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NYTimes.com Article: All Aboard! But Don't Relax. Your Trip Is Already Over.

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  • rickrise@earthlink.net
    The article below from NYTimes.com has been sent to you by rickrise@earthlink.net. /--------- E-mail Sponsored by Fox Searchlight ------------ THE CLEARING -
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 22, 2004
      The article below from NYTimes.com
      has been sent to you by rickrise@....

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      All Aboard! But Don't Relax. Your Trip Is Already Over.

      April 22, 2004

      SHANGHAI, April 16 - There was something almost prosaic
      about the way the sleek white train pulled out of the city
      terminal: no whoosh, jolt or roar as it progressed gently
      through a long, lazy curve, passing the station's flowered
      gardens, farmers' plots and then a jumble of factories.

      The effect changed quickly, however, as the train seemed
      almost magically to gather speed. This fact is evidenced
      not by any sense of barreling down the tracks, for there is
      none, but by the display in every car, its red digits
      blinking nervously past one century mark after another -
      100 kilometers per hour, 200, 300 and so on.

      A gaggle of international passengers speaking English,
      Italian, Chinese and Japanese was awestruck. "It's so
      quiet," said one. "It's so clean," said another. "The
      engineering is amazing," said one man in a German accent -
      somewhat immodestly, because the technology for Shanghai's
      new magnetic levitation train, the world's first in
      commercial service, comes from his country.

      Their digital cameras were flashing furiously now, and
      passengers began calling friends on their cellphones, eager
      to share the thrill. With a glance out of the big bay
      windows came an impression of art to accompany the
      technological awe. Mondrian and Dali came to mind as the
      farmers' plots were reduced to streaking geometrical
      abstractions, and time seemed to bend, with the thick
      traffic on the parallel highway down below zooming in

      For a brief instant, the car's friendly display read 432
      kilometers per hour (268 m.p.h.), the train's peak speed,
      and just then a passenger cried out: "Slow down, this is
      way too fast. Whoa, where are the brakes?"
      Faster-than-a-bullet-train technology is a marvel to be
      sure, the man's cry seemed to say, but in an eight-minute
      train ride to the airport there is no time to read, or
      scarcely even time to think.

      And this could be one reason the Shanghai maglev has yet to
      catch on since the eight-minute service was begun in
      January. On an average day there are reportedly only 4,000
      riders, less than one-sixth of capacity.

      Surely there are other causes, from the nearly $10 a
      one-way ticket cost originally - reduced to $6 this week in
      an effort to lift ridership - to the five-minute hike from
      the terminus to the airport, to the train's once
      abbreviated, somewhat irregular schedule in the early
      months after it began operation.

      Then there is the lack of prominent signs inside the
      airport, which looks like a futuristic Steven Spielberg
      set. "I wanted to take the new train, but I couldn't find
      it," said one befuddled Shanghai resident as he jumped into
      a taxi for the heavily trafficked 20-mile ride to the city.
      "I was looking all over for it. How does one ride it?"

      Yet in a city with a knack for accumulating superlatives,
      from China's biggest, wealthiest population to the
      country's tallest building and the world's highest hotel
      lobby (54th floor) - and now its fastest commuter train -
      might the lack of interest also be due to a feeling of
      exhaustion with breakneck change; or at least a desire to
      pause to catch one's breath?

      "It may take me longer, but the taxi is more convenient,"
      said Jin Ri, a smart-suited businessman who puffed on a
      cigarette anxiously as he waited in an airport taxi line.
      In fact, almost everyone in the line was either smoking a
      cigarette or talking on a mobile phone, or both.

      "Sometimes I feel like a two-week vacation is too much,"
      Mr. Jin, a 28 year old corporate manager said, nodding
      vigorously when asked if life in Shanghai was already
      hectic enough. "I like a fast rhythm, but it is still a lot
      more comfortable to sit in a cab that will take me all the
      way to my door."

      One taxi fare after another reprised the thought. "I don't
      want to change cars again, even if it's faster," said Jing
      Minzhang. "Once you get to the train station, I'd have to
      get into a taxi there, and I don't want to do that."

      The mere idea of taking a train can conjure notions of
      relaxation, dreams, rumination or renewal. The great blues
      musician Muddy Waters captured the feeling with a lyric
      about being so tired and lonely he "took a freight train to
      be my friend."

      But built for speed far more than comfort, Shanghai's
      maglev leaves little time for daydreaming. The train,
      suspended above the track and propelled forward by the
      repulsive and attractive forces of magnetism, travels much
      faster than an ordinary train because of the lack of
      friction. Its seats are thickly cushioned. Their backs have
      little indentations, where a little table might fold out.
      But the tables are lacking, as if to say, "Who has the time
      for refreshments on an eight minute ride?"

      A few minutes into the high-velocity excursion, a voice
      came over the loudspeaker to announce that the next stop
      will be Long Yang Road Station, an oddly superfluous
      declaration for a train that makes no other stops. At the
      city terminus, the light load of passengers filed out of
      the station, past a forlorn vendor of bottled sodas and
      Maglev postcards.

      If only it could find more passengers like Zhou Hao,
      however, the maglev service would be assured of a brilliant
      future. And surely in a business-crazed population of 1.3
      billion Chinese, about 14 million of whom live in Shanghai,
      there must be hope.

      On this day, however, the 26-year-old businessman, who flew
      to Shanghai just to make a bank deposit in person on a
      Saturday before the close of business, stood all alone on
      the maglev platform. Rail-thin and dressed in a black suit,
      he shifted nervously from one foot to the other, as if he
      could not bear the wait for the train. "I can save about 30
      minutes and the cost is about the same as the taxi," he
      said, explaining his choice of the train.

      But isn't life hectic enough without so much rushing? "I'm
      very young," he answered. "I'm in a hurry to make money."



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