Resurrection of the maglev
20. April 2021
After a series of planning and marketing mishaps and a devastating accident on the test track in German Emsland, the Transrapid no longer plays a role in the Federal Republic's transportation planning. In mass transit, however, the concept of the maglev train is experiencing a renaissance, above all thanks to the Bavarian construction company Max Bögl, which also played a key role in the development of the Transrapid. With the Transport System Bögl (TSB), the idea is about to be revived, but resembles its fast-paced predecessor in only a few respects.
Is there a comeback for the maglev train? Photo: ©Firmengruppe Max Bögl
A maglev train for local tansport
In order to master the challenges of rapid urbanization, smart local transport concepts are needed that satisfy the growing mobility needs of a growing population. The Bögl Transport System, an autonomous magnetic levitation train developed by the construction company Max Bögl since 2010, pursues precisely this approach: Without any wheel contact, the train glides swiftly and silently over the track, which can be implemented either underground, at ground level or in the form of an elevated train.
Acceleration by magnetic force
Unlike the Transrapid, where the drive was anchored in the guideway and the vehicle encompassed it, the TSB's drive is integrated into the train itself and is framed by the guideway. The train's undercarriage is equipped with magnets that hold it to a steel rail mounted in the ground. Before takeoff, the vehicle rises and enters a hovering state to glide along the rail with the help of the so-called asynchronous short stator linear drive. Due to the lack of contact with the ground, no driving noise is generated - unlike in conventional train operation.
According to the manufacturer, the TSB is made up of two to six vehicle sections, depending on requirements, and can thus respond flexibly to passenger volumes. A train has a length of 12 meters and a width of 2.85 meters, with an unladen weight of 18 tons. This makes the maglev train far less massive than a conventional tram or commuter train. Nevertheless, one section of the vehicle holds 127 passengers, about half as many as Bombardier's Flexity Swift, a streetcar model used in many cities around the planet, which requires three times the car length for this capacity. The TSB therefore transports fewer passengers per car, but the flexible coupling of up to five additional compartments can easily compensate.
Future-proof through flexibility
Although autonomous and silent operation are already future-relevant factors, it is above all the flexibility of the system that can revolutionize urban mobility in the long term. Adapting a rail-guided transport system such as the streetcar to the fluctuating mobility needs in urban areas involves a great deal of planning, and human resources are also a crucial factor. The autonomous system makes the TSB efficient, highly adaptive, and consumes a smaller amount of energy per passenger. Furthermore, the timing - in addition to vehicle availability - depends on demand; according to the manufacturer, intervals of 80 seconds are realistic. Thanks to its lightweight design and the distribution of weight over the entire length of the car, the TSB can be implemented flexibly, as fewer precautions have to be taken than with conventional rail lines. This not only saves space, but also time and financial resources.
While a number of maglev trains are already in operation in Asia in particular, albeit geared to long-distance transport, the TSB has been undergoing testing on a 3.5 km line in Chengdu, China, since the end of 2019. In addition, operation is being verified on a test track in Sengenthal, Bavaria, the place where the trains are produced by the Max Bögl company. In 2020, a milestone was reached with the award of a feasibility study for the operation of the TSB at Munich Airport. There, the maglev train is to connect the terminals and the new Labcampus technology park in the future.
Green light from the Federal Railway Authority
Max Bögl is currently in the starting blocks with the commercialization of the TSB. In late summer 2020, the German Federal Railway Authority (EBA) gave the go-ahead for the project, which means that all safety standards have been met and there are no concerns for operation. The EBA's approval is an important step toward gradually moving away from test operations and firmly anchoring the maglev train in the transportation system. So the omens are good; the coming months will hold further insights into the future of the TSB..