15 killed in crash of maglev train in northwestern Germany

Friday, September 22nd 2006, 8:43 am
By: News On 6

LATHEN, Germany (AP) _ A high-speed magnetic train traveling at nearly 125 mph crashed Friday in northwestern Germany, killing at least 15 people and injuring 10 in the first fatal wreck involving the high-tech system, officials said.

Officials feared the death toll would rise, because six people were still missing in the crash about a half-mile from the station at the village of Melstrup.

The train, which runs primarily as a demonstration by its manufacturer, was carrying 29 people when it struck a maintenance vehicle with carrying two workers on the elevated track. Mangled wreckage hung from the 13-foot-high track.

The train runs four days a week on the 20-mile test track between Doerpen and Lathen near the Dutch border.

Prosecutor Alexander Retemeyer said 15 bodies were recovered from the wreckage, and another 10 people were injured. Retemeyer said that he and other officials at the crash site did not believe that six people still unaccounted for in the crash would be found.

Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to the site.

The passengers were believed to be employees and their friends and relatives.

``The magnetic levitation train is hanging halfway off'' the track, said Helge Nestler, a police official. Firefighters used ladders to reach the injured.

It was Germany's worst rail disaster since 1998, when 101 people died as an InterCityExpress derailed and smashed into a bridge near the northern town of Eschede in the country's deadliest train crash.

Rudolf Schwarz, a spokesman for IABG, which oversees the track, said the accident was the result of human error.

The was manufactured by Transrapid International, a joint company of Siemens AG and ThyssenKrupp AG. The track is operated by Munich-based IABG mostly as an exhibition aimed at showing off Germany's advanced maglev technology, which has been led by ThyssenKrupp AG and Siemens AG.

Tourists can sometimes ride the train for fun, but otherwise it is primarily used for selling Germany's maglev technology.

Kevin Coates, a technology consultant in Maryland and former spokesman for Transrapid, said there has never been a maglev crash.

Magnetic-levitation trains use powerful magnets to float the trains just above the tracks, allowing them to glide along without friction. Trains can reach 270 mph on the 20-mile test track.

The technology has been around for years but so far has not caught on as conventional train networks have expanded steadily. Concerns include the amount of electricity the trains use at high speed and the precision with which the tracks must be built.

The technology's image was not helped by a fire that broke out in an electrical storage compartment aboard Shanghai's magnetic-levitation train as it was headed toward the city's international airport Aug. 11, generating large amounts of smoke but causing no injuries.

The Shanghai system is the world's only commercially operating maglev train. Officials are studying the possibility of a line between Munich and its airport.

Japan has been experimenting for years with a high-speed maglev line that has clocked a world-record top speed of 361 mph. However, there is no target date for commercial use of the technology.