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Home >> Sci-Edu
UPDATED: 17:51, August 31, 2006
Lessons learnt from Maglev fire in Shanghai
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If China didn't develop her Maglev technology, if the German Maglev train had not caught fire, how would the Sino-German Maglev project have resulted? Since the Maglev fire in Shanghai on August 11th, the train has remained there unmoved. By August 18th, the train was repaired then moved on to a maintenance station. The next day, Shanghai Maglev Development Company said that they had preliminarily examined the cause of the fire to be the battery cell provided by Germany. A Chinese expert working in the German Maglev project believed the reason for the fire to be the Shanghai climate since it is more humid there than in Germany. The battery cell has never caused a fire in Germany before. The accident where the Shanghai Maglev cable end was burned in 2003 was also attributed to the Shanghai's humid weather and bad air quality.

When the accident took place two weeks ago, the German spokesman declared that the first step of investigation was focusing on the improper use of the battery cell. However they have not yet been able to draw any conclusions still. Three days later, the spokesman found the cause of the fire to be the battery cell.

Germany anxious about the China effect
"Why has Germany delayed the announcement about the cause of the fire? It may be more beneficial for them to do so." A Chinese scientist who is working in the German transportation sector told reporter. "Now it is time for the Hu-Hang(Shanghai-Hangzhou) Maglev project to be completed, Germany is using a delaying strategy."

The timing of the accident is delicate. Shanghai Maglev extension phase is under preparation. Four days before the fire accident, the Chinese side announced the new arrangement of personnel on the construction of the Hu-Hang Maglev project. According to a report in Frankford, Shanghai Maglev's loss is growing. By 2005, total operation revenue was 135 million Yuan but the losses have increased to 440 million Yuan. If China doesn't continue to build it, the previous investment will have been in vain. Thus the German side aims to continue.

However the fire became a nuisance for the Germans. If the accident is caused by the train's technology, then Germany will lose an important poise in negotiating prices with China. The Chinese scientist said, "Germany knows that except China, there will be no other country who likes to use the Maglev technology any more." It is understood that Germany is afraid of the chain effects of this accident. A German economist told reporter that the project in Pudong has been good advertising for German technology and many other countries and regions such as Las Vegas and Britain have become interested in Maglev. So the conclusion might not be easily drawn for the Germans.

The cost of blind worship
The German Chinese scientist said that the fire shows that the western technology including the German one is not always magic, if people blindly worship it, then they have to pay the price. Dr. Li is working as an engineer in a German company. She said Shanghai's weather is well-known to be humid and hot, but the train's temperature was designed according to German weather condition, thus some parts of the train always feel like a stove which can easily cause a short circuit. The Shanghai subway was also designed by the Germans and the air-conditioner was not cold enough, so in summer, they have to put a large barrel of ice in the cars of the train. Dr. Li said the same product will have different qualities in different countries because of the different environments. Thus only those suitable for China in cost and efficiency are the suitable products for China.

She maintains that there should be a strict feasibility research before introducing new technology. "It is not bad to introduce foreign technology, but the new technology needs the test of daily use".

So far China hasn't made any international standards or criteria in safety production and quality examination. Because many projects have relied on foreign criteria China may experience more risks. Many scientists believe that China should research and develop her own technology on the basis of learning and not rely on others. It is believed that China's independent research and development will help the introduction of foreign technology and eventually achieve their own technology. It is reported that the two sides are constantly narrowing their differences. German television news has predicted that Premier Wen Jiabao and German Chancellor Merkel will discuss the Maglev issue during the second China-EU Summit.

Source: Global Times, translated by People's Daily Online


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