The Fastest Train on Earth? Shanghai Maglev Train

Shanghai Maglev – The Fastest Train on Earth?

With the potential to outrun airplanes, China is poised to take the next step in train travel. 

China successfully tested what is now the world’s fastest maglev train, reaching a top operating speed of 284 mph (431 km/hr) on a 30-mile track. 

Though impressive, those speeds are just the beginning, as China’s latest maglev is expected to double its operating speed and even outrun airplanes.

New Feat in “Old” Technology

Maglev trains are nothing new. In fact, the technology has existed since the 1940s, and the world has long been impressed by Japan’s maglev Shinkansen or “bullet trains.” 

And when we say long, we mean much longer than you probably think. The first Shinkansen trains entered service not in the 90s, or the 80s… but in 1964! 

Germany, France, and China have surpassed Japan’s Shinkansen for the world-fastest trains, with China now holding the Top 3 positions. 

China’s Shanghai Maglev train broke the previous record held by the CR Harmony 380D. Its top speed was 302 mph (486.1km/hr), and the Shanghai Maglev dethroned it with a top speed of 311 mph (501 km/h). 

Note that the CRH’s top speed is only 28 mph faster than Shanghai Maglev’s top operating speed

Operating Speed vs Top Speed

Operating speed is the speed a train runs while in commercial operation. Top speeds are clocked in controlled test runs. 

Top speeds are impressive and help gauge a train’s potential, but its operating speed is the most important standard. After all, these trains are designed to reduce commuter costs and travel time, not just break records. 

So, while the Shanghai Maglev broke the top speed record by 9 mph, its advancement in operating speed is more impressive. China’s other maglev trains have a top operating speed of 217 mph (350 km/h) and, as we noted, Shanghai’s Maglev’s top operating speed is 284 mph. 

That’s a 67 mph increase! And they’re not stopping there. Not even close…

Faster-Than-Plane Potential

Despite the impressive 284 top operating speed, engineers behind Shanghai’s maglev train believe that given more time to develop and optimize the technology fully, they could achieve up to 620 miles per hour. 

For reference, commercial flights usually maintain a cruising speed ranging between 545 mph and 574 mph. So, travelers would be able to travel faster on land by train than in the air!

Shanghai’s Maglev train line runs from Pudong Airport to Longyand Road Station, and currently completes this 19-mile journey in only 7 minutes.

The Technology & Benefits

There have been many successful implementations of magnetic levitation technology since the 1940s. Using powerful magnets, the train literally floats above the tracks. 

For a deeper dive into this particular company, go here.

Shorter Commutes & Smoother Rides

This significantly reduces friction, allowing impressive speeds to be obtained much more easily. Commutes are thus significantly shorter, encouraging more people to take the train. Thus, reducing road traffic. 

The ride is also vastly smoother since the train rides on air instead of directly on the tracks. This is another incentive for commuters to enjoy a nice, smooth ride vs. tackling traffic on a rough road.

Environmental Benefits

China went from 19 million passenger cars in 2005, to over 239 million cars in 2020. Hence, the incentive to develop faster, cleaner, and more effective means of travel across the sprawling country. 

Making Maglev trains faster and reducing commutes will incentivise commuters to once again opt for train travel over car travel. This will hopefully slow down the rising trend of car use over train use.

Of course, faster trains aren’t enough. These maglev train lines must also be expanded, reaching more places.

Building new train lines raises environmental concerns, but Maglev tracks are more environmentally friendly than traditional train tracks that divide land. The raised Maglev tracks allow animals to cross underneath. 

Plus, since they run on magnetic power, they reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Overall, the maglev trains are more a greener alternative to traditional train and passenger car travel.

Maglev – The Future of Travel?

Maglev technology has great potential, but costs may limit its advancement. The technology is expensive, and expanding maglev train lines may be too cost-prohibitive to take over the transportation industry. At least in the near future. 

But, with all things, costs eventually decrease as technology improves and becomes more readily available. So, maglev trains still have a promising future. We just don’t know how long that future will take to unfold.

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