China is one of the movers and shakers in high-tech innovation, and it likes to boast about its railways in particular. After building and making operational the highest line to Tibet, where engineers had to deal with the complexity of building in permafrost, it began to compete in high-speed trains. The latest maglev again broke the record during trials.
By car from Shanghai to Beijing, the navigation shows a journey time of about 12.5 hours, and by plane, it’s an hour and a half pure flight, and a train reaching speeds of 600km per hour can make the journey in 2.5 hours, twice as fast as a traditional express train on the same route. Chinese maglevs, unlike the others, are already operating commercially. In particular, since 2002, there has been a regular line between Shanghai and Pudong International Airport.
How it works
The train moves on a cushion of the magnetic field created by a set of superconducting magnets embedded in both the track and the train’s chassis. The train has no wheels and hovers a few centimetres (5 to 10 inches) above the concrete track that replaces the rails.
The English abbreviation maglev (magnetic levitation) was used in the 1960s by physicist Howard Coffey, holder of several patents for propulsion and stabilization systems based on superconducting magnets. Since the 1970s, this transport system has been tested in Germany under the name Transrapid on several test lines, e.g., in Lower Saxony. Between 1984 and 1991, a test magnetic urban railway in Berlin, the so-called M-Mahn Transrapid Versuchsanlage, was in operation. Since the 1970s, the Japanese have also been testing magnetic levitation. Since 1996, JR-Maglev has been running on a test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, and the Japanese expect to commercialise it in 2027.