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Maglev Trains

The transformation of mass transportation has had a profound impact on human civilization. In the 1860s, the transcontinental railroad drastically reduced travel time across America from months to just a week. Following that, passenger automobiles emerged and enabled people to travel much faster than on horseback. Commercial flights also became available during the World War I era, revolutionizing travel once again and reducing coast-to-coast journeys to a matter of hours. Despite these advancements, rail trips in the U.S. have not seen significant improvements in speed over the past century. This has prompted engineers to seek out the next major innovation, with some considering the potential of floating trains as a possible breakthrough – which is what we call Maglev Trains today.

What is a Maglev Train?

Maglev, which stands for magnetic levitation, is a train transportation system that utilizes two sets of electromagnets. The first set repels and pushes the train up off the track, while the second set moves the elevated train forward, taking advantage of the minimal friction. This lack of rail friction allows maglev trains to reach speeds of several hundred miles per hour, making them ideal for high-speed transportation.

Aside from their speed, maglev trains offer other significant benefits. Because the trains rarely come into contact with the track, they generate less noise and vibration than traditional trains, resulting in fewer mechanical breakdowns and less likelihood of weather-related delays.

The most noticeable difference between Maglev trains and conventional trains is their engines. Unlike conventional trains, which rely on fossil fuels to pull their cars along steel tracks, maglev trains utilize an inconspicuous engine that is powered by the magnetic field created by electrified coils in the guideway walls and track. We will provide more detailed information on this engine in the following section.

A magnetically levitated (maglev) train developed by Central Japan Railways Co. operates a test run on May 11, 2010 in Tsuru, Japan. (Sources: Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

The Role of Magnetism in Maglev Trains

If you’ve ever messed around with magnets, you know that when different poles meet, they attract each other and when they’re the same, they push away. This is basically how electromagnetic propulsion works. Once the train is lifted off the ground, the coils inside the guideway walls get power to create some magnetic fields that pull and push the train forward along the guideway. The electric current that flows through the coils in the guideway walls changes polarity constantly to switch up the magnetized coils. When this happens, the magnetic field in front of the train pulls it forward, while the magnetic field behind adds even more forward motion.

How Maglev Works (Sources: Department of Energy)

Maglev trains float on air, which means there’s no friction. This lack of friction, combined with the trains’ sleek designs, makes it possible for them to reach ridiculous speeds of over 500 kph, which is double the top speed of Amtrak’s fastest commuter train. For comparison, a Boeing-777 commercial airplane used for long-range flights can only hit around 905 kph. At 500 kph, you could get from Paris to Rome in just over two hours.

Some maglev trains are even faster than that. In October 2016, a Japan Railway maglev bullet train blazed its way to 601 kph during a quick run. With speeds like that, it’s no wonder engineers are excited and hopeful that this technology will be perfect for long routes that stretch hundreds of kilometers.

Maglev Accidents

On Aug. 11, 2006, a maglev train compartment on the Transrapid Shanghai airport line caught fire. There were no injuries, and investigators believe that the fire was caused by an electrical problem. On Sept. 22, 2006, a Transrapid test train in Emsland, Germany on a test run crashed into a repair car that had been accidentally left on the track. The train was going at least 120 mph (193 kph) at the time. Some 23 passengers were killed and 11 injured. A court ruled that human error was to blame for the incident, which would have been avoided had employees followed established regulations and procedures. No further maglev accidents have been reported since 2006. However, the test trains in Germany were eventually discontinued while the Shanghai maglev train still runs.

Some Final Thoughts

As we’ve seen, maglev technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we travel by land. With speeds that could rival those of commercial airplanes, maglev trains could make long-distance travel much faster, more efficient, and more comfortable for passengers. But there are still many challenges to overcome before this technology can be widely adopted.

One issue is the cost of building maglev train systems. Currently, the cost of building and maintaining maglev trains is much higher than that of traditional rail systems. This is partly due to the complexity of the technology and the fact that there are few existing maglev train systems in operation. Another challenge is safety. While maglev trains are designed to be safer than traditional trains, accidents can still occur – as can be seen in the last section.

 
 

 

 

Despite these challenges, the potential benefits of maglev technology are too great to ignore. In addition to faster travel times, maglev trains could also help reduce carbon emissions by replacing air travel for shorter distances. This could have a significant impact on the environment and help combat climate change.

 
 

 

 

In the future, we can expect to see continued research and development of maglev technology, with a focus on reducing costs, improving safety, and expanding the use of this technology to more countries and regions. As this technology continues to evolve, it has the potential to transform the way we travel and bring us closer to a more sustainable and efficient future.

Resources:

Bonsor, K., & Chandler, N. (2023, March 8). How maglev trains work. HowStuffWorks Science. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://science.howstuffworks.com/transport/engines-equipment/maglev-train.htm

 
 

 

 

Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (2023, March 2). Maglev. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/technology/maglev-train

How maglev works. Energy.gov. (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2023, from https://www.energy.gov/articles/how-maglev-works

 
 

 

 

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