Opened in 1984, the Birmingham Maglev came at the very tail end of a trente glorieuses for British transport technology and, more broadly, European engineering; an era that promised so much yet eventually bequeathed so many relics and ruins.
The modernism of the 20th century, expressed especially in architecture and engineering, seemed like nothing less than the founding of a new order. Progress was to be continual, unstoppable and good. Yet today the physical and philosophical advances are being gradually taken apart and retracted, as if we'd woken up sweating and feared we'd somehow overreached ourselves.
When the Birmingham Maglev was shuttered in 1995, one of the cars was dumped in a hedge near the A45. Furniture maker and transport enthusiast Andy Jones splashed out a mere £100 for it on eBay in 2011 (although, he says, "it cost me £400 to get it out of the hedge!"). Now it sits in a field behind Jones's house in Burton Green, a couple of miles east of the airport in the rolling Warwickshire countryside.
Bob Gwynne, associate curator of collections and research at the National Rail Museum in York, says: "British Rail's Derby Research Centre, founded in 1964, was arguably the world's leading rail research facility when it was in full operation. An understanding of the wheel and rail interface comes from there, as does the first tilting train, a new railbus, high-speed freight wagons, computer-controlled interlocking of track and signal, the first successful maglev and many other things." Gwynne has got the second of the three Birmingham Maglev cars at the museum.
But the British maglev never really took off. Tim Dunn, transport historian and co-presenter of the BBC's Trainspotting Live, explains why. "The early 80s was still a time of great British national-funded engineering," he says. "Success at Birmingham Airport would have been a great advert for British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) to sell maglev internationally. (Remember that BREL was always trying to sell its technology overseas, which is why several Pacer trains, developed on bus bodies, were sold to Iran.) Birmingham's Maglev only lasted 11 years: replacement parts were getting hard to obtain for what was really a unique system. Buses took over, and eventually a cable-hauled SkyRail people-mover was installed atop the piers. That's not as exciting for people like me, who like the idea of being whisked in a hovertrain pushed along by magnets. But then our real transport future always has been a pretty crap approximation of our dreams."
Back in Burton Green, Andy Jones's maglev car lies in limbo. "I'd like to build a platform around it," he says, "turn it into a playhouse for the grandchildren perhaps? A couple of people want to take it away and turn it into a cafe." Perversely perhaps, its fate may be decided by another type of transport technology: more conventional high speed rail. The route for the much-disputed High Speed 2 line from London to Birmingham slices right through the field where the maglev car sits.
In the 2000s the UK Ultraspeed proposal was floated to link London, Birmingham, the North and Scotland by maglev. It never materialised. HS2 was the eventual successor to the Ultraspeed plan, though a less futuristic one. Jones has another idea for his forward moving relic: "Maybe I'll turn it into viewing platform, so you could watch HS2's outdated technology."
Source: https://thelongandshort.org/machines/wh ... ish-maglev