Maglev Trains

The Train of the Future

Maglev or magnetic levitation is a transportation method that suspends and propels a vehicle, usually a train, very quickly along a guide way.

Maglev trains are theoretically capable of speeds upwards of 4,000 miles per hour if operating in a vacuum. The highest recorded speed for a maglev train is 581 kilometres per hour. This record was set by a Japanese experimental maglev train in 2003. It was six kilometres an hour faster than the record set by a French TGV train that same year.(Associated Press. “Japan’s Maglev Train Sets Speed Record.” Globe and Mail. Dec.2/03)

The History of Maglev Trains

The first serious maglev research was done by British researcher Eric Laithwaite in the 1960s. However, his funding was cut off in 1973, due to lack of progress. (Simmons, Jack; Biddle, Gordon (1997). The Oxford Companion to British Railway History: From 1603 to the 1990s. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 303.)

In 1979, the first passenger-carrying maglev train entered service in Hamburg, Germany, for the first International Transportation Exhibition. It proved to be so popular, it remained in operation for several months, before it was dismantled and sent to Kassel, Germany.

The first operating maglev system was built in Britain, at the Birmingham airport in 1984, where it was used as a people mover. Even though it operated successfully for more than a decade, the system was dismantled in 1995 due to problems stemming from obsolete components. (Jeys, Anna. “New Plam Aims to Bring the Maglev Back” Birmingham Mail. September 6, 2006)

Since the 1980s, Japan has been acknowledged as the world leader in the development of maglev technology.

Japan currently operates two experimental maglev trains. One is the HSST, which has been developed by Japan Airlines. The other is the JR-Maglev, which is owned and operated by Japan Railways. In April, 2007 Central Japan Railways announced that commercial maglev service would be available between Tokyo and Nagoya starting sometime in 2025.

Types of Maglev Propulsion

The term “maglev” refers both to the train and guide way that it runs on. As a result, maglev trains are generally viewed as a complete and separate transportation system. However, the development of the Applied Levitation SPM Maglev System would make it possible for maglev trains to operate on the same tracks as conventional trains.

There are three basic types of maglev propulsion:

  • Electromagnetic suspension uses the attractive magnetic force to lift the train.
  • Electrodynamic suspension uses the repulsive magnetic force to lift the train away from the rail.
  • Stabilized permanent magnet suspension uses opposing arrays of permanent magnets to suspend the train above the guide way. (Tsuchiya, M. Ohsaki, H. “Characteristics of Electromagnetic Force of EMS Type Vehicles Using Bulk Superconductors.” Transactions on

The Future of Maglev Trains

There are currently more than a dozen proposals for high speed maglev trains in various stages of review in countries around the world. In Britain, the British government rejected a proposal for a national maglev line linking England and Scotland in 2007. (Government’s five-year plan”. Railway Magazine 153 (1277): 6–7. September 2007.)

In 2004, China unveiled the first commercial high speed maglev train. Running between Shanghai`s Pudong airport and the downtown core, the Shanghai maglev cuts the travel time from the city to the airport to just seven minutes. The Chinese government is currently studying plans to extend the line to Shanghai`s Shangqiao Airport and possibly to the city of Hangzhou, over 200 miles away. If it is built, it will be the first high speed inter-city maglev line in the world. (Hundreds Protest Shanghai maglev rail extension.Reuters. January 12, 2008)

There also plans under consideration for maglev systems in India, Pakistan and the United States.(Singh, Animesh. “Mumbai to Delhi: Three Hours by Train.” Express India. June 14, 2005. The Pennsylvania Project”Retrieved on Apr.4/09)


The copyright of the article Maglev Trains in Trains is owned by Terry Long. Permission to republish Maglev Trains in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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