Purchasing new hardware? Read our latest product comparisons

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


May 23, 2014

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)

Image Gallery (4 images)

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.

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.

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

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds. All articles by Stu Robarts

i think that maglev train should be made cross - international such that one can reach many countries at a vry short time


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.


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.


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).


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.


It is a neat idea but nobody can afford to build it and air travel is so much more flexible.


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.

Eric Dunn

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.

Bill James

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.

Mel Tisdale

Agreed, why not copy Hyperloop mode?

Stephen Russell

I'm with BeWalt. Aerodynamic animal drawn carriages, bicycles, electric cars and motorcycles, skateboards and strollers should share a solar road. Personal flight with electric ultralites and blimps would be more in tune with nature. Why destroy the landscape to get from point A to point B when you can communicate online or enjoy the scenery along the way? Slow down and smell the flowers.


I would be happy with a network of standard wheeled high speed trains. That's fast enough, and attainable, unnecessary new theories aside.


Why not use this for a space elevator? No right-of-way problems, cargo only, so not much danger. We need an orbiting city for easy launch & land during extraterrestrial travel.

Don Duncan

Bill James, your JPod idea has a "cousin" in Germany in the Wuppertal monorail, that has been around for a hundred years-plus.


A "people mover" like this has been proposed many times, but no one has copied the German underslung version for one excellent reason: the cost of the track.

The same problem plagues the Musk design, the 1800mph- vacuum system, etc etc. The cost of the track, per foot.

Any time you attempt to put four people into a "capsule", the possibilities must be engineered 16x into the track to prevent collapse.

What does it cost to install a set of lights for an intersection? $500,000!!! And, they don't have the weight of people. Sidewalks: $50 a foot! I-880 freeway rebuild: $17,500 per inch of six-lane freeway!

Forget about your capsules, start working on the cost of track and speed of installation. Henry Ford's design of the Model T was successful, where dozens of others failed, because it really needed no roads.

Scott in California

I think it looks like a cool ride from a theme park. It would make going far really fast. Perhaps it could compete with airlines in getting people places faster?


This concept will of course remain a pipe dream as long as this current shortsighted system and its inherent quick buck thinking is sustained. That is, on artificial life support. Elements of the life support system include : discourage (too expensive), spread fear (ooh terrorism) and naysay sustainable solutions into "pipe dreams".

Too expensive? Here are some really expensive items. The cost of preventing and/or cleaning up the environmental impact from fossil and nuclear energy is estimated to hit about US$ 1 trillion p.a. The cost of the impact of deforestation for commercial use is somewhere between US$ 2.5 and 5 trillion. And these are only two examples of grotesque distortions. Ironic that the involved parties don't seem to have a problem to pay for aberrations but shy away from sustainable technology they apparently don't understand or at least have no vision for due to a ROI which so slow that it might never happen in their lifetime.

It's a shame though that this system requires shooting wide beyond the goal just to gain some attention. The 1,800 mph is not even necessary in practice. A few percentage points higher of the speed of commercial aircraft at a fraction of the power consumption would suffice. In any case, burning hydrocarbons for transportation purposes is not sustainable. We do need more efficient solutions sooner or later and the sooner the better, looking at the conflict potential fossil fuels imply.

Preserving the status quo for as long as possible is the issue. There is a similar situation in budgeting the research for large battery technology and solar panel efficiency which could be much more advanced by now if priorities had sustainability and future vision in the agenda, instead of the quick buck only.

Rico Berg

Why would anyone want to travel at these sort of speeds? Well let me tell you. For the last half century I've been travelling from Sydney to the UK every two years or so and to say I detest the journey is an understatement. I arrive jet lagged as well as physically and emotionally wrecked. In that time nothing as changed, it's still 24 hours give or take and inspite of the new giant aircraft that have recently made their appearances , well, the old 707s did did just a good a job. Don't get me wrong, I agree there are huge scientific and economic hurdles to overcome but I believe they can be overcome. I dream of the day when my journey will take a miserly six or seven hours although realisticly I can't see it happening in my lifetime.

Terence Munro
Post a Comment

Login with your Gizmag account:

Related Articles
Looking for something? Search our articles