Twenty Years Ago Today: The Future That Never Was

320px-Transrapid-emslandTwenty years ago today, the German government announced that they would be going ahead with building a revolutionary maglev train system. Transrapid, the consortium building the Maglev trains, had been testing their technology at a track in Emsland since 1984, so this wasn't exactly pie in the sky. The plan authorised by the German government would have seen Hamburg and Berlin linked by a track that would cover 177 miles in 53 minutes - a mere third of the time in took to travel the same distance in 1994. But it was not to be; the plan was damned as being too expensive, and budget considerations eventually killed the project, which was replaced by a conventional high speed line. The only place in the world where the Transrapid system has actually been implemented has been in Shanghai, where a line was built from the city to Pudong International Airport. After that, the Chinese government declined to use the technology any further, using conventional rail systems to extend its network instead.

Like many new technologies, Transrapid has suffered from suspicion as to its eventual costs - a suspicion that is often correct (and will be borne out when we look at the Channel Tunnel later this year), but which often prevents new technologies from gaining the experience and economies of scale needed to bring their costs down.

It didn't help that the world's first fatal accident involving a maglev train took place at the Emsland test track in 2006. A train struck a maintenance vehicle near the town of Lathen at approximately 125 mph, resulting in 23 deaths and 10 severe injuries; human error was judged to be the cause, as the maintenance vehicle really ought to have told someone they were out on the track that day.

The test facility in Emsland has now been shuttered, and demolition was approved in 2012. The future just isn't what it used to be. Here's what we missed out on (even if it is just a promo video):