China has debuted the world’s first high-temperature superconducting electric maglev train which is capable of reaching speeds of up to 620 kilometres per hour.
The prototype maglev train and its 165-metre test line were launched on January 13 at Southwest Jiaotong University, one of the train’s designers, in Chengdu, in China’s southwest.
Measuring in at 21-metres in length and with a front end looking for all the world like a cross between a platypus and blind mole-rat, the high-speed maglev train is a combination of new technologies including a lightweight full carbon fibre body and high-temperature superconducting (HTS) power that, according to CNN, “makes it look as if the train is floating along the magnetized tracks.”
Southwest Jiaotong University is the birthplace of high-temperature superconducting maglev technology and has led the way for the technology’s basic theoretical research and key technology innovation since the 1980s.
Working with the China Railway Rolling Corporation (CRRC), China Railway Group Limited, and other institutions and companies, Southwest Jiaotong University began in 2020 manufacturing a prototype and test line to demonstrate the technology.
The launch and test of the train was reported by Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua News, describing the train “floating slowly along the track.”
“Although the theory sounds good, everyone saw it (HTS maglev technology) as a lab toy in the past, without tests in a real situation,” said Deng Zigang, deputy director of the university’s research centre for super-high-speed maglev transport in low-pressure tubes.
High speed rail is not a new development in China, which as of the end of 2020 had 37,900 kilometres worth of high-speed rail lines in service. However, maglev technology is hoped to break the speed bottleneck currently being faced by high-speed trains.
China already boasts some maglev trains, with a 30-kilometre stretch entering operation in 2003 in Shanghai, on China’s central coast, between the city’s downtown and Pudong airport, and operating at a top speed of 431/kph.
China’s first medium-and-low speed maglev line started operations in May of 2016 in Changsha, Hunan Province, and has a design speed of 100/kph.
With the 2022 Winter Olympics set to be held in China, the country has been eager to expand its infrastructure, and in 2020 unveiled a new 174-kilometre high-speed railway line connecting the capital of Beijing with the Winter Olympics host city Zhangjiakou, serving to cut travel time between the two locations from three hours down to only 47 minutes.
Joshua S. Hill is a Melbourne-based journalist who has been writing about climate change, clean technology, and electric vehicles for over 15 years. He has been reporting on electric vehicles and clean technologies for Renew Economy and The Driven since 2012. His preferred mode of transport is his feet.