China already has the world’s fastest commercial train system, but the country’s engineers want their passengers to travel even faster.
Beijing has developed and built the first prototype of a magnetic levitation train which engineers claim can travel at a top speed of 600 kilometres per hour (373 miles per hour).
The train boasts twice the speed of the Eurostar fleet and could cover the distance between London and Paris in 49 minutes.
It could also slash the journey time between Shanghai and Beijing – two of the most important cities in China – from 5.5 hours to 3.5 hours.
WHAT ARE ‘MAGLEV’ TRAINS?
Maglev trains use magnets to lift the carriages above the track.
This eliminates the need for wheels and therefore any incidence of friction, providing a faster and quieter service.
Acceleration and deceleration far exceeds that of conventional trains.
And maglev also makes for much smoother journeys.
Right now speeds are limited at up to 400 kilometres (250 miles) per hour due to the excessive air resistance encountered at these speeds.
But vacuum tube designs could allow them to travel over seven times faster in the future.
The prototype rolled off the production line today in the eastern city of Qingdao before being showcased to media, reported Xinhua News Agency.
Engineers are set to run a series of experiment on it to test its functionality and identify areas to improve.
They say the completion of the train means China has achieved a breakthrough in magnetic levitation or maglev technology.
A lead engineer told Qingdao Daily that China is now able to build maglev trains independently, and this heralds an even faster development for the country’s already massive high-speed train network.
The prototype is the result of a three-year-long project initiated by Beijing as part of the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) of the Communist Party.
The project was launched in July 2016, and led by state-run China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation.
It gathers the country’s top locomotive engineers from more than 30 companies, universities and research institutes.
Currently, the Chinese ‘Fuxing’ bullet trains do not use the maglev technology and they operate at a top speed of 350 kilometres per hour (217 miles per hour).
China has the world’s first commercial maglev system.
The 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) stretch, opened in 2002 in Shanghai, connects Shanghai Pudong Airport and the city center.
It reportedly cost more than £1 billion to build.
It was jointly developed by Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Co. Ltd and a German consortium consisting of Siemens AG, Thyssen Transrapid GMBH and Transrapid International GMBH.
The trains runs up to 431 kilometres per hour (267 miles per hour) and is the world’s fastest commercial train system to date.
Ding Sansan, the Deputy Head Engineer of the new maglev project, told reporters that the prototype carriages were capable of hovering above the track during a stationary experiment.
Ding’s team are building five more prototypes and an engineering prototype is expected to be complete in 2020. They expect to test the trains on commercial train tracks in 2021.
The world’s fastest train was built by Japan, but it has yet to be put into commercial use.
The maglev train, operated by Japan Railways Group, set the world record after reaching 603 kilometers per hour (374 miles per hour) on an experimental track in 2016.
China has also started looking into creating a ‘high-speed flying train’ that could reach speeds of 4,000 kilometres per hour (2,485 miles per hour), according to previous reports.
The ‘flying train’ is a passenger pod that travels through a vacuum tube using maglev technology – similar to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which is looking to reach speeds of 1,200 kilometres per hour (760 miles per hour).
If the project goes through as planned, this super train could move at four times the speed of commercial flights and three times the speed of sound.