A prototype locomotive using high-temperature superconducting maglev technology was rolled out in southwest China’s Chengdu City. The train is touted to one day go faster than 600 km/h, about the same as a jetliner. Credit: Xinhua.

Ten or 20 years ago, if I would have told you a train will one day be able to travel at a speed of 620 km/h — nearly the speed of a jetliner — you probably would have told me to have another drink, or go seek counselling.

But guess what? It’s happening, and China is leading the way.

A prototype locomotive using High-Temperature Superconducting (HTS) maglev technology was rolled out on Wednesday in southwest China’s city of Chengdu, according to SHINE.cn.

And yes, the domestically developed maglev train boasts a designed speed of 620 km/h, according to Southwest Jiaotong University, one of the train’s designers.

A 165-meter line to test the new train was launched on the same day. The 21-meter-long silver-and-black locomotive was seen floating slowly along the track. Experts hailed the key development of HTS technology emerging from lab tests in China.

An interior view of a prototype train using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev technology in the city of Chengdu. (Xinhua/Liu Kun)

“Although the theory sounds good, everyone saw it (HTS) as a lab toy in the past, without tests in a real situation,” said Deng Zigang, deputy director of the university’s research center for super-high-speed maglev transport in low-pressure tubes.

China has been a world leader in the construction of high-speed railway. By the end of 2020, the country had 37,900km of high-speed rail lines in service, the longest in the world, according to China’s railway operator, the report said.

Maglev trains, levitated from the tracks and propelled by powerful magnets to avoid wheel-rail friction, are designed to break the speed bottlenecks facing high-speed trains. The country’s first commercial maglev system was put into operation in 2003 in Shanghai.

The 30km stretch between downtown and the city’s Pudong airport is based on German maglev technology of “electromagnetic suspension,” the report said.

China’s first medium-and-low-speed maglev line fully supported by the country’s own EMS technology started operations in May 2016 in Changsha, Hunan Province. It has a design speed of 100 km/h.

The driver cabin of a prototype maglev train using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev technology. (Xinhua/Liu Kun)

Involving an investment of 60 million yuan (US$9.3 million), the HTS maglev project was developed by Southwest Jiaotong University, China Railway Group Ltd. and CRRC Corp. Ltd., the report said.

Compared with other maglev technologies, HTS tech is more suitable for the futuristic concept of superfast transportation in vacuum tubes, where trains could hit speeds of over 1,000kph, according to experts.

“The HTS technology can make the train float without electricity, and it can be moved with just one hand,” said Deng.

At the site, a reporter succeeded in moving the 12-ton levitated locomotive with one finger, the report said.

Wu Zili, a senior engineer with the university, said the cost of the HTS maglev system is estimated to be slightly higher than high-speed rail, but it is expected to go down if mass production of components is achieved.

At the site, a reporter succeeded in moving the 12-tonne levitated maglev locomotive with one finger. (Xinhua/Liu Kun)