Dr. Bert Zamzow wants to make one thing clear right at the outset: “Our technology is not Transrapid 2.0,” he says. Zamzow is head of the business unit at the Max Bögl Group that is developing the Transport System Bögl, or TSB. The company wants to achieve a breakthrough in magnetic train technology, which all but failed with the end of Germany’s Transrapid project in 2008.
According to Zamzow, the TSB has little in common with its predecessor. Only the basic principle is the same. Like the Transrapid, the TSB is levitated and electrically driven by magnetic forces between the vehicle and the guideway, which enables emission-free, low-noise propulsion.
However, the Max Bögl system is designed for local public transit – that is, for distances between one and about 70 kilometers and a maximum speed of 150 kilometers per hour. The Transrapid, on the other hand, was a long-distance transport system that zipped along at 500 kilometers per hour. The two technologies therefore have about as much to do with each other “as a tram and a high-speed train,” says Zamzow. In the case of the TSB, the running gear and its active parts (such as the power electronics) lie within the guideway, encased in reinforced concrete 20 centimeters thick. With the Transrapid, this was just the opposite, with the running gear wrapping around the guideway. In addition, the drive of the TSB is completely within the vehicle, with linear motors providing propulsion.
This design has several advantages. Since all the active components are enclosed in reinforced concrete, the maglev train moves even more quietly than is usual for this technology. With the drive located inside the vehicle, the guideway along which the TSB glides is also quite simple. “The vehicle latches onto two steel rails, and two electric rails supply the motor with 750 volts of direct current – just like a tram. That’s it,” Zamzow explains.
Autonomous, cost-efficient, environmentally friendly
Since the magnetic system evenly distributes the vehicle load, the infrastructure’s design can be kept very lean. One of the guideway’s supports has a height of 1.2 meters and spans 24 meters. The TSB’s infrastructure thus requires comparatively little material, which is a decisive factor given that this area accounts for 70 percent of the costs of track-bound rail systems.
The TSB can be used for both passenger and freight transport. Max Bögl recently demonstrated the system’s potential for the cargo sector at the ITS World Congress in Hamburg. Within six months, the company had built a 120-meter demonstration guideway for this purpose in the port of Hamburg. The TSB ferried containers along this route to a loading station, where they were then transferred to a truck.
In this way, the system could one day transport containers from the edge of the harbor to an inland transshipment facility. Applications like these in which goods are moved across short distances are where the maglev train can really play to its strengths. Just like the trucks otherwise used for this purpose, it can transport containers individually. Zamzow maintains, however, that the TSB does so in a more economical and eco-friendly manner. According to estimates from Max Bögl, the TSB could do the same work as a truck at half the cost. The TSB also operates autonomously, which makes for lower personnel expenses.
Advantages for freight and passenger transport
In addition, the maglev train system causes no congestion because it has its own dedicated lane. In freight transport, the TSB enables cycle times of 20 seconds. The Max Bögl maglev train could thus be a viable alternative for large seaports. After all, international cargo handling centers were already overloaded well before the coronavirus pandemic.
The TSB also offers advantages when transporting people, which was actually the original purpose for which it was developed. The underlying technology remains the same; only the structure changes. In this case, however, the cycle times are 80 seconds to allow passengers enough time to get on and off. In passenger transport, the TSB could be a supplement to existing public transportation systems. Zamzow explains this using Munich as an example. The public transportation system there is still essentially a star-shaped network. The question is, how can this system be extended into peripheral areas and supplemented with tangential connections? “Here, our technology offers a highly competitive alternative to the conventional systems,” says Zamzow. Since the guideway for the TSB is raised up on supports, “we don’t cut through any areas, we don’t need any level crossings, and we don’t impede other road users,” says Zamzow.
China: an attractive target market with ample potential
According to Zamzow, the TSB costs between 30 and 50 million euros per kilometer for passenger transport with bidirectional lanes – and that includes vehicles, infrastructure, stations and the necessary power. Max Bögl offers all the elements of the system: in addition to the vehicles, the company builds the guideways and provides the operational control technology. This ensures that all the components are fine-tuned to work together optimally, says Zamzow. In contrast, Max Bögl worked on the Transrapid in a consortium that also included Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. The need to communicate across corporate boundaries made coordination more difficult.
“Since the main costs with a system like this are in the infrastructure – and that’s what we specialize in as a construction company – it made sense to us to just add the remaining 30 percent to our portfolio,” explains Zamzow. This also has the advantage that certain things can be tackled in parallel rather than one after the other, which enables the company to implement projects more quickly. “We’re capable of handing over an operation-ready TSB system within two years of the start of construction,” says Zamzow.
So far, though, Max Bögl has not had the chance to prove this in an actual project. Several studies are currently examining the system according to various criteria, including environmental compatibility, energy consumption and different application scenarios. According to Zamzow, a study on public transportation for the outlying areas of Munich has already produced very positive results.
It remains unclear, however, where the first TSB will transport people or goods under real conditions. The demonstration system in Hamburg had to be dismantled as planned in November. Meanwhile, another test system built in China is already running and being used for the same purpose. Max Bögl believes its technology has a lot of potential in the country. As the company stated in a recent press release, the Chinese market is both very open to innovations and eager to invest. To take advantage of these opportunities, Max Bögl is working with a local partner, the vehicle manufacturer Xinzhu.
Reviving a technology many had written off
There are also many potential applications in Germany, though, and several cities have already expressed interest. The Federal Railway Authority has approved essential parts of the vehicle and guideway, and Max Bögl is confident that the rest will follow soon. That said, the technical side is not where the greatest challenge lies according to Zamzow, who bemoans the fact that people in Germany tend to think in terms of decades when it comes to public transportation projects. “In related discussions, we often find that we could actually get things done a lot faster, but our conversation partners aren’t used to that,” Zamzow reports. It’s possible that the TSB could be implemented more quickly in freight transport. “Magnetic trains have a long history in Germany, but it’s one that hasn’t always been characterized by great success,” he said. “Now would be the perfect time to change that.”
“Since the guideway for the TSB is raised up on supports, we don’t cut through any areas, we don’t need any level crossings, and we don’t impede other road users.”
Dr. Bert Zamzow, Head of Department (TSB), Max Bögl
Markus Strehlitz is a freelance journalist and editor for VDE dialog.