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Climate groups ridicule Berlin's proposal for driverless magnetic trains.
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Climate groups ridicule Berlin’s proposal for driverless magnetic trains.

The local government in Berlin is working on a project to create a driverless magnetic train that will transport passengers and goods, in efforts to improve the city’s environmental efforts.

The proposal, presented by the recently elected conservative government of the city, reportedly has strong political support and would aid Berlin in reaching its target of becoming carbon neutral by 2045.

According to Dirk Stettner, the leader of the Christian Democrats (CDU) parliamentary group, a 5-7km section of maglev railway could be operational within two years, at a projected cost of €80m-€85m (£70m-£74m). Stettner believes that a magnetic train would offer numerous benefits over the current underground and overground networks.

During a period when the BVG, the transport company in Berlin, is facing a shortage of drivers resulting in a 7% reduction in its schedule, Stettner noted that the train’s self-driving feature, cost-effectiveness, and simpler construction compared to an underground line were additional benefits.

However, the proposals have faced criticism from environmental activists who dispute the CDU’s assertion that the trains are innovative. They argue that the trains are costly, inefficient in terms of energy consumption, and serve only to boost the CDU’s image.

The goal of the project is to revive the M-Bahn, also known as the “maglev train”, that was operational in the 1980s. It will connect Kreuzberg and Tiergarten, located in the western part of the city. A trial section was operational by 1984 and was regularly used.

Illustration of a maglev train station.

In 1991, it was taken apart following the collapse of the Berlin Wall. This was done in order to repair the U2 subway line, which had been blocked by the infamous cold war barrier that divided the city.

During a recent presentation of his proposals, which included polished architectural drawings, Stettner mentioned various concepts for effectively implementing a new M-Bahn system in a city that still bears the marks of its past division.

The speaker expressed the desire to select an efficient test route that is logistically sound and remains integrated within the larger network, rather than being perceived as temporary.

Ute Bonde, the leader of the VBB transportation system connecting the nearby states of Berlin and Brandenburg, expressed her approval for the proposal. She acknowledged that Berlin relies heavily on cars and emphasized the importance of implementing creative solutions to encourage people to use trains instead.

She stated to RBB24 radio station that this could potentially be a valuable addition to the current rail system within the city. It operates quietly, is more affordable, and has the option to be built as an elevated or ground-level train. Additionally, it has the potential to run on solar energy.

Illustration of a magnetic levitated railway station.

However, there are concerns among environmentalists about the validity of the claim that building the M-Bahn would improve climate protection. Instead, they suggest expanding the already established infrastructure of aboveground and underground trains, trams, and buses.

According to Tilmann Heuser, a member of the Association for Environmental and Nature Protection, this proposal is a “ridiculous gesture” that undermines the efforts of those dedicated to making rapid progress in addressing climate change. He also stated that it should not be our intention to fund nonsensical projects such as this.

Heuser urged for a more deliberate and strategic approach to utilizing climate funds. He emphasized that the climate crisis is too serious to be treated lightly or used as a mere excuse for entertainment. He also emphasized that impractical projects, such as those involving concrete, will not effectively contribute to achieving climate protection goals.

Numerous innovators have contributed to the invention and advancement of magnetic levitation railways, starting with Émile Bachelet, a French-American inventor who first demonstrated an electromagnetic levitation and propulsion train in 1912. English inventor Eric Laithwaite also played a significant role, as his maglev design was the first to be used commercially in Birmingham in the 1980s. However, it eventually shut down due to problems with reliability.

In the present day, German innovators are often credited with the development of contemporary monorail systems. However, these systems are actually more prevalent in other parts of the world, such as China and Japan, rather than in Europe.

During the 1990s, there were proposals to construct a magnetic rail connecting Berlin and Hamburg that would reduce travel time to under an hour. However, the project faced opposition from various groups, such as environmentalists, and was ultimately scrapped in 2000 due to financial issues.

Proposed station design.

The recently proposed M-Bahn initiative may face a similar issue of insufficient funds before it has a chance to get off the ground. This is due to uncertainty surrounding the federal government’s large-scale climate funds, which the Berlin government had planned to utilize for the project.

Germany’s top court recently rejected the government’s proposal to use remaining Covid relief funds for addressing the climate crisis, causing uncertainty in decision-making.

The Berlin newspaper, Taz, deemed it audacious that the project would be funded from climate funds.

2 emissions.”

If the funds withstand the outcome of the court’s decision, they should be allocated towards funding effective methods for decreasing CO2 emissions.2

The publication stated in an editorial that efforts to reduce emissions and prepare for climate change should not be treated as optional luxuries, but rather as necessary actions.

The M-Bahn symbolized the CDU’s disregard for climate protection advocates, according to the statement.

Source: theguardian.com