China recently unveiled a maglev train with a top speed of 600 kph (372 mph), making it the fastest ground vehicle in the world. With this train, it would only take about 2.5 hours to travel from Chicago to New York City. By comparison, this 800-mile ride currently takes 12 hours by car, 2 hours by plane, and 20 hours by train.
Maglev is an abbreviation of magnetic levitation because the train is able to “levitate” above the track without touching the body and rail because of its use of electromagnetic force. The train floats over the guideways like a magnet, replacing the old steel wheel and track trains. This means that there is reduced rail friction, allowing the trains to go at faster speeds. These trains also do not have an engine, meaning they do not use harmful fossil fuels and produce less CO2 emissions than a typical train. Instead, the magnetic field created by the electrified coils in the guideway walls and the track combine to propel the train.
There are currently no maglev tracks or trains in the United States, but a proposal to bring a maglev train system to the Washington region has been proposed. The Federal Railroad Administration released a preliminary review of the project in early 2021. This proposed train service would enable passengers to travel the 40-mile trip from Washington DC and Baltimore in just 15 minutes.
Maglev is already being used on high-speed trains in Japan, South Korea, China, and Germany, and some companies are looking to add low-pressure pneumatic tubes to trains in order to reach higher speeds. The combination of magnetic levitation and pneumatics is referred to as a vactrain or a hyperloop. Even though there have been many historic failures with pneumatic tube transportation, some companies are working hard to make it the future of maglev and transportation.
To find out more about pneumatics, tune in to Tomorrow’s World Today’s “The Power of Air” on October 16 at 8:30 am EST on the Science Channel and October 17 at 6:30 am on the Discovery Channel.