Rebirth of Maglev for urban transports

11-30-20 – by Frédéric de Kemmeter – Railway signalling
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It was thought that Europe was no longer interested in this technology, but one entrepreneur still believes in it. The German company Max Bögl has designed a Maglev for urban use in Asia.

The Transport System Bögl (TSB) is a magnetic levitation system consisting of track, vehicles and driverless operations control technology, which has been developed by the Max Bögl Group since 2010. It is designed for local public transport with route lengths of up to approximately 50 kilometres and a speed of 150 km/h.

Since the serious accident in 2006 on the test track in Germany in the Emsland region with 23 deaths, no european politician has put a cent on magnetic levitation technology. Germany was still however carrying out tests with the Transrapid 09 until April 2010, when the research programme expired. Of the companies involved in the construction of the Transrapid, only the company Max Bögl, which focused its research on track construction, expressed its willingness to retain the test facility for some time to come. The Emsland’s test facility was definitely dismantled in 2019. Did this mean the end of Maglev technology and its transfer to Asia? Not at all…

(photo Max Bögl)

While Europe is giving up, the german construction company Max Bögl has conjured a successor ready for series production. Unnoticed by the public, the Bavarian building contractor Bögl has further developed the technology of the magnetic levitation train Transrapid with the Transport System Bögl, TSP for short. The TSB is no longer to connect distant metropolises at super speeds, but is to be used in local transport, which gives other perspectives. Again, it is entrepreneurs – not politicians – who take the initiative and conduct research, although some research may be eligible for subsidies, particularly through universities and other government programmes.

Who is Max Bögl Group?
With more than 6,500 highly qualified employees at 35 locations worldwide and annual sales of around 1.7 billion euros, Max Bögl is one of the largest construction, technology and service companies in the German construction industry. Based on many years of experience and competence in high-precision precast concrete construction, Max Bögl Group positions itself in the development of innovative products, technologies and construction methods, with forward-looking in-house developments on topics such as renewable energies, urbanization, mobility and infrastructure. This is why the company has embarked on the study and design of its own vision of Maglev technology. Now the construction company is venturing out to the public with its plans after investing around 35 million euros. A business strategy that commands respect, because it dared to put Maglev technology back in the spotlight when Europe preferred not to invest in it any more.

The company has thus built a company-owned 820-metre-long test track near his headquarters in Sengenthal (south-east of Nuremberg). By 2018, more than 130,000 journeys and 80,000 kilometres had been made on it. In 2020, the Federal Railway Authority (EBA) certified to the TSB that essential parts of the vehicle meet the technical requirements and were ready for approval. International recognition by the Federal Railway Authority EBA for compliance with its high standards is very important as it opens up the possibility of simplified approval procedures in other European countries. But for the moment there is no market in Europe. On the subject of Maglev, it has to be stated that the European Union is still a very weak vessel.

(photo Max Bögl)

In spring 2018, the Max Bögl company was able to concludea cooperation agreement with the Chinese company Chengdu Xinzhu Road & Bridge Machinery Co. Ltd. This agreement provides for the construction of a test track of more than 3.5 kilometres in Chengdu, the capital of the province Sichuan, in order to be able to approve the magnetic levitation train system in China. The Xinzhu company exclusively secured the marketing and production of the system in China.

The Bögl technology
The concept developed has nothing to do with the Maglev super fast train in Shanghai, although Max Bögl was involved in the Transrapid project for which she manufactured parts for the Emsland circuit and then for the Shanghai airport line. The company is therefore familiar with the subject. « We have acquired a huge amount of knowledge about Maglev system technology. We started to think about what could be improved, including in the areas managed by the Maglev partners at the Transrapid time,  » explains Bert Zamzow, project manager, to magazine. In reality, Zamzow hates the comparison with the Transrapid, synonymous with billions swallowed up in pure losses for a Germany that believed in it. « I was disappointed that such a technology was not implemented, » CEO Stefan Bögl told the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Bögl slowed down the Transrapid’s performance to give it a new future. The target market would no longer be long-distance transport, but urban transport. Bögl’s engineers have therefore rethought everything, because this type of project can only be successful if it takes up less space in the landscape and is cheaper.

According to Max Bögl, there are several major differences between the TSB and the Transrapid. First, the TSB is a fully integrated package out of one source. Max Bögl aims to deliver customers a full-service solution, including everything from planning to vehicle manufacture, on-site assembly, and system operation. Whereas the Transrapid focuses on speed, the TSB is designed for a more complex purpose: providing future-proof public transport for densely populated cities, explains de website Redshift.

The TSB is intended to local transport over distances of 5 to 30 kilometres at a maximum speed of 150 km/h. It is a local transport system with which Max Bögl wants to compete with the established wheel-rail systems – underground, S-Bahn and tram. Compared to conventional wheel-rail automated people mover systems, the running gear of the Transport System Boegl is inlying in the guideway. This aspect results in large advantages in sound emission as well as reliability but it is a challenge for optimized operation and maintenance. Optimium access needs to be granted to the running gear, which is the centerpiece of the TSB vehicle. The Max Boegl Group developed a new style of operation and maintenance facility allowing the vehicle to autonomously drive in. Furthermore, the new concept guarantees the independent accessibility on all different vehicle levels. The system is also flexible and can function across a multitude of urban landscapes. It can be installed as an elevated railway, at the ground level, or even as an underground transportation system.

(photo Max Bögl)

Each vehicle is twelve meters long and 2.85 meters wide where 127 passengers can take place there. A full trainset should consist of up to six of these sections and then carry around 750 people. The vehicle hovers on a steel rail with a seven millimeter gap. Electromagnets let it float the train which is driven by ten linear motors, which is enough that one of them can fail without the train breaking down. The lack of contact with the rail and the speed – the maximum speed is 150 kilometers per hour – make it very quiet. There is no friction and therefore less wear and tear, while the smooth system is very efficient. The driving dynamics and driving noises are clearly perceptible in the train. Outside, right next to the track, however, the train can hardly be heard. No comparison to a tram or an S-Bahn.

The drive line is 600 kilowatts – about the same amount as a tram. In the case of the magnetic levitation train, another 6 to 8 kilowatts are added for levitation and the system uses a short stator in the vehicle, instead of a long stator on the track as in the Transrapid. As Bögl don’t use active components in the track, this is less complex and therefore cheaper.

The last point about this train is that it would be completely autonomous, without a driver. This is obviously not very difficult, given that the TSB can only run on its own track. Automation, which should be at GoA4 level, would, according to Bögl, allow 80-second intervals, although this would have to depend on the speed of the trains. At full capacity, the TSB could transport 30,000 people per hour in each direction. « The combination of automated, driverless operation without human error and the advantages of magnetic-levitation technology reduces running costs by 20% in comparison to conventional wheel-rail systems. The TSB can be scheduled to run on demand, which avoids empty journeys in off-peak hours and in rural areas,” says Andreas Rau, product manager, at the website Redshift.

(photo Max Bögl)

First developments in China?
The Max Bögl group of companies has signed a cooperation agreement with the Chinese company Chengdu Xinzhu Road & Bridge Machinery Co Ltd. This includes the construction of a more than 3.5-kilometre-long test track in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province, with the aim of obtaining approval for the new magnetic levitation train system in China. It’s interesting to note that every part of the system is produced by partners in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and England and that engineering is still provided in Europe. It remains to be seen what this partnership with China contains and what the future implications will be. « In its five-year plan, the Beijing Government has committed to commissioning local transport projects with a total route length of 3,000km. In addition to fast growth, China is a competitive but very open-minded market for new technologies and has a large appetite for investment. That’s why we are working with our local partner, the company Xinzhu, which is familiar with these unique conditions and can optimally represent the TSB, » explains Andreas Rau, product manager, at the Future Rail magazine.

The construction and export of the system components, built entirely by Max Bögl, has begun to be exported to China, with a spectacular transshipment of the automatic shuttles by Antonov aircraft from Munich last June. The heavy track segments are almost 12m long and made from precast concrete elements that are manufactured in series production at Max Bögl’s German headquarters, which also manufactures the vehicles. The track segments were placed in containers and transported to China by rail via the New Silk Road.

(photo Max Bögl)

And in Germany ? Stefan Bögl says « that Germany is no longer as innovation-friendly as it was before. This mentality is more likely to be found in China« . Discussions are however underway for projects in Berlin, the northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein, and the greater Munich area. The future of magnetic levitation trains in Germany will be revealed when the results of the studies are delivered in January 2021.

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