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PUBLISHED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 22 December, 2012, 4:35am

Shanghai's maglev passenger traffic lower than expected

Passengers give city's high-speed wonder a pass in favour of cheaper and more convenient metro

Shanghai's 30-kilometre maglev railway has seen its business so pummelled by the expansion of the city's metro system it is increasingly becoming a white elephant, leaving city officials red-faced.

The world's first commercial magnetic levitation railway, built at a cost of about 10 billion yuan, was touted by Shanghai as the envy of the world and proof of its commitment to the latest and best in technology.

When the line linking Pudong airport and Longyang Road - in the suburbs and next to the Zhangjiang industrial zone - opened at the end of 2002, it launched China's high-speed-railway dream. State leaders at first planned to build a national maglev railway network.

The technology for the line was developed by a German consortium comprising ThyssenKrupp, Siemens and Adtranz, and allows trains to reach a top speed of more than 500km/h.

However, the central government baulked at the high cost of maglev and at concerns about its safety, and decided to use a different, domestically developed technology when construction of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed rail line began in the first half of 2008.

A planned Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev line was also put on ice by the central and local governments amid scepticism over the project's feasibility.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that Shanghai's maglev has not been well received by locals or tourists, with the load factor on one trip early this month appearing to be as low as 10 per cent.

Others who have taken the maglev recently said it appeared to operating at less than 20 per cent of capacity.

A one-way ticket sells for 50 yuan (HK$61.50) and the operator offers a 20 per cent discount on round-trip tickets. A similar discount is offered on one-way tickets to passengers due to board a plane at Pudong airport or those who have disembarked from a plane.

Shanghai extended its Metro Line 2 to Pudong airport before the World Expo in 2010 and the metro trip only costs 10 yuan. Passengers using the metro line are also spared the bother of transferring from the maglev to the metro or other forms of transport to complete their journey.

The maglev operator won't release its latest passenger figures, but local media have reported that it could be posting a loss of 600 million to 700 million yuan a year.

Shanghai was at first extremely upbeat about the maglev, supposed to be the world's fastest train, believing it would become a commercial success because the No1 title would make tickets easy to sell.

A clutch of state-owned companies including Baosteel and Shenergy funded the line's construction.

Government and corporate sources said technical barriers had to be overcome during construction of the maglev line.

Shortly after its inauguration, then Shanghai Communist Party boss Chen Liangyu - who fell from grace in a pension fund scandal in 2006 - told a government conference that Shanghai should be proud of the maglev because the city had acquired valuable know-how in applying the technology.

The German companies would have to co-ordinate with Shanghai scientists and engineers to develop any new maglev project, he said, according to an official who attended the conference.

If Chen's remarks were anything to go by, Shanghai expected to share in the profits as its German partners developed maglev projects around the world.

However, the city has yet to profit from that expertise, which has never been applied to another maglev project.

Its own maglev train, which used to run at a top speed of 430km/h, runs at a maximum speed of 300km/h for most of the day for safety and energy-efficiency reasons.

Passengers can travel at the top speed only from 9am to 10.45am and from 3pm to 4.45pm.

State-owned China Eastern Airlines is offering free maglev tickets to woo customers. Sources said the company was encouraged to buy maglev tickets in bulk to boost traffic on the city's modernisation "showcase".

ren.wei@scmp.com

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kevin.coates.982
Not a very well researched article - it is filled with glaring errors. I was actually in China to ride the maglev as part of a U.S. delegation in October of 2003. The article states the start date as 2002, which is wrong - official commercial operations began in March of 2004.
I rode the system just two months ago, and the 20% discount also applies to one way tickets after landing. (By the way, Fiji water I bought at the airport was 48 Yuan.)
The system runs at two different speeds during the day due to a government mandate for companies to conserve energy, NOT "SAFETY CONCERNS" as stated in the article. The system is the world's safest form of high speed travel - bar none.
I also met with maglev officials while in Shanghai to discuss technical matters. What might be more mind bending information than the irrelavent ridership suppositions put forth in this article are the track maintinenance data - only two weeks of labor over ten years for the guideway!
The line was built as an Initial Operating Segment (IOS) with the plan to extend the line to the Shanghai South Railway station. If high ridership is the goal, a line MUST connect two desirable destinations. Longyan Lu was always considered only the first step, not the final goal. Railroad politics have haulted maglev projects around the world - not enough spare parts business.
The "radiation" media hype is ****. All those cell phone users in Shanghai expose themselves to more radiation than the maglev riders.
megafun
Maglev was Great, it just happened that its useful life is gone. Maybe extending it as a link between Hougzhou and Shanghai is the only way to save it. Nowadys, its alot cheaper to fly into Hangzhou than Shanghai, but a good connection from Hangzhou's airport to Shanghai will make it worth landing at Hangzhou.
megafun
BTW, it takes 10 mins, at least, to get from Metro to Meglev, then a wait (up to another 10 mins); while the metro only takes 40/45 mins more.
nebojsanovakovic@yahoo.com.sg
I have used Shanghai Maglev dozens of times, and have to say it is FAR faster than either metro or taxi, and the transfer time at Longyang station is negligible. The freeze of Hangzhou and Hongqaio Airport via city centre links has more to do with the transition from 'Shanghai clique' who created it to Hu/Wen and their new plans and purge of Shanghai leaders at the time.
The 'radiation problem' was mostly overhyped by the same Beijing rail lobby whose Ministry of Railways top brass was fired and arrested not long ago, where part of the corruption was to come in 'maintenance spare parts' for the wear and tear of standard rail trains - Maglev doesn't have wear and tear, so no spare income from worn-out parts to share, too bad.
In fact, there is more magnetic radiation from exposed high voltage top wires feeding the usual trains than from under-the-carriage Maglev magnetic system. If we had Hongkong-Beijing 600 km/h Maglev, including all the stops as usual, it would take 6 hours instead of over 10 hours with the upcoming HSR, and less noise plus zero vibration for the properties on top of stations. But yes, then the aviation and oil lobbies would be against it too, as it'd take the airplane passengers and oil dependence, the same reason why all Maglev proposals in the US and Germany, its home, were killed.China is continuing its own Maglev development btw, including reduced air pressure tube one for near speed-of-sound travel
rpasea
I take the maglev whenever visiting Shanghai as it is safer than a taxi given the way Shanghai taxi drivers operate!
yuuzan
I used to take the maglev when travelling by myself. The transfer from the maglev to line 2 isn't as troublesome as the article implies it is; the metro station is right next to the maglev station. When travelling with two or more, taxis are a cheaper option. The metro is cheap but incredibly slow if you need to travel to central Shanghai, but for those on a budget it's the obvious choice.

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