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Germany

ThyssenKrupp Mulls Sale of Transrapid Technology to China

Germany's ThyssenKrupp is considering selling its Transrapid high-speed maglev technology to China after a planned track in Munich was unexpectedly scrapped due to spiraling costs, sparking heated debate in the country.

Transrapid

It's the end of the German line for the high-tech Transrapid

ThyssenKrupp may take its prestigious monorail maglev technology that has trains speeding on a magnetic cushion at 500 kilometers an hour to China after a surprise decision to axe plans for a track linking Munich's airport and the city center due to ballooning costs.

According to a report by Welt Online, Dusseldorf-based ThyssenKrupp is set to negotiate a deal with the Chinese government that could involve the sale to Beijing of either only the license to the company's patented propulsion engine or the technology itself.

Maglev train in Shanghai

The world's only commercial magnetic levitation train is in Shanghai

With a Transrapid shuttle between downtown Shanghai and the city's airport, China is the only country in the world to use the system commercially. They currently only have the rights to construct the train cars, but purchasing additional rights from ThyssenKrupp would mean they could produce complete Transrapid systems and sell them elsewhere.

However, it would also be necessary to obtain the control technology developed by Siemens, as well as the engine know-how.

Chinese expert says deal unlikely

A Chinese transport export on Friday however said that such a deal between Beijing and ThyssenKrupp was "unlikely." Xie Weida, deputy director of the Railway Institute at Shanghai's Tongji University, said the core technology would be extremely expensive but conceded that buying it could benefit China.

A planned extension of the Shanghai Transrapid line by World Expo, which the city will host in 2010, was recently postponed by Mayor Han Zheng.

According to the Welt report, an eight- or nine-figure deal between Beijing and ThyssenKrupp could potentially spare the 220 jobs in Germany that are threatened by the closure of the project.

"I cannot guarantee that we will not lose out to China," said Thomas Schlenz, the head of ThyssenKrupp's works council. "There is a danger that they can pick up this technology and run with it." He added that about 1,000 new jobs would have been created in Germany had the Transrapid plan been carried out.

Klaus-Heiner Roehl from the IW economic research institute, however, said that it will likely "be difficult to sell something abroad that was rejected at home."

The blame game

Transrapid accident scene

Human error caused the 2006 accident

Six months ago, the heads of Siemens, ThyssenKrupp and Hochtief construction group had said the plan to build the Transrapid in Munich would total 1.85 billion euros ($2.9 billion), but federal Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee announced on Thursday, March 27, that costs had risen unexpectedly to nearly double, making the venture too pricy to continue with.

The hope was that a successful Transrapid in Germany would provide the showcase necessary to market the high-speed technology to the rest of the world.

News of the decision to scrap the flagship train link in Munich developed by ThyseenKrupp and Siemens has triggered angry recriminations among politicians in the southern state of Bavaria about who is to blame for the project's abrupt demise.

Bavaria's Premier Guenter Beckstein of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) slammed the industrial consortium developing the technology for the failure of the Munich train project, which his predecessor Edmund Stoiber had pushed through shortly before stepping down.

"Those who couldn't keep their promises" are responsible for putting the project on ice, Beckstein told the Friday edition of the Passauer Neue Presse. He added that "no other routes will be built in Germany. The Munich project was the last chance."

CSU secretary general Christine Haderthauer joined the Bavarian premier in placing blame on the project's industrial partners.

"Apparently, industry didn't want a flagship project, but to make a profit," she told Berliner Zeitung.

Opposition to train project

The CSU, Bavarian sister-party to Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union, had long been under fire for the controversial endeavor and critics had accused former Bavarian Premier Edmund Stoiber, who stepped down last year, of trying to make the Transrapid his personal legacy.

"Bavaria's conservative party led a propaganda campaign for the Transrapid for years and splurged taxpayers' money on it," said Franz Maget, head of the Social Democratic Party in Bavaria.

In November, some 13,000 people attended a demonstration against the project in Munich, where the new high-speed train would have linked the airport with the city center. Public disapproval was fuelled by a Transrapid accident that occurred due to human failure during a test run in 2006; 23 people were killed.

German engineers started developing the magnetic levitation system in 1969 and millions of euros of federal and private money has been invested in research and development since then.

Using the magnetic levitation technology, the train floats on a magnetic cushion just above the rail, traveling up to three times faster than standard steel-wheel trains. The project would have shaved travel time between the Munich airport and the city center down to 10 minutes from 40 minutes.

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