What’s a Gadgetbahn?

December 3rd, 2017 by ant6n

For some time, I’ve been meaning to write about German transportation systems like what’s an S-Bahn or what’s a Stadtbahn.

With the recent news out of Quebec, I figured I’d instead talk about a transportation concept that doesn’t actually transport anybody at all: the Gadgetbahn.

The word is a portemanteau of the English “Gadget” and the German word “bahn”, which means rail or train. A gadgetbahn is a speculative transportation concept that proposes to solve planning and financial issues via some sort of magical techno-fix, likely some technology that doesn’t even exist yet.

Classic examples of gadgetbahns are: monorails, “personal rapid transit”, maglevs, or the newest addition to the family, the “hyperloop”.

Proponents of these technologies may be referred to as gadgetbahn enthusiasts, or more derogatorily, “pod-people”. They often promise the sky in terms of reduced cost and increased speed and comfort, often with little consideration for capacity, risk, safety or realism.

Back to  Quebec: the prime minister decided he wants a fast transit link between Montreal and Quebec City, but not a train, because “we can do much more modern things now”.

Instead, he wants something “futuristic”, something from the minds of Quebecers. (note from editor: Sorry to pop his bubble, but Quebec is not exactly known for having a long history on the bleeding edge of transit technology.)

The problem of the gadgetbahn isn’t necessarily that it’s a techno-fix. It’s that it is a technology for the sake of technology, a shiny gizmo to brag about, with little regard to solving the actual transportation problem.

The transportation minister clarified his position himself: he wants anything you can conceive of, any project; innovate, come up with new ideas!

And somehow, some consortium sprung up ready with proposals, renderings, promises and deadlines to build a high speed monorail (“MGV”), and all they want is a quarter of a billion dollars to develop it.

Cost, Speed, Comfort
– The problem is geometry, physics and the Right of Way

The beauty of proposing a gadgetbahn is that since it doesn’t exist, proponents can make up all sorts of quasi-magical properties for their technology, which supposedly make it superior. Since there aren’t real-world examples, proponents can use the most optimistic theoretical scenarios they can come up with, and compare them with the actual performance of projects that have been built and which are bound to the constraints of the real world.

For example, the high speed monorail promoters claim their system is cheaper than conventional rail, because they could just use existing highway medians, with an elevated rail system where vehicles are suspended from above.

The “MGV” (monorail a grande vitesse), high-speed pods on elevated tracks, suspended from above

When you look at its basic structure, compared to conventional rail, this monorail essentially differs in the method of propulsion: instead of two wheels on two rails below the train, we have two wheels on one rail above the train.

The main conceptual difference between conventional rail and ‘MGV’:
the location of the wheels

Like for any gadgetbahn, the claim is that this new technology provides more speed, more comfort at lower cost.

But in the real world, these three aspects are always intricately connected and subject to tradeoffs – due to simple geometry and physics.

Want faster transportation? Then you need very straight tracks. Don’t have straight tracks but still want high speed? Then your trip will become a barf-ride, so less comfort.  Want to build cheaply in an already existing highway median? Well the highway curves are made for cars going at 100km/h, so your choices are:

  • slow down (less speed),
  • run inside the existing geometry at higher speed (less comfort),
  • straighten the curves (more expensive).

These problems will always come together. At the end of the day, you’re still pushing a metal can full of people at high speeds you can’t get out of issues of geometry and physics by changing where you put the wheels.

Going further, once it appears the basic problems have been overcome, the next issues become capacity, safety, energy and access (stations).

For example, Elon Musk is proposing to build tunnels with his “Boring Company”, which will supposedly be cheap, because the tunnels will be relatively narrow. This reduces capacity, because only smaller vehicles will fit in the tunnel. To compensate, he may propose that vehicles will run super close together – which will represent a huge safety issue unless they run slowly. A small tunnel with a lot of vehicles that are barely smaller than the tunnel diameter, running at high speed may become a death trap in case of emergency, if there isn’t enough space and facilities for egress. If somehow he manages to solve all these issues, there’s still the problem of getting everybody into this tube of his.

All these considerations come down to the one fundamental constraint on which everything else depends: the right of way — how much space do you have available, how straight is your path, how and where is the downtown access, and how much space is available at stations.

The Maglev

An example of this issue is the maglev technology (essentially magnetically elevated monorails). The concept has been around for ages. The Germans and Japanese have been developing the technologies for a long time. In the early 2000s, the Germans were able to sell their Transrapid technology to China for the Shanghai Maglev airport connector, a 30-km line. It was a pilot project, with the hope to eventually cover the whole country with maglev network.

The Maglev was seen as the next generation of trains, mostly by being faster. But there was also the hope that it could even be cheaper, by putting the whole track on stilts, without having large elevated bridge-like structures. But in the end, conventional high speed rail and maglev require similar geometries, a similar kind of infrastructure, and it turns out that the speeds are not that different (Shanghai Maglev up to 430km/h, conventional rail up to 350km/h, both with a maximum experimental speed of around 600km/h).

At more than 300km/h, a lot of energy is spent to overcome the air drag of the trains themselves. Issues also become noise, and the required straightness of the infrastructure. And the issue that with stops, decreasing travel time by increasing maximum speeds becomes marginal. Overall, speeds above 300km/h tend to become uneconomical, no matter the propulsion system.

From a distance, elevated conventional high speed rail (left) and maglev (right) appear strangely similar – the requirements on the tracks are due to physics and geometry, so the propulsion method alone won’t give one system a clear advantage over the other in terms of infrastructure cost

All of these issues come together to make the technological choice a bit of a wash.

In the end it makes more economic sense to build from conventional technology which has been developed for a longer time, has multiple vendors, has existing infrastructure that can be built on top of. This way, you can upgrade lines for high speed service, while being able to run the new high speed trains on existing tracks inside cities or to other cities. This provides a huge economic advantage.

So indeed, although the Shanghai Maglev works, in an economic sense it’s a failure. It convinced the Chinese to focus on high speed rail: ten years after the opening of the Maglev, the country still had the same 30km of maglev, but built 20,000km of high speed rail.

(Oh and btw, I’ve taken the maglev, it’s not a very smooth ride; it rumbles like a rollercoaster)

The Real Issue: Economics

The real issue of using a gadgetbahn to solve a transportation problem is not really technical. It’s that it re-frames the problem to build an infrastructure as the problem to develop a new technology — now you’ve got two problems to solve!

The technical problem should really be solved through private investment, not public funding. Thus I view the ‘offer’ to develop the “high speed mono-rail” for “only” 250M$ with a great amount of distrust. If the idea is viable and the people behind it are competent, it should have attracted private investment, as there should be a potential to make profit selling the technology. After all, the proposal has been around for 23 years.

When proposing a completely new technology in order to solve a specific transportation problem, the major problem is Risk:

  • Technological risks: Will it even work? Will it deliver on claims? Will it have sufficient capacity?
  • Cost-related risks: How much will it cost to develop? How much will one kilometre cost once the technology developed?
  • Regulatory/safety risks: Will it be safe? What will safety requirements be? How fast will we be allowed to run?
  • Risks because timelines are not understood: How long will it take to develop? How long will it take to plan & construct?
  • Operating Risks: How much will it cost to operate? How much will it cost to maintain the infrastructure? Will automated/unattended operation actually be possible?
  • Risks because we need to build complete systems at once, rather than incrementally updating existing infrastructure.
  • Also, new technology means relying on a single vendor, which is again extremely risky, both in terms of cost and availability of the technology in the future: Will the vendor exist in the future? How much will they charge us once we depend on them, given the lack of competition?

For any technology that’s already existed and been researched for decades, and that may have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of kilometers of infrastructure built today, all these question are much easier to answer. There will be much less risk, and thus less cost.

Be distrustful of Gadgetbahn Concepts

Any time somebody in power proposes to solve an infrastructure problem by first developing some new technology, or by using some proposed technology that hasn’t been delployed yet, we should be distrustful.

Often, the proposal may simply be an excuse to not invest in infrastructure today, because tomorrow some techno-fix will come along and solve all our problems ‘for free’. This tactic may work especially well if the proposal includes an appeal to some futuristic dream or a nationalistic project.

The gadgetbahn may really just be a big diversion. For example in Quebec, the most realistic scenario to get a fast link between Montreal and Quebec is the “high-frequency train” proposed by VIA rail, which would link the cities with conventional rail. After repeatedly proposing high speed rail for the last 40 years and getting no support from the governments, VIA decided to propose a system that’s not true high speed rail – but it would use dedicated passenger rail tracks, allowing somewhat faster speed than today, and no interference with freight.

This would hit an economic sweet spot for VIA, allowing them to almost finance and build the system themselves, with only relatively little public support.

But the main problem is the access to Montreal – VIA hoped to use the Mont-Royal rail tunnel to access Gare Centrale. But with the REM light rail project pushed hard by the prime minister, the tunnel would be converted to light rail, an incompatible technology, which will cut VIA off. In some sense, the prime minister’s announcement that he wants some gadgetbahn to Quebec City means VIAs rail project would become obsolete, and the conflict would become moot.

So is it really just a diversionary tactic to hide the regional rail planning problems in Montreal?


Interesting related reading (and with thanks for some inspirations) by Alon Levy:
“Loopy Ideas Are Fine, If You’re an Entrepreneur”

20 Responses to “What’s a Gadgetbahn?”

  1. Peter L Says:

    Nicely done. I usually end up not reading your blog, not because I don’t like it or you, but because I get angry and can’t think straight when reading about REM! 😀

    Here, I think you’ve done a good job covering the gadgetbahn phenomenon something certainly not limited to Montreal or Quebec (see, for example, the gondola ride proposed for NYC).

    I expect to be posting a link to this in many discussions going forward!

    And remember: monorails, maglevs, and now hypeloops and robot cars are the transportation of the future! Always have been, always will be! 😀

  2. Mr.Chinaski Says:

    Not one mention of the Chuo Shinkansen Maglev instead of the Chinese one? Cmon

  3. Daniel Says:

    One note: Despite gadgetbahn may look german, it is not. Though ‘Gadget’ and ‘Bahn’ are known.

    Isn’t the new mayor of “ville de REM” against the mentioned mount royal solution?

  4. ant6n Says:

    @Mr Chinaski
    I mentioned Japenese development in the area; and the maximum speed (~600km/h) comes from that project as well.

    Tue Shanghai Maglev was mentioned to make a particular point. If you think this article is supposed to be a survey of speculative transportation technology, I think you may have missed the point.

  5. Zweisystem Says:

    Vancouver’s SkyTrain is a good example of “gadgetbahnenn”.

    With much hype and hoopla, the driverless ALRT/ART was said to revolutionize public transport.

    Well that was in 1984 and in 2017 Vancouver’s SkyTrain has not lived up to its promises of revolutionizing transit.

    Only 7 such system have been built in almost 40 years and its marketing name has been changed at least four times. ICTS > ALRT > ALM > ART.

    Even though SkyTrain is driverless, it costs about 40% more to operate when compared to light rail systems. Very expensive to build, up to 10 times more than LRT (1982 IBI Study for the TTC’s ART Study) to build.

    Vancouver’s SkyTrain system also has limited capacity and its Transport Canada Operating certificate limits capacity to 15,000 pphpd, unless about $3 billion is spent up grading the line and re building stations.

    To date, the taxpayer has spent over $10 billion on SkyTrain or about $7 billion more than if light rail were built instead.

    The big problem is that politicians , engineers, bureaucrats and academics have been bamboozled by the proprietary light metro and continue planning for more. The have deified the damn thing.

    The real winners of “gadgetbahnenn” are the owners of the patents, as all gadgetbahnen are indeed proprietary railways.

    And who own the patents for Vancouver’s SkyTrain? Bombardier and SNC Lavalin.

    Build with gadgetbahnen, better have a lot of cash, because they cost a lot, lot, more than advertised.

  6. Gaël Says:

    What about tilting trains?
    Aren’t they a good way of getting more speed and comfort without straightening curves, at a reasonable cost?
    And I’m not a mechanical engineer, but I feel like by putting the wheels above the vehicle rather than under it, you can achieve better passive tilting, since you could eventually let the vehicle rotate freely around the longitudinal axis of the track. I have no idea if this is actually considered for the MGV…

  7. Peter L Says:

    The UA TurboTrain had passive tilt. The Talgos all have passive tilt. The LRC had active tilt as does the Acela. All are bandaids for bad track. Put the money into the track.

  8. ant6n Says:

    I didn’t want to go into tilting. Yes tilting allow you smaller curve radius at similar comfort / speed levels. It’s a way to ‘trick’ the issues of physics/geometry/cost that I mentioned. But these tricks are possible with conventional rail as well.

    Firstly, it’s possible to use a lot of super-elevation on your tracks (i.e. tilt them). Since VIA’s TGF wouldn’t host freight trains, I believe the tracks could be very super-elevated.

    Secondly, tilting trains are possible as well (As Peter points out). We have to wonder whether having a frame within the train that the passively tilting carriage is hanging from is cheaper than having the whole track up on a frame.

    Further, passive tilting is a bit limited, because it’s reaction is delayed. Active tilting is preferable – again this is possible with either wheel configuration, but I think it narrows the difference in complexity of the two modes.

    Furthermore, there’s a limit to tilting at high speed, because of the rotational jerk. (Edit: there’s also a maximum tilt that you can subject to people before they’ll get sea sick).

    So that brings us back to a similar issue as before: the tilting trick is possible with both wheel arrangements, so the question is whether the economics and the risk of developing a unique solution make sense.

  9. Fraser Pollock Says:

    Many years ago when I was just out of university, I had job where I actually provided information for the public about other Gadgetbahn systems, when a certain railway vehicle provider (which will remain nameless) was doing possible LRT and Subway/Metro projects. One of my many duties was to show people how many of these so called future public transport systems were really just poorly tested concepts.

    The reality of many of these pieces of technology were not that they didn’t work but could not ever do many of the things that there proponents say they could do.

    For example, “Low cost construction” of the infrastructure usually meant that the people who designed the concept had a simple pre-built mass produced vehicle tech or precast concrete construction system in mind for the vehicle, vehicle rights of way (tracks) and stations. The reality was usually that the right of way construction technology was designed for a test vehicle that was 1/4 – 1/6 the actual size and weight of the production model. This meant whisper thin support poles shown in flashy pictures actually needed to be replaced with massive concrete pylons and decking, which are not cheap and or easy to build. Often they are very expensive to maintain over time. Or the building technology wouldn’t work or couldn’t legally be used for safety reasons in the particular operating and legal climate being proposed.

    My favorite was the constant claim of high speed (especially for Personal Rapid Transit Systems) when in the picture or diagram provided the station stops were in eye shot of each other. Forcing very high acceleration/deceleration if high speed was actually even possible. It goes back to the comfort level for the customer the article mentions.

    Maintenance and spare parts as well as other on going operational costs are often overlooked when gadgetbahn systems try to show how cheap they are. As with many proprietary transport systems the cost of things like, staff operations and maintenance training, spare parts packages as well as support equipment cost and supply are never included in the glossy promotion packages that possible operators get. This is assuming the company pitching the gadgetbahn technology even has these costs on file yet!

    Never mind climate can make or break new pieces of technology. For example, many of the new wireless power systems for LRT and other rail vehicles don’t work well or at all in snowy or overly wet ground conditions, not to mention if its really cold. These are not even pieces of Gadgetbahn technology but technology provided by well known international rail vehicle providers. Bombardier’s wireless ground based Pri-Move system for example, doesn’t work at all in snow or function well in damp surface conditions and temperatures under 8 degrees C. The one place where has been sold and functions well is in Saudi Arabia, where it is normally bone dry and very hot.

  10. Bjarne Says:

    Grouping maglev, hyperloop and several other systems into one group and calling it gadgetbahn is a dishonest misrepresentation of these totally different systems.

    The equivalent would be to call conventional rail industry a dinosaur technology. That would also be condescending and meaningless. It would also be at the same level as calling rail and HSR gadgetbahn before they were invented or implemented many years ago.

    The list just goes on and on with more condescending expressions like
    “gadgetbahn enthusiasts”, “pod-people” and “speculative technology”
    I guess he forgot to write maglev-fanboys or gadgetbahn-fanboys.
    It is a good sign of desperation and lack of arguments to write this.

    The rest of the article does not give much meaning because it mixes totally different systems.
    “They often promise the sky in terms of reduced cost and increased speed and comfort, often with little consideration for capacity, risk, safety or realism.”
    This may be true for systems that does not exist yet, but not for Transrapid 09 (picture in lower right corner).

    Here is a suggestion.
    Call HSR “HSR”. It exists.
    Call maglev “maglev”. It exists.
    Call Hyperloop “Hyperloop”. It does not exist.

    “It’s that it is a technology for the sake of technology, a shiny gizmo to brag about, with little regard to solving the actual transportation problem.”
    This is just a nonsense sentence because these are not real arguments.
    It is irrelevant if the technology is shiny or worth bragging about.
    How do you know if a system can solve the actual transportation problem?
    That is the relevant question to ask. They are totally different systems!

    Try to do some testing on the following statement.
    “…a technology for the sake of the technology…”
    Use the argument for HSR. Now you see it.

    One should be positive about new ideas and technology and evaluate them objectively! Not on the basis of them being shiny or not! HSR can be shiny too, can it not?

    Another round of misrepresentations in the article.
    This time there are 3 errors in the same sentence.

    “But in the end, conventional high speed rail and maglev require similar geometries, a similar kind of infrastructure, and it turns out that the speeds are not that different (Shanghai Maglev up to 430km/h,
    conventional rail up to 350km/h,
    both with a maximum experimental speed of around 600km/h).”

    They do not require similar geometries! Maglev only need half the curve-radius (if not even less) compared to HSR. Maglevs can also climb at a degree several times higher than HSR.

    They do not require a similar kind of infrastructure. Elevated HSR needs elements that are 5(!) times heavier than the ones for maglev. Think of all the concrete and CO2 we can save by building maglev.

    The speed is also dishonestly misrepresented.

    Shanghai maglev has a technical top speed of 500 km/h. The reason why it maxes out at 430 km/h is the length of the track (30 km).

    HSR reduces its speed to 250 km/h in Europe because of the exponentially rising tear and wear which leads to astronomical maintenance costs. French TGV has to replace it’s wheels several times a year. Not to mention the track and the overhead lines.

    The experimental top speed of HSR is of little or no interest. The fast TGV train was a heavily modified train and can not be called a normal HSR. The experimental top speeds of maglevs have been from normal maglevs. Not experimental.

    Another mistake from the article.
    “At more than 300km/h, a lot of energy is spent to overcome the air drag of the trains themselves, which makes these speeds uneconomical either way. So the propulsion system is kind of moot.”
    The propulsion system is important. The main reason to elevate the train from the track is to reduce the wear and tear of the wheels and track. This is, economically speaking, much more important than the use of energy. Furthermore it should be mentioned that the German Transrapid 09 maglev uses 30% less energy than HSR.

    Maglev has been developed over several decades.

    These two statements seem to contradict each other.

    “The concept (maglev) has been around for ages. The Germans and Japanese have been developing the technologies for a long time.”

    “In the end it makes more economic sense to build from conventional technology which has been developed for a longer time,”

    German maglev has been developed over several decades and is an optimally developed and well tested system. It is ready to be implemented anywhere in the world where high speed ground transportation is wanted and needed.

    The maglev line in Shanghai was built primarily to get to know the system.
    How do you think an elevated HSR line in Shanghai would have performed?
    There is a lot of corruption in China, including in rail. Google it. Check it out.

    The Chinese are also building a maglev which will probably be based on the German one.

    HSR can not necessarily run on existing rail lines through cities and stations.
    There may be capacity problems and differences in track types and width.
    The Japanese run their Shinkansen system on a totally separated system.

    “The technical problem should really be solved through private investment, not public funding.” How much governmental support has the railway industry got?
    Building a new infrastructure is a huge project with potential economical advantages for the society as a whole and huge challenges regarding the legal area that the private industry not necessarily will get involved in. An elevated maglev system may, to a large extent, use existing rights of way (motorways and rail), but it will be a huge challenge anyway. How will a new HSR infrastructure built on the ground perform in this area?

    “Will it even work?” “Will it deliver on claims?” “Will it have sufficient capacity?”
    Yes. Transrapid 08 has been working very well in Shanghai for over 12 years and has driven more than a million km with millions of passengers without major issues. Compare that to HSR which has an extensive maintenance program.
    The capacity is at least half a million passenger-km per hour for German maglev.

    “How much will it cost to develop?” “How much will one kilometre cost once the technology developed?”
    German maglev is already developed. German taxpayers, along with Thyssen-Krupp and Siemens have taken the costs for you and your country. It costs 20-25 million dollars per km.

    “Will it be safe?” “What will safety requirements be?” “How fast will we be allowed to run?”
    German maglev is safe. There are several safety systems built into the system. One can also mention elevation as an important safety measure.
    The train is certified to run 500 km/h in Europe. People can move freely around as in a conventional train.

    German elevated maglev may be built 3-4 times faster than HSR on the ground.
    The maglev will also not disturb other infrastructure, waterways, people and animals.

    The maintenance and operational costs will be much lower than for HSR. No wear and tear on the track. No driver needed. Less trains needed because of superior acceleration and top speed.

    Maglev can be build incrementally so one can familiarize with the system.

    HSR has already shown that over 200 km/h the wear and tear skyrockets exponentially with increased speed.

    The article is full of misrepresentations which “accidentally” favours HSR.

    The Transrapid TR09 is a smooth ride.

    Is there an agenda behind the article?
    Who is the author? What are his roles?
    Is the author representing any interests?

  11. ant6n Says:

    Dear Bjarne, I see you are very defensive about the whole issue, with all sorts of accusations of improper writing and even accusations of conspiracy. I think your anger is playing with your reading comprehension. I didn’t mix up the different transportation concepts. You are. If you actually read my article carefully, you’ll see I’m using conventional maglev merely as an example of a kind of technology that was hailed as the solution a long time ago but that didn’t really pan out, to warn of supposed technology solutions being proposed today (“MGV”).

    I’m not really interested in going into your technicals (except for a big ‘citation needed’). Suffice to say with all your numbers and claims in vigorous defense of maglev, you’re not getting the point that after what, 30-40 years of development, we have 30km in production, maybe we’ll be getting another two lines in another 10-20 years; whereas conventional technology exists in tens of thousands of km. In fact the Chinese build tens of thousands km basically from scratch, after testing maglev. Germany tried several times to build the Transrapid and it was always deemed uneconomical. Being able to incrementally build systems (something you claim is not a problem for maglev), is one of the main problems, as are the economics.

    But really, if you’d spent five minutes of attention on actually reading the article, rather than huffing and puffing about it, you’d see that my main concern is how in Quebec (“my country”) there are many who view the proposed suspended monorail concept as a realistic solution to link Quebec and Montreal. You seem to have completely missed that the article is mainly to warn about the dreamy solutions Gadtgetbahn enthusiasts dream up with the “MGV”.

    Oh an btw, I invite you to actually go take the Transrapid. I’ve taken it, and it is indeed quite a rumble-ride.

  12. Malcolm Says:

    It’s interesting that two of the pictured “Gadgetbahns” you head your article with, Ultra and Maglev, are actually in commercial operation.
    Perhaps, in view of your statement, “The beauty of proposing a gadgetbahn is that since it doesn’t exist…”, you may feell the need to either change the images or rephrase your statement?

  13. ant6n Says:

    When you propose a Gadgetbahn, it doesn’t generally exist yet. That’s why you can make claims you don’t need to back up with facts.

  14. Malcolm Says:

    You’re missing my point and, probably, Bjarne’s.
    Ultra is operational.
    Maglev is operational.
    Apart from your claim they aren’t, you are spreading other false information in your opinions.
    Is it too much to ask for accuracy?
    Or does Gadgetbahn mean you can make claims where you don’t need to back up with facts, even though it does exist?

  15. ant6n Says:

    No, you’re missing the point. It doesn’t matter whether the Gadgetbahn enthusiasts got some small sample project running somewhere. The issue isn’t whether these technologies are impossible (and I made no such claim).

    The question is whether the supposed near magical properties pan out (especially compared to existing/conventional technology), how long it took to develop the new technology, and whether the technology makes economical sense in the real world.

  16. Malcolm Says:

    Here is that paragraph in full:
    “The beauty of proposing a gadgetbahn is that since it doesn’t exist, proponents can make up all sorts of quasi-magical properties for their technology, which supposedly make it superior. Since there aren’t real-world examples, proponents can use the most optimistic theoretical scenarios they can come up with, and compare them with the actual performance of projects that have been built and which are bound to the constraints of the real world.!”
    Re Ultra, Transrapid and, to some extent, JR SCM
    1 They do exist
    2 There are real word examples
    3 They don’t use quasi-magical properties for their technology
    4 The technology is superior to rail transport in a lot of respects
    5 There are well respected sources of information to confirm this but you’re not interested in going into the technicals, are you?
    However, I do take your point that your main concern is the proposal to build a suspended monorail in Quebec and Montreal. Here, you have more knowledge than most reading your post.
    It’s a shame you diluted this concern with an attack on new, developing and developed forms of transport which you lump together under the Gadgetbahn title, compounded with false information.
    Yes, there are some proposals for transport which seem too good to be true, most of which don’t have a prototype up and running, perhaps this is what you mean by Gadgetbahn?

  17. Malcolm Says:

    PS Suspended monorail?
    Check out –
    which has been running since 1901

  18. Jarek Says:

    (Of course, Wuppertalbahn is a local transit system, relatively low-speed and winding with lots of stops – not a high-speed intercity one being discussed in the post)

  19. Johannes Urbanski Says:

    Re Ultra, Transrapid and, to some extent, JR SCM

    1 They do exist
    The UIC (basically the IATA of the rail industry) lists 40,378 km of HSR networks as operational (as of November 2017) and another 14,615 km as under construction [1]. How many km of lines exist for SCM, Transrapid or “Ultra”?

    2 There are real word examples
    The UIC lists more than 300 HSR lines, of which more than half are already under operation [1]. What are the real world examples for SCM, Transrapid or “Ultra” – and even more: how many of them are already in intercity revenue service?

    3 They don’t use quasi-magical properties for their technology
    None of the claimed properties is quasi-magical – it’s the multitude of these properties which are claimed simultaneously (and the refusal to acknowledge the existence of any of the trade-offs which have been characterising every single transportation project ever constructed by humanity): lower construction costs, lower operating costs, lower noise, shorter construction period, less visual intrusion, higher operating speeds, lower energy consumption, higher capacity, lower construction-related emissions, higher public acceptance, lower ticket prices. Doesn’t a transportation technology which has been tested and proven almost nowhere in the world (see 1 and 2), but comes with absolutely no trade-offs sound outlandish or quasi-magical to you?

    4 The technology is superior to rail transport in a lot of respects
    Agreed, but do they outweigh the economic, political and environmental disadvantages, such as being incompatible with the legacy rail system and therefore either forcing passengers to do additional transfers or to build punitively expensive downtown tunnels and countless underutilised branch lines?

    5 There are well respected sources of information to confirm this but you’re not interested in going into the technicals, are you?
    You mean like the obscure Motor1.com article presented by Bjarne (seriously, this is the quality of sources for which only Hyperloop fanboys are known)? I’ve already acknowledged in countless discussions with you and the other Maglev fans (Bjarne, for instance) on the “High Speed Rail America Club” Facebook page that if you were building and planning an entire country for a population of 100 million in a dessert or on a different planet, Maglevs would be the mode of choice. When will you finally acknowledge that real-world transport planning is different to SimCity, as you have to respect the constraints imposed by decades and centuries of often inconsistent civil engineering construction for transportation infrastructure and other structures built under constantly changing priorities and land use policies?

    And speaking of the suspended monorail in Wuppertal: you know what I answered my boss when he asked me “what do you Germans think about suspended monorails?”?
    I answered: “We invented them over 100 years ago. We never built a second line.” Ironically, I could say almost the same about Maglevs: “We were one of the first when we started to develop Maglev trains 50 years ago and invested far more than a billion Dollars of our taxpayers’ money into the technology. In the end, the technology was always deemed to be too expensive and not adaptable enough to our existing transport networks and we therefore invested into HSR networks instead and eventually sold the technology to China where they did test this technology on one short suburban route before they decided to stick to HSR when expanding their intercity networks for basically the same reasons.”

    [1] https://uic.org/IMG/pdf/20171101_high_speed_lines_in_the_world.pdf

  20. Fraser Pollock Says:

    High Speed transport is a wonderful thing! However, if you have ever been on a high speed train you notice a few things. First the trains actually travel at normal speeds inside the built up areas of large cities. Why? They do this is because of safety regulations and people have to live there close to these lines, so the noise level must be kept down.

    Have you ever stood anywhere near a high speed railway vehicle right of way? I have stood underneath or near both High Speed Passenger Rail (HSR) lines and or a Maglev line with a train or vehicle traveling at or near there optimal cruse speeds, it’s very, very loud and uncomfortable due to the highly compressed air pressure wave caused by the passing vehicle! So much so, I can easily imagine most people really wouldn’t want to live near it if they didn’t had the choice to.

    The Chinese High Speed Maglev line that runs to Shanghai’s International Airport travels through mainly but not entirely suburban and rural areas. The Germans had required a 300 metre wide (150 metres each side of the line) safety/security barrier around their high speed Maglev test line which was in a suburban area. This was needed because of the air blasts, noise and safety issues. In China where the safety barrier is a mere 20-25 metres, local residents get the full effect of a passing maglev vehicle much closer to their homes. In more rural areas, debris the vehicles pick up and rain down on the crop fields of local collective farms are especially hated by the farmers and mangers a like, they really don’t like that aspect of the Maglev lines.

    The 200 km long planned extension to the Shanghai Maglev system was to have significant underground sections to limit noise, electromagnetic radiation pollution and exposure. Thus, greatly increasing the cost of the extension. When a nearby HSR line was built at much lower cost I might add, the Maglev extension was immediately sidelined.

    My point is that even in China, where the environmental problems and the comfort level of local residents isn’t always the prime consideration of Maglev officials. Even they have had to admit that, high speed transport has to have safety and noise considerations that greatly complicate and add costs to their projects. Imagine the long and drawn out Environmental Assessment Process required in a western country like ours for a very high speed Maglev system. I have seen and read through the older Environmental Assessment proposals for VIA’s High Speed Rail lines here in Canada. These proposals have multiple volumes of hundreds of pages each. These are just the proposals not the full Environmental Assessments which would be longer and far more involved.

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