Urban Transport

Scientists build super-maglev train that could hit 1,800 mph

A team lead by Dr Deng Zigang at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have built a maglev train with the potential to reach 1,800 mph (2,900 km/h) (Photo: Imagechina)
A team lead by Dr Deng Zigang at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have built a maglev train with the potential to reach 1,800 mph (2,900 km/h) (Photo: Imagechina)
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A team lead by Dr Deng Zigang at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have built a maglev train with the potential to reach 1,800 mph (2,900 km/h) (Photo: Imagechina)
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A team lead by Dr Deng Zigang at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have built a maglev train with the potential to reach 1,800 mph (2,900 km/h) (Photo: Imagechina)
A vacuum tube is used to minimize air pressure, increasing the potential speed and improve energy efficiency (Photo: Imagechina)
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A vacuum tube is used to minimize air pressure, increasing the potential speed and improve energy efficiency (Photo: Imagechina)
A small, prototype ring has reached 30 mph (50 km/h) in tests, with the speed limited by the ring's radius (Photo: Imagechina)
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A small, prototype ring has reached 30 mph (50 km/h) in tests, with the speed limited by the ring's radius (Photo: Imagechina)
Dr Zigang studies a model of a potential maglev track (Photo: Imagechina)
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Dr Zigang studies a model of a potential maglev track (Photo: Imagechina)

Scientists at Southwest Jiaotong University in China have reportedly built a maglev train that could reach 1,800 mph (2,900 km/h). According to The Daily Mail, a vacuum is used to minimize air resistance. Project lead Dr Deng Zigang claims it could be used for military or space launch systems.

Maglev trains use electromagnetism to lift the train off a track and to provide propulsion. By removing the need for contact with a surface via wheels, friction is substantially reduced and speed can be increased. They are also smoother to ride than surface-supported alternatives and are less affected by the weather.

The current fastest passenger-carrying maglev train can travel at up to 268 mph (431 km/h) and once reached 311 mph (501 km/h) in pre-launch tests. The Shanghai Maglev Train opened in April 2004 and runs 18.95 miles (30.5 km) from the center of the Pudong district of Shanghai to Shanghai Pudong International Airport.

A vacuum tube is used to minimize air pressure, increasing the potential speed and improve energy efficiency (Photo: Imagechina)
A vacuum tube is used to minimize air pressure, increasing the potential speed and improve energy efficiency (Photo: Imagechina)

At those sort of speeds, air resistance becomes a serious issue. The Mail article cites a paper by Zigang in which he writes, "If the running speed exceeds 400 kilometers (250 miles) per hour, more than 83 percent of traction energy will wastefully dissipate in air resistance."

The idea of running a maglev train in a vacuum, therefore, seems a logical one. It would increase its potential top speed and improve its energy efficiency. This principle is the same as the one that the Evacuated Tube Transport is based, which could theoretically transport people between new York and Beijing in 2 hours.

Elon Musk's proposed Hyperloop, meanwhile, isn't thought to use a vacuum to reduce air resistance, but will still potentially max out at 760 mph (1,220 km/h). Zigang's concept would leave even that in its dust.

A small, prototype ring has reached 30 mph (50 km/h) in tests, with the speed limited by the ring's radius (Photo: Imagechina)
A small, prototype ring has reached 30 mph (50 km/h) in tests, with the speed limited by the ring's radius (Photo: Imagechina)

In developing the train, Zigang first had to create a small, remote-controlled ring-line version of the system on which the maglev vehicle could accelerate to 15 mph (25 km/h). That was achieved in February last year, after which an evacuation tube was added to create an internal vacuum.

With the vacuum created, the vehicle was reportedly able to accelerate to a maximum speed of 30 mph (50 km/h). The prototype was, of course, run without passenger and was limited by the small 6 m (20 ft) radius of the ring guideway.

"The meaning of the project is that it will be the first one to realize the prototype of the future evacuation tube transportation," The Daily Mail reports Zigang as saying. "At this moment, we are conducting evacuation tests on the new system. We will release our achievements after the successful running in the near future."

Source: Daily Mail

18 comments
Eggster
What kind of magnetic levitation? Attraction or repulsion? Hall Effect? Operating in a vacuum is all well and good from an engineering standpoint, but it still creates problems with energy consumption and safety issues.
BeWalt
Neat engineering, but I'm beginning to grow an urge to move *slower*, at least down here on the surface of planet earth. All that speed, what for? Jet lag 2.0? Get faster past the shanty towns surrounding the gated and guarded "happy lands" that we hide in? Work on warp drive for space travel, there's a thing we really need.
sk8dad
Nice theoretical projection...1800 mph indeed. Notice the demo loop has no discernible banking angle. I'd be surprised if the demo can run more than 18 mph. This is not a new idea, the maglev in a vacuum tube. People has been proposing it for like 50 years, yet in every instance, the same issues arise. How does one make and maintain a vacuum in a large volume? What happens in the event of a catastrophic vacuum loss? What happens with power loss? How does one deal with multiple lane traffic? How frequent to have stops? What solutions for last-mile transportation will support the system? Most importantly, how can you all the local governments along the length of the tube system to allow something traveling at Mach 2.4 to shoot through their community--especially those localities that do not benefit from having it's own station? Pipe dream once again (pun intended).
EH
Elon Musk's Hyperloop proposal is very similar, but using a very low-density air cushion in a near-vacuum, which would be just as effective, but likely much cheaper. The biggest problem is that the tubes have to be almost perfectly straight both side-to-side and vertically, with a curvature radius of several to several dozen miles, depending on speed. Getting such rights-of-way for the tubes will be difficult to impossible, even in China.
Neshyo
i think that maglev train should be made cross - international such that one can reach many countries at a vry short time
Slowburn
It is a neat idea but nobody can afford to build it and air travel is so much more flexible.
Eric Dunn
1,800 mph (2,900 km/h) claims based on 30 mph (50 km/h) performance. Why do people fall for this kind of thing? There are more ways than you can count to go 30 mph (50 km/h) in a 6 m (20 ft) circle. What level of limited thinking and diminished intelligence thinks that the jump from that pedestrian demonstration to the claimed speeds is something that is realistically achievable? How many decades and how many billions of dollars did it take the Japanese and Germans to reach their maglev record speeds? Granted this is a puff piece lacking any hint of technical information, but SOME hard data or justification of the claims and proof of the backers expertise should be the minimum asked from someone writing a story.
Bill James
The number of naysayers is curious. "High-Speed-Rail" levitates thousand ton trains that have to push all the air out of the way. Levitating an 800 pound capsule is trivial by comparison. As for cost, depending on oil funds Al Qaeda terror attacks and has required oil-wars since 1990. If these costs were capitalized into the price of gasoline, instead of socialized into $17 trillion of national debt, the price of a gallon of gas would be about $14 according to Milken Institute. ET3 uses about 1/50th the energy of cars, buses, airplanes or passenger-trains. Instead of measuring the cost to deploy solutions, people should measure the payback. At least 90 cents of every dollar spent on transportation today is recoverable as profit by re-tooling. JPods will start building local area network in Secaucus, NJ and Linyi, China this summer. We will cross connect our local area networks with ET3, Hyperloop and similar high speed solutions.
Mel Tisdale
I cannot put it any better than BeWalt. Why on earth does anyone need to travel at these ridiculous speeds? Surely, one of the great joys of traveling overland is the view, something that on this system will be obscured by dirt and grime most of the time, assuming glass is used to contain the vacuum. On top of everything, this method of travel would be a perfect terrorist target. For them it would be like shooting fish in a barrel. An attack wouldn't even need to occur when there is a train in the proximity; any decent sized blast would lose the vacuum, which would take ages to restore, though if they could catch one travelling at 1800 mph, 'spectacular' would hardly serve to describe the outcome. Bring back the canals and horse-drawn narrowboats so that we can live a far more peaceful life, I say.
Stephen N Russell
Agreed, why not copy Hyperloop mode?