Six hundred kilometers per hour – that’s how fast China’s super magnetic levitation trains of the future are expected to move.
At least that’s the speed engineers at the state-owned rolling stock manufacturer CRRC are aiming for with the super magnetic levitation trains. This means passengers aboard these bullet trains that float at a thumb’s width from the track will be whisked from Beijing to Shanghai – a distance of roughly 1,200 kilometers – in a little more than two hours.
That speed will be more than twice the take-off speed of a Boeing 737 jet, and currently a direct flight between the two cities takes 2.5 hours.
CRRC last week debuted its latest maglev prototype at its plant in Qingdao in northern Shandong province, which relied on powerful electromagnets to hold train cars up from the rail to eliminate noise, sway and friction while gliding at otherwise giddy speeds.
Like existing maglevs, the new prototype has no moving parts, and it travels along a guideway of magnets and can accelerate and decelerate much faster than conventional trains. The only practical limitation is the safety and comfort of the passengers aboard.
The 30-km Shanghai Maglev Line has been up and running since 2002 and has already been offering those traveling between downtown Shanghai and the city’s Pudong International Airport a ride into the future, with trains galloping along at 430km/h.
Beijing and Changsha also have maglev lines in service with their top speed capped at 100km/h.
While the Shanghai project was propelled by the transfer of core technologies from Siemens with the green light given by then German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, CRRC claims its next-generation maglev, which can comfortably outpace German models, have been entirely developed with indigenous talent.
The train maker cited the construction of a new train frame with ultra-lightweight, high-strength materials as well as complex physical problems arising from moving in suspension at high speeds as key challenges, according to Qingdao papers. Still, the company is moving toward the 2020 test run.
Experts say if maglev railways can be built along trunk routes like those linking Beijing and Shanghai and Beijing and Guangzhou, Chinese airlines may start to lose passengers, who may be enticed by the speed and novelty of maglevs and the convenience of not having to go through cumbersome airport check-ins and security checks.
Elsewhere, the L0 Series, a maglev prototype under the development of Central Japan Railway Company, has also reached speeds of a little more than 600km/h in test runs.
Nonetheless, some experts say the electromagnetic fields from maglevs are greater than those from live wires that power conventional high-speed trains, and the health impact on passengers aboard and residents near these lines was not fully known.
Recouping hefty investments in building new maglev lines as well as actual ridership and economies of scale are also unclear as China already has close to 30,000km of high-speed railways in service.