Shanghai, China: the site of the world’s fastest maglev train. As you leave the Shanghai Pudong International Airport, you are presented with a few options to get to Shanghai city centre.
Firstly, you could hire a taxi, allowing you to get to the Longyang Road Station in about 40 minutes. Alternatively, you could drive there yourself. This would take approximately 30 minutes.
Finally, you could make your way to the Shanghai Pudong Airport Train Station; the start of the fastest maglev train in the world. As you start your journey, you will accelerate to speeds of up to 267mph, making the 29km journey just 8 minutes.
The Shanghai Maglev trains make other trains look embarrassingly bad, prompting me to wonder how the Chinese managed to create such an incredible train. How does the Maglev work and could the upcoming 1000 KM/H maglev take.
Funding in China
It’s no secret that the Chinese government is pouring enormous amounts of funding into their transportation projects. A couple of years ago, China announced that it would be spending $2 trillion on improving roads and railways by 2020. That’s $1 trillion more than the largest economy in the world, the United States.
China is currently on a stage of rapid economic growth, prompt in the country to build enormous amounts of infrastructure. In the past decade, China has built an astronomical 10,000 km of high-speed railway lines. To put that into perspective, that’s more than Europe’s entire fleet. Incredibly, it’s not just railways, China is one of the fastest constructors of highways in the world.
Part of this comes down to China is massive transportation budget, something which dwarfs even the largest economies budgets. Where many established countries like the UK and the US are scaling back their transportation budgets, China is simply increasing their budget.
Another reason for this is technological dominance. China wants to become a dominant player in almost every industry which is important to it. Yes, that explains the recent military spending. However, it also applies to the transportation spending. If they can have the fastest maglev trains in the world, that’s a pretty good show of technological force against other countries like the USA.
By far the most dominant reason as to why China can build so much high speed rail is due to the low costs of construction. So far, China’s high-speed rail costs have been anywhere between $17m and $21m per kilometre. Contrast, in mainland Europe, that figure is more like $25m-$39m per kilometre. California is the only US state to have a high-speed rail network in the works. The estimated cost per kilometre that network is around $50 million.
How Can China Build Rail so Cheaply?
In Europe and the United States, a large portion of the cost of construction comes from land. When the government wants to build a rail network on land, they usually need to pay out to fees. Firstly, they must pay to buy the land. In high demand areas like cities, this can be incredibly high.
Secondly, they must provide compensation to those who are disturbed by the railway. For example, if the railway line runs within a certain distance of someone’s house, they must pay them compensation for the decrease in the value of the house due to the noise. In California, land and compensation costs add up to around $10 million per kilometer. That’s almost 20% of the total project cost. By contrast, China has
The other advantage China is it size. This means it has access to huge deposits of raw materials. For instance, China has one of the worlds largest steel industries. These materials can be used in the production of the railways in order to drive down costs. Other countries would have to import the materials at a fee in order to build the tracks at a higher cost.
China also has very low energy costs for certain material industries. This drive down the cost of production even further.
In order to lay 10,000 km of track in under a decade, China needed a whole lot of workers. Fortunately, China is home to over 1.4 billion people, many of which are looking for a higher paid job.
Generally, labor is cheap in China, even when working for the Chinese government. If the government can hire lots of people for a very low cost, the trains will be constructed quickly and very cheaply.
How do Maglev Trains Work?
In an article I made about electric trains, I discussed diesel-electric trains. However, Maglev trains work in a completely different way to conventional trains. In fact, they don’t even have an engine.
Rather than using fossil fuels to drive the wheels, Maglev trains use differing magnetic fields in the guideway walls (magnetized coil running along the track) and the tracks to propel the train forwards. This work is based on the principle of magnetic poles attracting and repelling. If you’ve ever used magnets before, you would’ve come across this effect. Like poles repel and opposite poles attract.
In order to make magnets stronger, we turn them into electromagnets. This involves wrapping a coil of wire around the magnet and passing electric current through it. The larger the electric current, the greater the magnetic strength.
The concept of a maglev train is not much more complicated than that. Magnets on the guideway walls repel the magnets on the trains undercarriage. Just buy them self, this allows the train to levitate up to 10 cm. After the trainers levitated, power can be supplied to the coils in the guide way, resulting in the train moving.
In order to keep the train accelerating, alternating current is applied to the magnets. This constantly reverses the polarity of the magnetic coils, pulling the train forward along the track.
What makes Maglev Trains so Fast?
Evidently, maglev train are using some pretty high-tech equipment. However, what allows them to reach speeds of over 300 mph? Conventional trains run on tracks. They have metal wheels which lock into the track and keep the train going in the right direction. However, wheels create lots of friction and limit the speed that the train can travel.
Since Maglev trains levitate, they do not run on tracks. This completely eliminates the friction of rolling. Instead, maglev trains run on a cushion of air, meaning they have very little friction and only suffer from air resistance.
Since maglev trains don’t touch the ground after their takeoff speed of around 90mph, the ride is much smoother than that of a conventional train on rickety rails. However, the takeoff speed varies between different countries.
The more power applied to the electromagnets, the faster the train will go. At the moment, Maglev trains can travel at up to 310 mph. In the future, maglev engineers are confident that we will see trains up to 1000 km/h. That would make intercity travel feasible without taking a plane ride.
Could Maglev take on Hyperloop?
Yes, there’s certainly potential. Maglev trains have seen international investment from governments in China and Germany. By contrast, Hyperloop has just a few miles of track laid.
Both hyperloop and make love trains have the capability to go very fast, both up to 1000 km/h. That being said, Maglev trains seem as though they need a lot of progressions before they can get to that stage whereas the hyperloop seems like it would be almost there if there were enough research and development put into it.
Another advantage of the hyper loop is that it takes up less ground space. Although that is a cost benefit, Maglev trains are capable of carrying more people per carriage. This is proven from years of operational history.
If Hyperloop manages to gain momentum, it could transform many forms of transportation industries around the globe.
Do you think Maglev or Hyperloop systems are the future of transportation?