It was reported this weekend that the much ballyhooed 25-minutes-from-Shanghai-to-Hangzhou maglev train, which was supposed to be fully operational around 2010, has been delayed. Indefinitely. Which makes us ask, how much longer are we going to have to wait to be ushered into the sci-fi utopia of the 21st century that we spent most of the 20th century dreaming about?
Speculation abounds as to what happened. China Herald that the purported concerns of people affected by the radiation and noise is bullshit and that the real reason has to do with the exorbitant cost of the project. And just how much does it cost? A Chinese report suggested that experts believe the total cost of construction will top the estimated 35 billion RMB price tag and be somewhere along the lines of 40 billion RMB. People whose lives would be disrupted — especially those whose homes would lay along the path of the Maglev — have protested about radiation and noise. It has been suggested that these complaints are part of the reason why the Maglev has been stopped, with petitioners in Shanghai sometimes topping 5000 in a day.
But how much petitioners can influence a project like this is unclear. The LA Times has an excellent article about petitioners (上访人士) in general — and the kinds of people, called “retrievers,” whose sole duty is to keep the troublemakers below. In Shanghai, people went so far as to set up a website/blog/BBS against the Maglev (it was called 拒绝磁浮 or ‘Say No to the Maglev’), and while the site is still technically there — the domain name that is — the site has been emptied of content.
Going back to the money issue, it seems that it wasn’t just a matter of it being a boondoggle — that much seems indisputable — but a matter of whose boondoggle it would be. The part of the track that goes from Pudong Airport through parts of Shanghai, including Hongqiao Airport, it would be logical to surmise, would be paid for out of Shanghai’s coffers. However, that didn’t seem to be the case, much to the displeasure of some people in Zhejiang province, so in addition to all the other factors, internal government dissension seems to have also played a role in the halting of the Maglev expansion.
Photo from Ol.v!er [H2vPk]’s Flickr page