Soviet «Maglev»”, were there any chances?

One of the special pages in the history of Maglev is 1979. It was the year when two countries at once – West Germany and the USSR – launched experimental models of a passenger maglev.



In Germany they made a real advertisement from this – the maglev took visitors along a short route to the International Transport Exhibition IVA-79, which took place from June 8 to July 1, 1979 in Hamburg. The Transrapid 05 magnetic levitation train ran between the two exhibition areas.

The distance was short – 908 m, the maximum speed of a two-car train with 68 seats was only 75 km/h, but this was the first public demonstration of a working train using the principle of magnetic levitation. It was implemented by a consortium of several German industrial giants – Kraus-Maffei, Messeschmidt-Bölkow-Blohm and Thyssen-Henschel.

It was created in 1969, but the previous experimental Transrapid operated only on closed testing grounds and were used to test the technology. During the exhibition, Transrapid 05 carried about 55 thousand passengers. The track was then dismantled and assembled in an abbreviated form at the Thyssen-Henshel site in Kassel. In 2010, the train was restored and transferred to the technical museum of the city of Kassel.


In the USSR, this event was not so public – the first Soviet «Maglev» TP-01 drove only along the factory’s 36-meter track. In the 1970s, with the rapid population growth in the cities of the USSR, the need to expand the transport network increased.


The main solution to this problem, of course, was the development of railway transport and aviation, but extraordinary projects were also considered. One of these was the project of passenger lines, along which magnetoplanes of small capacity (compared to conventional electric trains) run at high speed.

Transport association «Soyuztransprogress» was created in 1975. «Transprogress» institute was organized within association’s framework. The engineers and scientists of this research institute began to develop a new vehicle. And so, in 1979, simultaneously with the German one, the first Soviet «Maglev» TP-01 drove through the factory test area.

The TP-01 train weighing 12 tons could accommodate 20 passengers. Soon, in a short time, new test «Maglevs» – TP-02 and 03 were created. They were tested on a 180-meter track (later the track was extended to 850 meters) in the town of Ramenskoye near Moscow, where “Transprogress” was located. «Maglev» TP-04 became a mobile laboratory.

Success, achieved by the designers in the first stages, started planning the construction of experimental lines, on which the maglevs would already carry passengers. The Kazakh and Armenian SSR could become the first republics in which the Soviet «Maglevs» should have started  operation. But in Almaty they decided to build a subway, and only one Yerevan project remained.

It was planned that the maglev would connect Yerevan with the city of Abovyan, which is located 16 km from the capital of Armenia. The city of Abovyan was supposed to become a kind of huge “sleeping area” of Yerevan, and the maglev seemed to be the ideal solution to the problem of transport accessibility. In 1986, the engineers of “Transprogress” create their last and most perfect prototype «Maglev» – TP-05.


For that time, TP-05 looked spectacular and futuristic, so in 1987 it was even filmed in the short film «Don’t joke with robots» for the TV program «This fantastic world». One of the highlights of the TP-05 design was the use of a chain of small magnets along the car. As it moved, the sensors measured the gap between the car and the railway track, and the system changed the current on specific magnets, increasing or decreasing their repulsion. This compensated the unevenness of the road and ensured a smooth ride.

«Maglev» had an aluminum case, weighed 18 tons and could carry 18 people. Theoretically, it could have been more, because the rest of the free area was occupied by additional test and measuring equipment. First, it was planned to test TP-05 at speeds up to 100 km/h. The Yerevan maglev was to become not only a test line, but also a kind of technological showcase. Even the choice of the city of Abovyan as the final point of the route was not accidental: high-tech industries were created in this small city, and most of the population was scientific workers.

In 1986, the construction of an experimental line with a length of 3.2 km began. Commissioning of the Soviet «Maglev» was scheduled for 1991. At first, it was thought that the cars would move at a speed of 250 km/h and carry up to 64 people. The maglev was supposed to fly 16 kilometers from Yerevan to Abovyan in about four minutes. But through the available power of the traction electrical substation, which was supposed to supply the line with electricity, the maximum design speed had to be reduced to 180 km / h.

Unfortunately, this project was never implemented. Two years after the start of the construction of the line, in 1988 the Spitak earthquake occurred. In thirty seconds the city of Spitak and dozens of villages were wiped off. Under the rubble, about 25000 people died within a few days, and many industrial enterprises lay in ruins. In addition, the USSR collapsed in 1991. What kind of «Maglev» could we talk about?

Finally, it is surprising in the history of the Soviet «Maglev» that the prototype TP-05 somehow managed to survive the 1990s. As of 2016, he still stood in the same workshop where he was collected under plastic wrap, powdered with dust. If desired, it could be repaired and transferred to the museum, as was done with its German counterpart.

Railway magazine “Railway Supply”


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