somewhat cumbersome description is the exact title of the Reich patent granted to the electrical engineer and inventor Hermann Kemper from Nortrup in 1934. This became the Transrapid at the end of the 1960s in Germany, whose career ended in 2011 with the closure of the test facility in Emsland. In the late 1980s, the magnetic levitation train also made a short guest appearance in Berlin’s public transport system. The M-Bahn completed its rounds on a 1.6-kilometer route between the Gleisdreieck and Kemperplatz. After 100,000 kilometers of driving and the approval for public transport, this was over, because after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the system had to give way to the reconstruction of subway line 2.

Unlike the Transrapid, the roadway surrounds the drive unit of the vehicle. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

Unlike the Transrapid, the roadway surrounds the drive unit of the vehicle. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

While the last specimens of the M-Bahn are set to dust in the museum, urban and traffic planners in China, Japan and South Korea have set the course for a renaissance of medium- and low-speed magnetic train technology. In local transport, techno music plays mainly in the Middle Kingdom. According to media reports from China, the eleven-kilometer-long S 1 magnetic rail line, which connects districts in the north and west of the city, has been in operation in Beijing since spring 2018. In addition, around a dozen cities – including Tianjin, Hangzhou and Shenzhen – are to plan the construction and operation of magnetic railways.

Will China Rely on German Magnetic Levitation Technology in the Future?

When the first orders are due, German quality workmanship could also come into play. The international Max Bögl group of companies, which has been active in railway construction in China for many years with major projects for high-speed lines, has positioned itself with a system for tracks, vehicles and operating technology. Max Bögl has concluded a cooperation agreement with the Chinese company Chengdu Xinzhu Road & Bridge Machinery Co. Ltd, which is intended to get the Bögl Transport System (TSB) approved, marketed and produced.

The train runs in a U-shaped profile of the track. Electric linear motors are used for propulsion. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

The train runs in a U-shaped profile of the track. Electric linear motors are used for propulsion. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

So if you want to know what the situation is with magnetic levitation technology for local transport, you can save yourself the trip to China. The concentrated know-how can be found at the headquarters of the Max Bögl group of companies in Sengenthal, Bavaria, in the district of Neumarkt in the Upper Palatinate. Since 2012, Max Bögl has been testing the TSB on a specially constructed test track that runs for around 800 meters with gradients and curves in the Schlieferheide industrial estate. The system is designed for distances of up to 30 kilometers and speeds of up to 150 kilometers per hour. A train system with six wagons can carry around 730 passengers.

Transport System Bögl competes with wheel-rail systems

During travel, the TSB floats, so to speak enclosed in the U-profile of the roadway. Electric linear motors installed in the train ensure propulsion, while electromagnets lift the vehicle almost two centimeters above the ground. Of course, the system runs completely autonomously. Since the train does not touch the carriageway during operation, wear and tear does not play a major role. Other advantages are low operating costs and economical energy consumption. Max Bögl puts the construction costs for a double-track line at around 50 million euros per kilometer, which corresponds to the price of a conventional system. In the meantime, the TSB in Sengenthal has unwound more than 125,000 trips with more than 75,000 kilometers. It is said that the approval procedure at the Federal Railway Authority (EBA) is almost complete. Approval is scheduled for 2019.

The elegant design of the magnetic railway "Transport System Bögl" points far into the future. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

The elegant design of the magnetic railway “Transport System Bögl” points far into the future. Photo: Company Group Max Bögl

In fact, the authority’s approval for the group of companies is far more than just a proof of competence for the gallery. In the district of Munich, the magnetic train has recently been added to the agenda as a supplement to local transport. The federal budget for 2018 provides for a single item of four million euros in the budget for the Ministry of Transport, which may be spent on planning a magnetic levitation train at Munich Airport. It is quite possible that Max Bögl will soon be hovering at the airport with the TSB.

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