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Magnetic Levitation Train to Start in 2012

Korea Times / Kim Tae-gyu | October 26 2006

The government plans to launch a next-generation transportation system based on unmanned magnetic levitation trains, otherwise dubbed maglev, in 2012 with homegrown technologies.

Headed by Kim Woo-sik, deputy prime minister and science and technology minister, the nation's 16 science-related ministers yesterday decided to funnel 450 billion won ($472 million) into developing the trains.

``We plan to build a 7 kilometer railway by 2012 on which automatic maglev trains will travel 110 kilometers per hour. The area will be fixed later,'' said Yang Dong-in, director at the Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

``All the technologies will be developed by domestic entities such as the Korea Institute of Machinery & Materials and Rotem, which already have a knack for maglev,'' Yang said.

The state-backed Korea Institute of Machinery & Materials built a prototype maglev train, called UTM1, in 1998 and upgraded the model to UTM2 last year together with Rotem, a local subway train producer.

Maglev trains, which are suspended in the air above specially designed tracks, are propelled by a linear motor that uses the repulsive and attractive forces of magnetism.

Because there is no physical contact between the vehicle and the track, the maglev system has many advantages _ it can travel at very high speeds with reasonable energy consumption and low noise levels.

The futuristic transportation system had its debut in the early 1980s, but economic limitations have been stumbling blocks to its full-fledged commercialization.

``We need to build expensive, lightweight elevated tracks to deploy maglev trains, which are not compatible with conventional railroad tracks,'' Yang said.

``This hindered the proliferation of the maglev trains, but things are changing in tune with fast technological advances. It is expected to become one of the mainstream transportation systems in the future,'' he said.

Countries like Japan and Germany have been active in maglev research as an alternative to today's wheeled mass transit systems.

``We hope to preempt the potentially-rich maglev-related market with this investment, which will mostly come from taxpayers' money,'' Yang said.

``According to our in-house analysis, this project will generate 270 billion won in annual turnover and 900 billion won in production every year after 2012,'' Yang said. Production refers to domestic sales and exports of related technologies.

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