Maglev: pretty but impractical

AS RAIL minister, I felt it important to build constructive relations with my counterpart in the Scottish government, the transport minister, Stewart Stevenson.

We agreed on a number of issues, particularly on the importance of a long-term commitment to a north-south high speed rail line. Neither of us wished to turn the issue into a political football, and neither of us ever did.

But if The Sunday Times is to be believed, the SNP – at Westminster, anyway – have turned their backs on “conventional” high-speed rail in favour of magnetic levitation technology (Maglev). But before the likes of SNP Tactical Voting get too excited, they should take a step back.

First of all, it is very unlikely that Angus MacNeil, the SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an lar, speaks for the SNP’s transport minister, who has not, as far as I know, shown any enthusiasm for this particular technology. Secondly, all Angus has done is sign an Early Day Motion. Whoopee. And thirdly, despite SNP Tactical Voting claiming that MacNeil has worked out a deal with a future Tory government, it seems that this is based on the fact that the proposal is backed by “the Conservative policy group”, which, as far as I can tell is not the same thing as the Shadow Cabinet or the party itself.

We are more likely than not to get new high-speed railway lines in future. But it will not be based on Maglev technology.

For a start, high-speed lines can accommodate conventional trains if necessary, including freight, Maglev cannot. High-speed lines will feed directly into existing railway stations. Maglev won’t because new, bespoke stations will be required to accommodate the new tracks (although to be fair, one study has shown that you could extend Maglev lines into Haymarket in Edinburgh, but not a few hundred yards further into Waverley).

What of the safety concerns? When a Maglev train collided with another train in Germany two years ago, the passengers couldn’t evacuate the train by stepping down on to the side of the tracks – they had to be airlifted by helicopter because Maglev tracks are suspended in the air on concrete stilts.

If the Scottish government wish to pursue high-speed rail links connecting Scotland with the rest of the country, then as a unionist, I will offer every support. But if they choose to support expensive and impractical technologies such as Maglev, they will have shown that they are not serious about high-speed rail.

Maglev: never gonna happen...

 

Advertisements

13 Comments

Filed under Conservative Party, Department for Transport, Scottish Government, SNP, Technology

13 responses to “Maglev: pretty but impractical

  1. Nigel Harris

    Absolutely, Tom. Maglev is a dead-end technology for anything other than airport shuttles, imho. If it was the panacea its exponents insist, why has it not been implemented in all the places which HAVE opted for conventional high speed rail? My big worry is that opponents of ANY big spending on modern new, links (the Treasury, No. 10….oops, did I say that out loud?!) will use further Maglev discussion as an opportunity to commission yet more studies whose sole purpose is to ensure delay and prevarification. Let’s just get on with 300kph conventional HS rail.

  2. John

    “When a Maglev train collided with another train in German two years ago”

    In German? Does it sound different than an English collision? /Pedant 😉

    That’s very informative Tom. I was always led to believe that maglev was the way to go, but i’m glad to be educated by someone in the know, so thanks for the info.

    If I could pick up on something you said though:

    “AS RAIL minister, I felt it important to build constructive relations with my counterpart in the Scottish government, the transport minister, Stewart Stevenson.”

    Were your relations with your counterpart in the Welsh Assembly equally as close and constructive? I ask because there is a perception that Scottish politicians, even those like yourself who claim to be unionists, still heavily favour Scottish interests in the course of their duties.

  3. “In German? Does it sound different than an English collision?”

    If I were to risk a spot of xenophobia, I would suggest the sound of the crash was a bit like “Das krashen und boomen!” But I won’t, so instead I’ve corrected the typo.

    Good point on relations with my former Welsh opposite number, which were actually very good. But a high-speed line is more likely to link England with Scotland than with Wales.

  4. To be fair to Jeff (at SNP Tactical Voting) he IS currently sunning himself on the paradise islands of south-east Asia at the moment!

  5. wrinkled weasel

    It’s going to cost £30 billion. That’s peanuts compared to the money Gordon has poured down the drain recently. Not only that, we would have something to show for it, and you can’t say that about the obscene level of borrowing and spending going on.

    Scotland will become a fine little independent country one day, and it will do it by not being like England. It will do it by thinking differently and following the example of places like Norway and Sweden and other European countries who, frankly, make the UK look like the Gambia.

  6. “It will do it by thinking differently and following the example of places like Norway and Sweden and other European countries…”

    Except neither of those two countries has a Maglev.

  7. When Nicol Stephens visited China & saw the Praesidium’s train set the LibDem’s came out for spending £3 billion on a mag lev between Glasgow & Edinburgh to grow the Scottish economy. You are quite right that it is far more expensive than any real world benefit.

  8. John

    “If I were to risk a spot of xenophobia, I would suggest the sound of the crash was a bit like “Das krashen und boomen!” But I won’t, so instead I’ve corrected the typo.”

    Heh heh! Yeah, not worth the risk, although i’m certain had you decided to go there I would have chuckled 😉

    “Good point on relations with my former Welsh opposite number, which were actually very good. But a high-speed line is more likely to link England with Scotland than with Wales.”

    Yeah, that is a valid point. Wales isn’t really a candidate for high speed rail is it. My only complaint about the Welsh railway is the fact that there is no direct route from south wales to mid or north wales. I find it ludricous that in order to go from Carmarthen in south west wales to Aberystwyth just 40 or so miles north on the west wales coastline you have to do a 1000 mile trip via Birmingham! Think of a giant backwards C and thats the rail journey.

  9. That’s a good technical demolition job, Tom. To which you could add that what rail does with a ‘contact patch’ between wheel and rail, the size of a 5 pence piece, mag-lev needs miles of copper wire, computer controlled magnetic fields (oops sorry about your pacemaker) and may still have guide wheels.

    Mag-Lev was promoted by the Germans on the basis that since the French TGV was sweeping world high speed train markets and no one wanted the German equivalent, ‘if you can’t beat them – do something different’.

    On the other hand, mag-lev sounds so much more sexy than old fashioned wheels and rails that it does appeal to a certain type of politician who wants to sound far sighted and trendy.

    Err, didn’t the Tories get excited about it when Grayling was the transport shadow.

  10. pr roger j clementine iii cbe

    Congrats to Tam for using the term ‘scottish government’ rather than taking the petty ‘scottish executive’ route of some of his Labour/Conservative Unionist colleagues

  11. Steve

    Theres a long history of of these dodgy schemes, the only thing in common is the amount of taxpayers money wasted producing reports before the whole idea dies a death again. Its hard to keep up which crazy scheme is this weeks new idea, is it the A4 one, or the Brighton one?

    I defer to The Simpsons “monorail” episode:

    “Marge: But Main Street’s still all cracked and broken…
    Bart: Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!
    All: Monorail!
    Monorail!
    Monorail!”

  12. Fair enough Tom, I have to admit that it wasn’t so much Maglev that got me excited, more the cutting of the journey time down to London. If there’s an even better way of doing that without Maglev, then that’s fine by me too. As long as we all agree we have to get public transport dragged into the 21st century to help get cars off the road.

    And I’m also going to hide behind Malc’s convenient excuse, the lure of beaches is dramatically reducing the time spent looking into news stories!

  13. Cheers, Jeff. I’m probably just jealous that you’re somewhere sunny and hot, and I’m, well, not so much. Have a great new year.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s