OPINION> Chen Weihua
No need to hurry for the Maglev
By Chen Weihua (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-03-07 07:55

Being a major business city, or the New York of China, Shanghai's hectic pace doesn't surprise me.

But it still baffles me when I see grandpas and grandmas pushing their way through crowds on the streets or in the city's malls.

I believe it's understandable though. The high-speed railway that broke ground recently will take people from Shanghai to Hangzhou in only 30 minutes, at a speed of about 350 km per hour. That's how long it takes to walk to my office on Huaihai Road, 3 km from my house.

Clearly, for some people 30 minutes to Hangzhou is still not quick enough.

They want to build a Maglev, or magnetic levitation line, that will cut the trip by another 5 to 10 minutes. However, it will cost us. To save 10 minutes on Maglev, passengers will have to pay 100 yuan more that what it costs on the express train.

I don't understand who exactly would want to shell out 100 yuan extra for 10 minutes, considering most traveling between the two cities are leisure tourists, for who 10 minutes don't matter much.

Like many other folks in town, that's how I began to question the rationale of building a 35-billion-yuan 160-km Maglev line linking Shanghai and Hangzhou.

That's also how I began to search for the logic of another line that intends to link the Pudong and Hongqiao airports, about 60 km apart.

By building the two lines, we can prove to the world that we are not just a hectic bunch, we are also richer, certainly richer than the Germans, because even the Germans, who have developed this technology and agreed to transfer it to China a month ago, opposed the construction of such a line in Munich a year ago by an overwhelming majority.

It is simply too costly for Germany, which has an economy slightly smaller than China but an average per capita GDP 15 times higher.

It is not too expensive for the Chinese.

While the Germans only have a short test track at home, we built the world's first commercial Maglev line from the Pudong airport to nowhere in 2004. The 30-km line is running at a huge loss each year.

Some have argued that an extended line linking the two airports might alter the balance sheet, but no one, not even the ardent supporter, has come out so far to talk and convince people where the profits will come from.

Likewise for the line linking Shanghai and Hangzhou.

What we have heard instead is that the construction cost will be considerably higher now since part of the line may go underground in a bid to appease the protest of residents living along the route.

Many locals are still waiting for the expert team called upon by the government to come out and address their concerns. No one seems to know who the experts are and whether they include just the "yes" men.

The anxiety of the locals, especially those living along the lines, are real in terms of the lavish use of taxpayers' money, safety, pollution - both electromagnetic and noise - and declining prices of their apartments caused by the possible pollution of the Maglev.

The first Maglev line, a prestige project, has already wasted loads of money. Repeating the mistake is unforgivable.

Hasty decisions will only please companies like ThyssenKrupp and Siemens, who could make huge profits from Shanghai's Maglev projects. It is the taxpayers who will bear the consequences.

E-mail: chenweihua@chinadaily.com.cn

(China Daily 03/07/2009 page4)