An accident involving the Transrapid -- a train using magnetic levitation technology to travel at speeds up to 450 kph (270 mph) -- in the northern German state of Lower Saxony has left several people dead on Friday. The train reportedly slammed into a maintenance wagon along its elevated test track while traveling 200 kilometers per hour.
"People have died. We don't know how many yet," said Dieter Sturm, a spokesman for the Emsland district government where the 32-kilometer track is located. At least 19 people have been reportedly killed. The passengers -- thought to be number around 29 -- were likely tourists allowed to ride during test operations.
Apparently the collision caused the Transrapid to jump off the rail. "The magnetic levitation train is hanging halfway off," police spokesman Helge Nestler told the Associated Press, adding that passengers were still inside. Rescue operations have been hampered by the elevated rail's height, which varies between five and seven meters.
The incident is another blow to the high-profile German transportation project, which has had difficulty becoming commercially viable. Currently, the maglev train only operates in China connecting Shanghai with its airport 30 kilometers away. A small fire broke out in the Transrapid there in August, but there were no injuries.
The consortium behind the Transrapid is made up of leading German firms Siemens and ThyssenKrupp. But they have had difficulty trying to realize the project in Germany and expansion in China is also in doubt -- indeed the Chinese themselves have built their own version of the train. A plan to build a maglev route between Munich and the city's airport is having difficulty finding funding.
German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee broke off a trip to China to get a firsthand look at the accident site, according to his spokesman Dirk Inger. Tiefensee received news of the crash while he was meeting the Chinese minister in charge of the country's railways.
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