The maglev could one day float its way across northern England, if Direct City Networks has anything to say about it. Earlier this month, the firm unveiled its £3.7bn plan to connect Manchester to Leeds with a train that levitates off the track using magnets. Travelling at speeds of up to 350 miles per hour, the 36-mile journey would take just 11 minutes. The eventual network could enable journeys from Liverpool to Hull in just 29 minutes.
It didn’t get a great reception. Transport for the North (TfN), the government body that looked at the firm’s scheme, told the Manchester Evening News that it highlighted areas in need of “substantive additional development work” before they could seriously consider it.
Tony Miles, a writer for Modern Railways, was even more scathing. Claiming that the acceleration and braking involved would “vaporise the people inside the train,” he told the BBC: “I think serious scientists would fall about laughing at it.”
It’s not a totally inconceivable idea. Birmingham actually played host to the first commercial maglev system back in 1984, and high-speed maglevs operate today in China, Japan and South Korea. All the same, seeing as TfN responded with the professional equivalent of a stifled laugh, this plan in particular probably isn’t great.
A concept image for the Maglev network. Image: Direct City Networks.
But what do Greater Manchester’s mayoral candidates think? The first ever election to the post is just weeks away, and one of the first choices the winner will need to make is whether to blow billions on a floating train. What will they do?
Independent candidate Marcus Farmer did not return requests for comment before publication. Neither did the Labour Party, although the MEN reports that Andy Burnham has looked at the scheme. But what of the others?
Sean Anstee is hot on the hyped-up rail ideas. His manifesto includes a commitment to commission a study into how new transportation methods could benefit the city. Anstee names the Hyperloop as one option he would explore: that’s the system designed by Elon Musk that could shoot pods through vacuum-sealed tubes at speeds of up to 700 miles per hour.
“This study will naturally include technologies such as the maglev trains solution,” said Anstee. Studying the maglev should be a bit more straightforward for his team: unlike the Hyperloop, the maglev actually exists in a ride-able form.
“This is the sort of proposal we should be exploring further,” said party candidate Jane Brophy. “Making sure it environmentally meets low carbon, low polluting goals. Technology is moving fast and greater Manchester needs to be leading, not following, if we’re to become the great works city we aspire to be.” So, thumbs up from Brophy.
The Green Party’s candidate is not a fan of the project. Will Patterson instead wants to focus on fusty old ideas like bringing electricity to trains and making sure rail companies stick to their promises on adding rolling stock.
“While we’re talking about maglev trains for intercity commutes, passengers on services across the region are still stuck on underfunded, overcrowded diesel trains that should have been decommissioned years ago,” he said.
Patterson went on to describe both High Speed 2 and maglev as “vanity projects”, as if sticking magnets onto trains to see what will happen isn’t a good use of the mayor’s time.
UK Independence Party
Shneur Odze had not heard of this magnetically levitating train plan beforehand. He did, however, confirm his wholehearted opposition to the “spending black hole” of HS2, “as it drags the jobs and growth to London, rather than away from it.”
Like the rest of his party, Odze is excited by Brexit and the opportunities it affords. He’s also positive about plans to connect Greater Manchester with the city centre.
“The real economic boost however will be when we can connect our great northern cities, so we can work collaboratively on global trade,” said Odze. No word on whether he’ll connect these cities with giant magnets.
If you want to vote for a party totally in favour of the maglev, look no further than the English Democrats. Candidate Stephen Morris has looked at maglev systems for a number of years, and has come to the conclusion that it is a viable idea for linking up Manchester and other northern cities.
In fact, not only would Morris support the maglev (with minimal cost to the taxpayer and involvement from private investors), but his party has planned out a high speed freight system to move goods to port towns and out to the continent through the Channel Tunnel. This is different to HS2, which he is against.
“My vision is that Greater Manchester will become a 21st [century] ‘Silicon Valley’ to push solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy,” Morris said, “and the maglev system would be part of that vision.”
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