How One German Company Is Going Full Steam Ahead With Maglev Technology

September 29, 2020 Friederike Voigt

If it’s not impressive enough that magnets can force a fully loaded 30-ton train car to levitate and travel at speeds of 100 miles per hour (or more), then how about a maglev train that first flies five-plus miles above the ground on a Ukrainian cargo plane from Germany to China?

That’s what German construction and infrastructure company Max Bögl recently pulled off with its Chinese partner, Chengdu Xinzhu Road & Bridge Machinery Co. Ltd.

Oh, and Max Bögl is also revolutionizing the future of public transport through magnetic levitation (maglev) technology.

max bögl tsb maglev train on test track
Max Bögl developed and tested the magnetic levitation technology in southeastern Germany. The system recently won the Red Dot Design Award 2020 in the Trains and Planes category. Courtesy of Firmengruppe Max Bögl.

Drawing from its experience supplying the track for Transrapid Shanghai—a commercially operated high-speed maglev train line—the firm has now designed a new, fully automated urban mobility solution: Transport System Bögl (TSB).

While feasibility studies are currently being conducted in Europe, the system’s vehicles are already being demonstrated in China.

“We’re absolutely convinced that this maglev train will revolutionize the future of mass transit,” says Andreas Rau, product manager for the TSB. “We can now offer a more environmentally sustainable, cost-effective transport system as a complete track, vehicle, and operating technology package.”

Maglev Mission: Adaptable, Integrated, Sustainable Technology

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.

This means that despite being slower, with a speed of 150 km/h (95 mph), the TSB is quieter—emitting almost zero noise and no vibrations. 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.

Maglev Technology
The track is made from concrete and, along with the vehicle’s undercarriage, constitutes part of the Transport System Bögl. Courtesy of Firmengruppe Max Bögl.

This adaptability is the result of some precise infrastructure design. TSB’s undercarriage engages the rail from the inside and is then pulled upward to a height of just over a quarter of an inch by the magnets. This allows the track to be very slim and ideal for urban areas, where space is limited.

The TSB’s sophisticated technology makes it both safer and more efficient. “It scores highly in comparison to conventional transport systems,” Rau says. 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,” Rau says.

Trains can also run practically wear-free, making them even more cost effective. In contrast to the wheels and rails of a tram, for example, the track and the undercarriage have no contact on the TSB. There’s also no contact between the stator and the elements, as the TSB employs a short stator in the vehicle, instead of a long stator on the track.

The TSB might sound like the ideal solution, but realizing such a radical change within the transportation industry always takes a little convincing.

Max Bögl relies on 3D models to draw potential customers to the new technology. “Visual representations are very important in the project development phase,” Rau says. Max Bögl uses Autodesk solutions such as InfraWorks, Civil 3D, Navisworks, and Inventor to produce 3D visualizations of the TSB for each area of the project.

“In order to provide a realistic representation of what the track will look like for a particular route, we use Autodesk software and a selection of camera tracking shots with tight curve radii of up to almost 150 feet, as well as steep gradients of up to 10%,” Rau says. And in collaboration with Autodesk Consulting, Max Bögl’s engineers were able to improve their work-process efficiency by using 3D visualizations instead of 2D drawings.

Maglev Technology
A bird’s-eye view of the half-mile–long test track in the southeastern German state of Bavaria. The demonstration track in China is more than 2 miles long. Courtesy of Firmengruppe Max Bögl.

Building the First Demonstration Tracks

The next step for Max Bögl is to bring the TSB concept to life. To convince local customers of the system’s power on site in China, the German company and its Chinese partner Chengdu Xinzhu Road & Bridge Machinery Co. Ltd. have built a 2.17-mile demonstration track in the southwestern Chinese province of Sichuan, where the TSB can reach speeds of almost 100 mph.

The heavy track segments are almost 40 feet long and made from precast concrete elements that are manufactured in series production at Max Bögl’s German headquarters, which also manufactures the vehicle. The track segments were placed in containers and transported to China by rail via the New Silk Road, and the vehicle was delivered to the Chinese demonstration track by air. Having been partially commissioned in October 2019, the track is due to go into full operation soon.

Meanwhile, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) in Germany is conducting a feasibility study into using the TSB at Munich Airport. This provides a potential basis for deployment throughout Germany: Discussions are already 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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