Friday, September 22, 2006

horrendous accidents at great speed

This is an extraordinary story with a tragic twist; but the sheer impressiveness of the endeavour, which (I'm a luddite) I knew nothing about means I'm more excited by the idea than saddened. Apparently a test-run of a new type of train has gone badly wrong in northern Germany and up to 29 people have been seriously injured - so far ten have been rescued alive but it is thought that eighteen others, along with the one confirmed fatality, will be pronounced dead. Awful.

And yet the train itself is utterly fascinating. Am I alone to have never heard of high-speed magnetic levitation trains? According to the Guardian they are being trialled in Germany and Japan and one is already in operation in Shanghai. The mind-bending principle is that "There is no fuel source on board mag-levs. They use electrically charged magnets to cause the trains to hover just above the track, and move forward without friction", which is pretty fucking sci-fi, don't you think? The train in question was travelling at a speed of around 120 miles per hour but mag-levs in development in Japan can reach a terrifying 310 mph, a speed which would make travelling from Paris to Rome in two hours by rail possible. Astonishing. To put it in perspective, a Boeing 777 travels at a top speed of 562 mph.

Really incredible, although today's disaster is tragic and hopefully not an omen of more safety problems to follow. It seems that the derailment occurred not because of a problem with the magnetic levitation but because of a simpler and more avoidable factor - a maintenence wagon had not been cleared out of its path. God. After the awful news about Richard Hammond, I'm hoping this is the last story about horrendous accidents at great speed we hear about for a while.

But I look forward to the trains, one day.

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