Munich The magnetic levitation train in Germany actually seemed already buried. The Transrapid test track in Emsland was shut down after a serious accident. And the planned connection to Munich Airport – which is still remembered by many thanks to an unsuccessful speech by the then Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber – did not come to anything either. The technology was considered too expensive and difficult to implement.
But now the magnetic levitation train in Germany could get a second chance. The construction group Max Bögl from Upper Palatinate has developed its own technology in recent years: significantly slower, cheaper and intended for local transport with distances of five to about 30 kilometers. In the past few years, the autonomous system has already covered thousands of kilometers on an 800-meter test track in the Upper Palatinate. “We have a system ready for series production,” said supervisory board chief Johann Bögl.
This also sparked the interest of the federal government: “I want everything that is possible to be tested here in Germany,” said Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) in Munich on Monday. He placed the order for a “feasibility study magnetic levitation Munich”. “A completely new magnetic levitation system ‘Made in Germany'” should be checked.
“We want to investigate the technical, economic and ecological potential of the technology compared to other means of transport not only at Munich Airport,” said Scheuer. The first part of the study should focus on the potential of the technology, the second part on a first specific application at Munich Airport.
Some people feel comfortable “set back in a time machine,” joked Scheuer with a view to the historical Transrapid ambitions. However, this time not only the technology is different. It is also not about connecting the airport to the city center. A route of several kilometers within the airport site is under discussion, for example to connect the new start-up site.
“Due to the dynamic development in the various areas of Munich Airport, the traffic flows within the airport area will continue to increase in the coming years,” said airport boss Jost Lammers. Bögl technology is “an interesting approach”. The study could provide “important insights and decision aids”. Nothing has been decided yet.
There would certainly be a need for a better connection to the airport. The situation has hardly improved since Stoiber’s speech 18 years ago. Last year, the airport achieved the tenth passenger record in a row, the number of passengers rose by four percent to almost 48 million.
Lower requirements than with the Transrapid
But while elsewhere the airports are closer to the city center or can be reached by long-distance train, Munich passengers have to take the usual S-Bahn from the main train station, which, after numerous stops, is at the airport in 40 minutes in the best case. For this reason, an express S-Bahn was repeatedly checked, but this is also difficult to implement in the communities through which the route leads.
The Bögl transport system (TSB) has little to do with the Transrapid. Unlike the Transrapid, whose vehicle covered the route, the route encloses the chassis of the TSB. Operation is quieter and people can get closer to the route.
In addition, the requirements in slower operation with a maximum of 150 kilometers per hour are not as high as with the Transrapid. And finally, the heavy, twelve-meter-long track segments made of precast concrete can be industrially manufactured in a kind of modular principle in Sengenthal in the Upper Palatinate. “Germany is also able to actively shape the global future in terms of transport technologies,” said supervisory board chief Johann Bögl.
The order for the study went to TransportTechnologie Consult Karlsruhe. “The technical feasibility of this system does not have to be proven,” said Managing Director Rainer Schwarzmann. The aim is to compare TSB with conventional systems in order to determine the advantages and disadvantages. “We already think there is a place for it.” According to Johann Bögl, the system should be more energy efficient than, for example, conventional S-Bahn trains.
The construction of an elevated double-track line based on the Bögl system costs around 30 to 50 million euros per kilometer. “This makes construction much cheaper than a subway and is on par with conventional passenger transport systems,” said CEO Stefan Bögl. With a subway, 300 million euros are quickly due for a double kilometer.
The legal framework is already in place
The group of companies was already on the Transrapid test track in Emsland and on the only commercial track in Shanghai so far as a supplier or licenser for the track. When the Transrapid issue in Germany was settled, the group continued on its own after a two-year break from 2008 – albeit with a completely new direction. Max Bögl is now developing the entire system from a single source, i.e. vehicle, track and operational control technology.
Bögl is the largest privately owned German construction company, with sales of around 1.7 billion euros recently. Stefan Bögl runs the company with his siblings in the third generation. The company has invested tens of millions in the magnetic levitation railway project. The group found a cooperation partner in China, and a 3.5 km test track has been built in Chengdu.
Arnd Stephan, professor for electrical railways at the TU Dresden, had once participated in the Transrapid project. In his opinion, new magnetic path developments are generally to be welcomed. “At the moment, the serious traffic problems in the global megacities give us the chance to come back to the market with new, unconventional rail systems,” he said.
However, the standards in terms of functionality and economy are very high. Classic rail systems have been setting standards for performance and economy in local transport for decades. “In addition, there are a large number of manufacturers of infrastructure and vehicles worldwide that are very competitive with each other.”
The new approach benefits from the former Transrapid plans. “We have a general magnetic levitation law,” said Scheuer. One does not have a magnetic levitation train, but at least a legal framework.
More: 20 years ago, the then red-green federal government decided to end the German magnetic levitation railway. A setback for climate protection. A guest comment by Johannes Braun.