A magnetic levitation – or maglev – bullet train prototype which could carry passengers across China almost as fast as a commercial aircraft was unveiled this month.
Researchers from China’s Southwestern Jiaotong University unveiled the prototype on a 165m custom-built section of rail in China’s Chengdu region in early January.
The maglev train, designed to shorten the travel time between major cities, is capable of reaching 620km/ph. With some optimisation the maglev could go as fast as 800km/ph – comparable to the speed of a Cessna Citation X Aircraft, the scientists say.
China is already home to the fastest maglev train – the Shanghai Transrapid, which went into operation in 2002. It reaches nearly 430km/h at top speed and can carry more than 550 passengers.
Maglev trains use sets of magnets attached to the line and the carriage to create horizontal propulsion. The principle is easily replicated at home by trying to force together same-pole magnets.
The lack of friction created between the two surfaces, which are separated by the width of a thumb, means maglev trains essentially levitate and are far quieter and faster than traditional rail systems.
Japan is set to claim the record for fastest maglev in 2027 when its Tokyo-Nagoya line goes into operation. The high-speed maglev is reported to reach speeds above 500km/h.
Southwest Jiaotong University says its maglev technology is more economical than Japan’s as the train could achieve high speeds using liquid nitrogen instead of liquid helium to create the extremely low temperatures required for the superconductivity needed to get the carriages moving at nearly Mach 1.
Liquid helium is too expensive to be viable while liquid nitrogen is capable of facilitating superconductivity at higher temperatures, Deng Zigang of Southwestern Jiaotong University and researcher at State Key Laboratory of Traction Power, told Sichuan Online.
Deng said, “higher temperature superconducting maglev” could be one-fifteenth of the price of standard helium-based systems.
Wu Zili, a senior engineer close to the project, said it would cost roughly $38.85 million – 25% more expensive than traditional rail lines – but the prices would inevitably come down if maglev trains were put into mass production.
Researchers will address the prototype’s aerodynamics and noise over the next six years and plan to construct a longer experimental track to conduct more real-world testing.