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Controversial Maglev Line Given Environmental Green Light

Controversy over the construction of the Shanghai-Hangzhou magnetic levitation train line looks likely to continue following the release of an environmental assessment report on Wednesday, which says the rail link will have minimal impact on the local environment.

The report, compiled by the Shanghai Academy of Environmental Sciences, focuses on the 31.8-km Shanghai section of the train line connecting Longyang Road with Hongqiao, home to the city's second international airport.

Xinhua reported in May last year that the project had been suspended due to fierce opposition from people living near the railway over radiation fears, particularly as the track would be separated from communities along the route by a greenbelt measuring only 22.5 meters wide.

Less than a week later, the Shanghai government denied the suspension and the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA) announced it would carry out an assessment.

The new report, published on the municipal government's Shanghai Environment Online website, says the greenbelt buffer zone will remain 22.5 meters wide even though a blueprint designed by the local government shows a protection belt 150 meters wide on either side. German specifications require a 300-meter leeway on both sides of the track.

However, the maximum speed along the Shanghai section of the route will be limited to 200 km per hour, less than half of the 450 km per hour planned for the remainder of the railway to Hangzhou.

The maglev line will not affect water and air quality, and noise pollution can be controlled, the report says.

"From an environmental protection perspective, the construction of the line is feasible," it concludes.

It also claims the project can be completed in time for the World Expo in Shanghai in 2010 despite Wang Qingyun, a transport official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), saying last May, "It's still hard to say whether the maglev will be built, but if it is it won't be possible to complete it before 2010."

The Shanghai authorities say the report is now open for citizens to comment on until January 15 before it is passed to SEPA and the NDRC.

The 35-billion-yuan (US$4.5 billion) Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev project, using German technology, is designed to cover the 175 kilometers between Shanghai and Hangzhou.

If completed, it will be the world's second commercial high-speed maglev track. Shanghai operates the world's only commercial maglev system on a 30-kilometer stretch between Shanghai's business district and Pudong airport.

(Xinhua News Agency January 4, 2008)

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