China's new magnetic levitation (maglev) train is designed to reach speeds of up to 600 km/h. Credit: Xinhua.

China continues to lead the way in high-tech transportation, as it moves ahead with testing of the domestically-developed prototype magnetic-levitation train in Shanghai, reported.

Designed with a top speed of 600 km per hour — nearly as fast as a commercial airliner — the testing prototype can check and optimize the key technologies and core system components of the high-speed maglev system, officials said.

It can also lay a technological basis for the forthcoming engineering prototype, according to CRRC Qingdao Sifang Co., the train maker based in eastern Shandong province.

During Sunday’s successful first trial-run on a maglev test line at Tongji University in Shanghai, more than 200 components, including working conditions of turnouts, small curves and ramps, were analyzed, the company said.

The prototype magnetic-levitation train was manufactured on the company’s production line in the city of Qingdao, in May, the report said.

Ding Sansan, head of the research and development team and deputy chief engineer at CRRC, said that preliminarily checks have found the vehicle stable. “All key technical indexes met the design requirements and expectations,” said Ding.

The company said the R&D of a five-car engineering prototype of the high-speed maglev is also progressing well. It is scheduled to roll off the production line in 2020.

That means China will master a whole package of the technology and engineering capability by that time. 

According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), Maglev technology uses strong electromagnets which lift and propel the train forward on a cushion of air.

Without the problem of friction between wheels and rails, maglev trains are able to hit greater speeds than conventional locomotives, and with less noise and vibration.

Also, its minimum turning radius is only half that of a subway, allowing it to better bypass buildings other barriers in route planning.

China already has the world’s fastest commercial maglev service. The Shanghai Maglev, with a top operational speed of 431 km/h, has been carrying passengers on a 30 km stretch between Shanghai’s Pudong airport and the city centre since 2003.

But China isn’t the only country experimenting with maglev technology, the WEF reported. Japan, a pioneer of high-speed rail, broke its own world record, hitting 603 km/h during a test run of an SC Maglev train.

The country is building a new maglev line between Tokyo and Nagoya, scheduled to open in 2027.

The service will run at a top speed of 500 km/h, covering the 286 km distance in 40 minutes instead of the current journey time of 1 hour 32 minutes. There are also plans for maglev trains to halve the journey time from Tokyo to Osaka by 2045.

The average air travel speed of jet passenger planes is 800 km/h, while that of conventional bullet trains in China is around 300 km/h, reported.

Researchers expect the 600 km/h maglev train to fill the gap between the two and help to establish a more reasonable, efficient and flexible transport network to meet the travel needs of different groups. 

As an emerging high-speed traffic mode, high-speed maglev train features high speed, safety, reliability, large passenger capacity, on-time performance, environment protection and low maintenance cost, reported. 

Ding said it promised to eliminate the advantages jet passenger planes had over ground vehicles over a distance of 1,500 km.