HCI blog

Monday, October 18, 2004

Flying on the ground!

Ever since I have started the semester I spend an average of 2-2.5 hours a day commuting to and from university. The main method of transport I use is the Centro metro rail service. Overall the journey is pleasant, however as winter approached it has become more and more unreliable. Waiting at the platform in the freezing cold is becoming a common occurrence. There always seems to be an excuse, be it fallen leaves, frozen tracks and even flooding. A journey of 7 miles can take almost 90 minutes! Now where is the incentive in taking public transport when I can travel by car in just 20 minutes?

Has anyone seen what some of our European neighbours are doing?

Germany and Switzerland have introduced ‘Transrapid’.

The Transrapid is the first fundamental innovation in railroad engineering since construction of the first railroads. The super speed magnetic-levitating (maglev) system has no wheels, axles, transmissions, or pantographs. It doesn't roll, it hovers. Instead of wheels and rails, the Transrapid uses non-contact electromagnetic levitation, guidance, and propulsion systems -wear-free electronics instead of mechanical components.

Similar to new generations of automobile engines, the Transrapid consumes less energy while providing the same output as high-speed railroads. Or, putting it the other way round, with the same energy input, the performance of the Transrapid is substantially higher.

At speeds around 200 km/h, you can hardly hear the Transrapid. It can quietly hover through cities and urban areas because with to its non-contact technology, there is neither rolling nor engine noise. At higher speeds, there is only the noise of the wind. At 300 km/h, the Transrapid maglev vehicle develops only as much noise as light rail trains travelling at 80 km/h, and even at speeds above 400 km/h, it is not much louder than considerably slower railroads.

The icing of the overhead lines which interrupts the operation of centro trains so regularly is impossible in the case of the super speed maglev system because it has neither overhead lines nor power collectors. The propulsion components of the super speed maglev system are installed in a protected position under the guideway table (the track) where neither snow nor ice can gather. Additionally, hardly any snow remains on the guide way even if snowfall is heavy because it is blown away either by constant train operation or (in particular where the guide way is elevated) by the wind. As the distance between the underside of the vehicle and the upper side of the guide way table is 15 cm, the super speed maglev system can continue operation even if a blanket of snow should "cake together" on the guide way up to this height.

Transrapid can also be applied at much lower speeds. At lower speeds still considerably higher than the maximum speeds of modern wheel-on-rail systems, the other system advantages such as lower energy consumption, lower wear and substantially less sound emission are particularly beneficial. Adding to this is that the Transrapid can accelerate much faster than wheel-on-rail systems without restrictions of comfort and therefore reaches its speed after a very short distance.

Had our previous and present governments invested in the railways rather than privatising them, then perhaps I would be getting to university in 10 minutes!


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