Beijing’s First Maglev Train, A New Cityscape
The S1 Line, which was put into operation on the last day of 2017, connects Mentougou District with Beijing’s urban area and bears special significance for residents in western Beijing.
Amid a cool breeze, an S1 maglev train enters the station. Stepping aboard and taking a seat, one will embark on an amazing journey. The 10-kilometre (km)-journey takes only 16 minutes, enabling passengers to enjoy fast- changing scenery at a quick pace.
On December 30, 2017, the S1 Line was put into operation. Ten mediumlow speed maglev trains, produced by CRRC Tangshan Company Limited, began operation along the seven stations from Shichang to Jin’anqiao, at a cost of 4 yuan per person per ride. As the first maglev line in Beijing, the S1 Line has appealed greatly to residents of the capital city as a new landmark of its subway. In the future, the S1 Line will connect with Line 1 and Line 6 when the Pingguoyuan and Jin’anqiao transfer stations are ready. Now that the S1 Line, Yanfang Line and Tram Xijiao Line have come online, 22 urban transit lines are available in Beijing, with a total length of 608 km. The S1 Line, which connects Mentougou District and Beijing’s urban area, bears special significance for residents in western Beijing.
Scenery along the Way
A passenger mentions: “It was the site of the former Shougang Group and is now the office of the Beijing Organising Committee for the 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games.” People raise their phones to take pictures. The S1 Line passes through Yongding River, Xishan National Forest Park and other scenic areas and the Shougang Group Industrial Zone.
Jin’anqiao is the temporary departure station of S1 Line when heading west until the Pingguoyuan Traffic Hub is completed. As the train leaves the station, passengers can see the Shougang Group’s Industrial Heritage Park. The towering furnaces, connected steel bridges and lakes in the area evoke memories of the past. The Xishitongcang area in the park now serves as the office area for the Organising Committee for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games. The huge park looks like a “steel castle,” yet reflects the “Green Olympics” and “Technology- geared Olympics” concepts in its details. Six large office buildings converted from silos stand side by side, with the exterior walls retaining concrete- dominated industrial style and construction waste being recycled into new materials. Xishi Winter Olympics Square and parking lot are nearby, demonstrating the successful transformation of industrial buildings into green, public structures. The National Speed Skating Oval is under construction in the distance.
Passengers may marvel at these wonders. The train continues westward and passes through a tunnel. As legend has it, Tang Monk and his disciples dried freshly written Buddhist scriptures in the sun on Shijing Mountain above the tunnel according to Journey to the West (one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, published in the 16th century during the Ming Dynasty). Both the ecological and cultural environment were taken into consideration when the S1 Line was constructed. The project team used special techniques to minimise damage to the environment when they made the tunnel, in order to protect the mountain and the ancient buildings on it.
In the blink of an eye, the train passes through the tunnel with no noise at all. As light once again takes the place of darkness, one will catch sight of the shimmering Yongding River below the overpass, as well as an expansive wetland park. Southward, Yongding Tower stands alone at the Beijing Garden Expo Park. The West 6th Ring Road and west extension line of Chang’an Street then come into view, along with the partially constructed Yongdinghe Bridge.
The S1 Line passes through several neighbourhoods but makes little noise pollution for the local residents. As the train approaches Shang’an Station, it has to turn a corner with a curve radius of 238 metres (m), leaving an impression that it is making a 180-degree turn. Such a manoeuvre is beyond the reach of a regular train. Passengers are often impressed by the superb technology
that has been implemented.
After turning the corner, the train gallops southward, passing by the modern Zhongguancun Mentougou Science Park buildings. The ability to turn sharp corners and climb relatively steep gradients are two key features of the S1 Line. Before arriving at Xiaoyuan Station, the train has to turn another corner with a radius of 244 m and slants markedly. Between Shichang Station and Xiaoyuan Station, the train has to climb a rampway with the largest gradient of the line, a ratio of 53 per thousand. Passengers can feel the evident rise and fall, slant and acceleration of the train. Looking out of the window, one can see the steep slope and feel that the train is swerving. A large gold Buddha, standing on the mist-shrouded Qianling Mountain, appears in one’s view near the train’s terminus at Shichang Station.
The S1 Line has driven the construction of the “Yongding River Green and Eco-development Zone.” The once “remote western Beijing” is becoming more modern and dynamic in the eyes of residents. Platforms along the line also reflect the flavour of the surrounding environment.
For example, the “red leaf-shaped” Jin’anqiao Station hall echoes with Xishan National Forest Park, and the “lotus-shaped” Shichang Station hall mirrors the Buddhist culture of the Tanzhe Temple.
As the train approaches its terminus, many passengers are still thinking about the scenery they have enjoyed. The train then switches to the other track, within five minutes and begins its return.
“As a fine example of maglev trains, the S1 Line demonstrates the superb capabilities of being able to turn sharp corners and climb relatively steep gradients over traffic.” Party Branch Secretary of S1 Line Station Area Li Mingguang explained that S1 Line trains are suspended above the tracks. They run smoothly while regular trains vibrate and shake. The S1 Line has to tackle many sharp turns, which are impossible for regular trains. They require a minimum turning radius of 200 m. Maglev trains require a minimum turning radius of just 50 m. Regular trains can only climb slopes with a maximum ratio of 35 per thousand, while maglev trains can handle double this ratio at 70 per thousand.
Connecting the East and the West
As the first medium-low speed maglev line in Beijing, the S1 Line is also the second of its kind in China. The first is the Changsha Maglev Express. S1 is managed and operated by the second branch of Beijing Subway Operation Company Limited and is part of the “Beijing Subway.” Phase I has a total
length of 10.236 km, including 9.953 km of regular, elevated line and 0.283 km of tunnel. The inverse Z-shaped line starts at Mentougou District’s Shichang Station in the west and ends at Shijingshan District’s Pingguoyuan Station in the east and features eight stations.
A Beijing resident came a long way from Chaoyang District to experience the S1 Line and mentioned, “It is fast and smooth and more passengerfriendly than buses and regular subway lines.”
With a design speed of 100 km per hour, the actual operating speed of the S1 Line is around 80 km per hour. Each train has six carriages and a rated passenger capacity of 1,032 persons. It can run with less carriages during less busy periods. Passengers will be able to transfer to multiple subway lines also. Including boarding and alighting time, the total operation time of the train is less than 20 minutes, making it more convenient for residents of Mentougou, Shijingshan and other districts in the west to get to Central Beijing. Many residents of Mentougou are excited that the line passes by their neighborhoods. “Previously it took more than an hour to go to Central Beijing. The S1 Line saves both time and money,” a resident in the area mentioned.
Li Mingguang explained: “In the first three days of operation, the daily passenger flow reached 12,000 people. They were mostly residents who wanted to experience the new train. We now have a stable passenger flow of 2,000–3,000 people each day. The majority are commuters during the morning and evening rush hour periods. The S1 Line has greatly alleviated transport problems in southwestern Beijing. The region around Fengcun in Mentougou is populous. The people there have to travel around the Shuangyu Roundabout to get to Shijingshan, which contributes to congestion. When the new part of Pingguoyuan Station is completed, passengers can transfer from the S1 Line to Subway Line 1 and Line 6. The eastern and western parts of Beijing will finally be connected in a more passenger-friendly manner. Escalators for passengers to transfer to Line 6 have been installed within Jin’anqiao Station.”
Another maglev train came online in Shanghai 14 years ago. In 2003, Shanghai built the first high-speed maglev line with the assistance of German technologies. The train has a maximum speed of 400 km per hour. Fifteen years later, it is still the one and only commercial high-speed maglev line in operation globally.
The S1 Line is different from the high-speed line in Shanghai. Highspeed maglev trains are used on long, large trunk lines. High-speed railways are their counterparts. Mediumlow speed maglev trains are used in urban rail transit, scenic areas and for other short- distance transport. It corresponds with subways and light railway. China is the third country in the world to own medium-low speed maglev technologies. With a speed equal to that of a subway, medium-low speed maglev trains can find a niche in cities with a well-built subway network. They are superior to subway systems in that they have superior slope- climbing ability, can make tight turns, are not noisy and also have relatively low cost. Maglev trains can be most fully utilised in mountain cities like Chongqing. In Luoyang, Jinan and other cities where underground excavation is not advisable, mediumlow speed maglev trains running on elevated lines are far less noisy than light railway.
Comfort Brought by Maglev Technology
As an exemplary line, the S1 Line employs an advanced management model and technologies, which make travel more comfortable.
As many passengers have noticed, the S1 Line is operated by only one driver. Li explained that operation stability and the handling of problems have been enhanced. This is part of the call of the 13th FiveYear Plan (2016–2020), which includes increasing efficiency. Drivers should be very skilled and be able to handle emergencies calmly. Li stated: “Both the Station Department and the Traffic Department have employed professional maintenance people to
offer training and simulate various emergencies. Staff members can now handle malfunctions and ensure punctual departures.”
The S1 Line uses the Normal Medium-low Speed Maglev System and electromagnetic force to suspend the trains by 8–10 millimetres. The train glides on air over the track, and there is no wheel-track friction. During operation, the lower part of the train is attached to the track as well, making it impossible for the train to derail or overturn. The train can also land on the track safe and sound in case of emergencies, in addition to its regular, magnetic and mechanical braking systems.
Maglev trains can operate in a variety of conditions including rain, snow, wind, sandstorms and so on. Experiments have been done to demonstrate their abilities. Oneyuan coins stand still even during acceleration and water in mineral water bottles produces only very slight waves. These kinds of results showcase the smooth transport that these trains provide.
The S1 trains look very futuristic with their white bodies, black window frames and red chassis underneath. Two huge, curved glass windows have a strong aesthetic feel at the front of the conductor’s cabin. The interior design is also different from that of regular trains. The dominant colours are warm and bright, along with grey walls, wood veneer cabinets, stainless steel handrails, large windows and blue seats.
Decibel meters have recorded just 63 decibels of noise being emitted from running maglev trains, which is equivalent to talking at a normal volume. Professional tests have recorded just 65 decibels of noise from 10 m away. As the train is suspended, the track and electromagnet form a closed circuit as well, preventing the leakage of the electromagnetic field. The Institute of Electrical Engineering (IEE) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau and other agencies have conducted multiple, strict tests. Results have shown that its electromagnetic radiation is far lower than the international standard released by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) recommended by the World Health Organization.
There are currently two main methods of magnetic suspension. One is electromagnetic suspension. The other is superconducting electric repulsion using superconductor diamagnetism. The S1 Line uses the former.
On top of these tangible advantages, the S1 Line also has other “invisible” merits, such as low maintenance costs and energy conservation. The line is equipped with a regeneration system. When the train brakes, the generated power flows back into the grid for later use. Since a running maglev train is suspended, it suffers from far less wear and tear than rail trains do also, resulting in lower maintenance costs.
Brave New Frontiers
S1 Line passengers have been impressed by the quietness, smoothness and elegance of the train. A maglev train waits for a maintenance procedure in a garage near Sichang Station.
The garage includes a maintenance garage and overhaul garage. Regular trains are inspected with a 20,000-km standard, but maglev trains have to meet the requirements of 10,000 km. A maglev train has to undergo an annual overhaul also. According to Li Yangzijie, director of the Traffic Department of the S1 Line, it is natural for maglev trains to receive maintenance more often, as they are a new technology. As more experience is accumulated, the period will be extended.
An overhead, travelling crane is suspended high on the ceiling in the spacious garage, elevating train carriages. Regular trains have
three troubleshooting inspection galleries, but maglev trains have five. Three maintenance workers are working on a train and engage in various inspection and repair procedures. First, they ensure that the track has no electric current. They then lock the electricity box to prevent misoperation. Next, the upper skirtboard beneath the carriage is opened, exposing the main equipment. A small electric rod is used to check whether nuts, bolts and plugs are loose. A ladder helps when looking for debris in the gaps between the motor and electromagnet and to see if the bolts are tight enough. Maglev trains attract wire, sheet iron and other metal. Maintenance workers have to examine the gaps every day.
Li Yangzijie explained more information about the trains as follows: “Suspension sensors are very important to the maglev system. An S1 train has 120 suspension sensors, with each carriage having 20. Lasers are used to ensure a gap of 8–10 millimetres between the train and the track. If the sensors detect a problem, the current will be adjusted to fix it. The numerical calibration of the sensors has to be precise.” Li pointed to various parts of the carriage. “This is the bogie. The L-shaped parts are suspension sensors, above which are laser probes used to measure the gap. This is the electromagnet, which produces electromagnetic force to suspend a train. These are the brakes, which clamp the track with brake pads. This device supports the body. These are the wheels, which allow movement when the train is not suspended. This is the suspension control box, which is the ‘ brain’ that controls suspension. The suspension control box, suspension electromagnet and suspension sensors constitute the suspension system of a maglev train. The motor’s stator and rotor are below.”
Li then pointed to the fifth bogie of the first carriage. “This is a transformed steering mechanism. A two-way structure is used to resolve the problem of stress concentration when a train makes a sharp turn. The stress point was on that bogie originally. We solved this problem.”
The S1 trains were designed to be equipped with two carriages and testing was done with two as well, so the parameters were set for two carriages. In reality, however, the train has six carriages. Several days into operation, the staff heard abnormal sounds as the train made a turn. A series of examinations showed that an accessory used for turning broke down. After numerous tests, it was found that a specific accessory for turning bore 420 megapascals ( MPA) of stress when the train turned, far greater than its maximum capacity of 275 MPA. Experiments also showed that the wear and tear of that part had nothing to do with speed or the load of the train. Li speculated that the combination of turning radius and slope might have produced a concentration of stress on that part.
After identifying the problem, S1 Line staff commissioned a thirdparty agency to help. They installed many stress sheets to gather a great deal of data to locate the stress concentration point. The train ran to and fro and the point was finally determined. Turning structures have been installed at those points on the trains. Stress concentration is no longer a problem, and smooth turns are ensured.
“It’s natural for new things to bring about new challenges, which entails positive responses,” Li mentioned. Before the S1 Line was created, Beijing subway staff only had experience with regular rail trains and knew nothing about maglev trains. Li previously worked on the Fangshan Line and faced some difficulties learning the new information, as well as the relationship between the operator and the new manufacturer. “We keep learning from and adapting to the new manufacturer and keep accumulating experience and enhancing coordination.” After getting past the initial problems in earlier stages, the S1 Line has realised smooth operation regarding both speed and comfort. In the face of new technologies, new applications and new problems, we find our way forward and make constant progress.”
The S1 Line, the first medium-low speed maglev train in Beijiing
The inside of a station on the S1 Line
The S1 Line requires only one driver. Regular subway trains usually have two.
A technician works on a maglev train.