In Case You Have A Spare Billion or Two

The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that a maglev train would be installed linking Munich, Germany, with its airport, a distance of 37 km.  This will use a modern incarnation of the magnetic levitation technology originally proposed for a stillborn Toronto network.  Our only legacy from that fiasco is the Scarborough RT.

The line will cost a cool $2.63-billion (although this is expected to rise because the estimate is out of date), or a mere $71-million/km.  Of course, it won’t have to worry about pesky, expensive things like stations, except at the termini, and we all know that the demand to and from airports is not what anyone would call rush hour rapid transit levels.

The article also reports considerable opposition to this scheme, and this is clearly a vanity project for Germany where hopes for the Transrapid system were stuck on the drawing boards for four decades.

The whole idea is to cut the travel time in a quarter, from 40 to 10 minutes.   Hmmm … that means an average speed of 222 km/hr, very impressive and probably quicker than the average of the airborne trips it will connect with once terminal delays are factored in.

As high-speed rail networks grow, the market for fast airport links evaporates, unless, of course, the whole purpose is to sell a technology project regardless of the need.

11 thoughts on “In Case You Have A Spare Billion or Two

  1. Steve

    Lots of technological projects were, I’m sure, referred to as vanity projects over the years. Some were worthy of the moniker and some weren’t. I’m sure some people thought that about TGV and Shinkansen, and I’m sure some people thought it about putting a lower deck on the Prince Edward Viaduct and leaving it there unused for 50 years.

    Every first couple of iterations of any technology is expensive but hey, the Chinese have “invented” a maglev which they claim is a lot cheaper – and not in any way similar to Transrapid’s installation in Shanghai – oh no 🙂

    I don’t believe that maglev has much application in Ontario, I’d rather see 25kV Eurostars or ICEs or something similar plying their trade but that’s not a reason to declare it a failure because of the venality of Ontario politicians and your allergy to ICTS.

    Steve: Sorry, Mark, but this has nothing to do with my allergy to ICTS. The point I am making is that a vast amount of money is being expended to provide a point-to-point airport connector service whose goal clearly is to showcase the technology. Other rail technologies as you point out have come a long way since maglev proponents thought that the solution was to eliminate friction.


  2. II have ridden a number of rail links to airports and the problem with most of the designs that I have read about, including Blue 22, is that they are going after the wrong clientele. Most of the people that I have seen riding them are low paid airport workers, not expense account business or even coach travellers. I believe that an LRT line to the airport would be a success, but not in attracting aircraft passengers. Who would want to wrestle their suitcases onto a bus then an LRT or GO train to fly somewhere; most people would take a cab or limo. The people who would ride it are the employees who would save money.


  3. 200 km/h through downtown Munich? That seems fast. Is that realistic?

    The Maglev sounds more like the Monorail (Seattle, Springfield) than the TGV.


  4. The vast majority of the customers on the Airport Rocket from Kipling Station are airport employees – though not all of the minimum wage category. There are a good number of Captains and Flight Attendants as well. Finally there are the transit nuts (such as me) who take the TTC to prove it can be done. (And the M60 from LaGuardia for the same reason.) The irony is that the very low cost service provided by local transit to “transit nuts” is actually quite efficient and quite competitive with the time (and most of the convenience) experienced by the expense accounts in the limos. This service is not a “second best” that only the poor can afford to take.


  5. Isn’t Siemens part of the Transrapid consortium? Headquarters in Munich. An airport that is exceeding growth forecasts over the last 10 years. A chance to ride sidecar with City, State and Federal graft? I’m not overly surprised.


  6. andrew – unfortunately in this country we have an inordinate fear of debt, worrying [more] about the absolute number than the debt to GDP ratio as in Europe.

    When it comes to the airport we need to be aggressive because when it tops out at 55 million passengers it’s going to be a huge proportion of Toronto’s traffic problem, and that means that Blue 22 can’t replace Kipling Rocket and a future Kipling LRT but complement it, but it should do so as a stopping GO service especially intersecting the B-D line. We need Eglinton LRT too. What have we got now? A damn cable car to a car park.

    GMD – The Shanghai airport transrapid tops out at over 400km/h (which led to a lot of crossed fingers the first time two transrapids crossed head on at about 900km/h closing speed). Steve’s figure is in respect of average speed over the distance, given that over such a short track top speed will only be achieved for a short time. I think Siemens likes airport links because they attract disproportionate attention – if that wanton waste of farmland also known as the Pickering airport project ever gets going it would probably be right in Siemens’ crosshairs for a maglev link to downtown as it’s a similar distance.

    One massive expense at present is because the track is “smart” and the train is “dumb” – if they ever figure out how to reverse that without a punitive weight increase things might be different

    The other factor is the precision required in the construction of the guideway, given the gap between train and track is only millimeters, requiring supports sunk tens and sometimes hundreds of meters.

    The advantage of maglev is that that turns can be tighter and grades can be steeper than conventional high speed rail, plus that in an urban setting no wheel-rail friction = a lot less noise.

    However, given that maglev is not interoperable with standard rail at present it’s always going to be a hard sell, especially in Ontario where Toronto-Montreal is part of the Quebec-Windsor corridor and thus it’s better to have an interoperable high speed service for through running and for running night freights on the alignment to maximise utilisation.


  7. Hey Steve. Its interesting that you would mention the maglev thing. Back in the early 1970s the company responsible for the 1971 GO Urban proposal was Krauss Maffei. Some say the project was cancelled because the cold winters here caused the switches to fail while others say it was due to the former West German government pulling funding for the development of the technology.

    I have always had a fascination with the then cutting edge technology that was unveiled for in the GTA. I think that one of the most interesting systems has to be the now defunct Toronto Zoo monorail that apparently used monorail trains whose technology was originally meant for Personal Rapid Transit (google up Innovative Transportation Technologies for more info on PRT). I always thought that that was a unique piece of transportation infrastructure in the GTA.

    Also, interestingly enough one of the reasons why the government of Ontario foisted upon Metro Toronto the ICTS ALRT technology for Scarborough was because just earlier the region of Hamilton Wentworth had rejected an earlier offer to have UTDC ICTS trains running from downtown to upper Hamilton. This was all back in 1981 of course.

    Then there were the problems that CN and VIA had with the Turbo Train and LRC trainsets. If I could do anything related to high speed intercity rail passenger transport in Canada, I would seriously consider looking at Bombardier’s Jet Train. It can go as fast as any high speed electric and doesn’t require an overhead catenary. VIA should buy some if they can since the LRC coaches from the early 1980s are getting somewhat aged, although I do not know the life expectancy of an LRC coach.

    Sorry for all the scattertalk its just that all these past efforts by the Governments of Ontario and Canada fascinate me.

    Thanks. 🙂
    Jordan Kerim


  8. From Erfurt Germany:

    Yesterday, because of a deluge of biblical proportions, thus severely (but not totally) hampering our photography and video work, my wife and I enjoyed some riding here on the exceptional Combinos in service on the local tram system which included a route from central Erfurt to their international airport (and it goes beyond as well). A superb ride, beautiful trackwork (incredibly better than the current TTC work) and it cost a mere pittance to build if one compares it to this Munich scheme. I think there’s already an S-Bahn (translation: GO Transit but with fast electric MU trainsets) from central Munich to their airport that’s perfectly adequate. To spend such an amount would be insane. There is much oppoosition to this plan, as there was to their original plan for a transrapid from Hamburg to Berlin, which will now be a standard (if that’s emphatic enough) high-speed ICE line.


  9. Michael Greason said, “The irony is that the very low cost service provided by local transit to ‘transit nuts’ is actually quite efficient and quite competitive with the time (and most of the convenience) experienced by the expense accounts in the limos. This service is not a ‘second best’ that only the poor can afford to take.”

    That is something that really impressed me with the LRT system in St. Louis. I have always used it to get downtown (though, not being just a point-to-point service, one could use it for a number of destinations) when travelling there on business except for one trip where I arrived on a flight with a manager from my company.

    I shared his cab and found it took the same time (almost to the minute!) to get downtown, cost about five times the price (only because two of us were using it — it would have been nearly TEN times the price if one of us were alone), and did not have nearly the amount of legroom that the LRT provided.

    Definately not a ‘second best’ that only the poor can afford to take.


  10. These high-speed maglev projects have limited potential. Although this Munich Airport Line seems to be staying within the “safe” threshold of 300km/h top speed. There’s some interesting data from Japan (a leader in both technologies) on which technology is more efficient when speeds get closer to 400km/h and up, and shockingly, conventional rail seems to outperform maglev at those speeds, while the reverse is true at speeds around 300km/h and below.

    Everybody tries to the shine the spotlight on maglev’s high-speed application, which is a waste of energy, the research data suggests that this clearly is not where it is best suited unless they start testing it in a vaccuum safely (not sure how they are going to do that “safely”, but I’ll be looking forward to those tests, as those trains can outrun aircraft). Maglev’s biggest potential actually lies in urban lines. Nagoya has an example of this, Taipei I believe is building one as well with the exact same technology (HSST).

    While it is clearly in the TTC’s best interests to not venture into any new technologies after the SRT failure, and I would not suggest otherwise, however, if the subway network we have today were a maglev network instead of HRT, the TTC would be laughing their way to the bank with the cheap maintenance costs and lack of NIMBY opposition it would run into with expansion. That said though, although maglev shines best when it is used for urban transit, another place it does not belong is a subway – it is far better applied outside of tunnels.

    While it is obvious that this will not be serving TTC needs, if the 905 can find a way to actually build up ridership levels to something that can justify something higher order, maglev’s high capital cost can be offset nicely by its very cheap operations potential, although there are (perhaps too) many ways to design this.


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