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China, Germany Inaugurate Levitation Train - 2002-12-31

China and Germany have inaugurated the world's first commercial magnetic levitation train Tuesday in Shanghai. Success in the 30-kilometer project could lead to mag-lev lines linking China's most important cities.

At inaugural ceremonies, China's Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder smiled as they rode on Shanghai's new German-engineered mag-lev train.

Mr. Zhu joked that he didn't buy insurance before getting on the new train, but he was quite serious about the future of this new transport system. The prime minister says he has complete confidence that the mag-lev technology will have a broad future in China.

The system links Shanghai's new downtown business district with the city's new airport, cutting travel time from 45 minutes to just seven.

"Mag-lev" uses powerful electromagnets to float the train above the ground and push it forward. Freed of the friction and bumps of normal rails, the mag-lev train is capable of much higher speeds - more than 400 kilometers per hour - than conventional rail systems.

China's Minister of Railways Fu Zhihuan says mag-lev technology might be applied in a $12 billion high-speed rail project linking Beijing and Shanghai, or in a bid to link Hong Kong with bustling cities in southern China. Mr. Fu says the lessons learned from the Shanghai project will play a role in deciding what technology will be used in future rail projects.

French and Japanese companies have been operating high speed railways of a more conventional design for many years and are reported to be interested in China's huge transportation projects.

Germany is China's largest European trading partner and winning such a major project would help the nation's sputtering economy and boost its reputation for turning out innovative products.