Are Maglev Trains the Future of Transportation?

Are Maglev Trains the Future of Transportation?

By Heidi Reidel

Airports are a traveler’s greatest enemy; between long lines and grueling security checks, many wish to avoid the hassle. Yet with America’s vast landscape, other modes of transportation are even less appealing, with a fifteen-hour drive or twenty-hour train ride taking the place of a two-hour flight. Levitating trains that travel at inexplicably high speeds seem like magic, but in reality it utilizes old technology being refined into the transportation of the future: maglev trains.

How It Works

Maglev trains work on the principle of electromagnetic suspension. The three components to this system are a large, electrical power source, metal coils lining a guideway or track, and large guidance magnets attached to the underside of the train. Instead of using fossil fuels, the train is propelled forward by the magnetic field created by the electrified coils. Because the magnetic field causes the train to levitate, there is no friction, which allows the trains to travel over 310 mph.

Maglev Trains Around the World

In 2015, a maglev train in Japan broke the record for the fastest train in the world, traveling at 374 mph. The journey from Tokyo to Nagoya on these trains is actually faster than flying, when considering the time spent jumping through airport hoops. The train service, however, is not predicted to open until 2027. The line, Chuo Shinkansen, must undergo further refinement to meet safety standards and to make it cost effective.

Maglev trains operating at slower speeds are currently in use in China and South Korea. The Shanghai Maglev appears to be the only true commercial maglev train. Germany’s maglev line, Transrapid, is rather infamously known for its collision in 2006 that killed 25 people. This was the first major collision involving a maglev train, and interestingly, the cause was a breakdown in communication rather than technology. The train traveling at 125 mph collided with a service vehicle that was left on the tracks by mistake.

Maglev Trains in the U.S.  

A major question lingers: when will the United States hop aboard the maglev train? One of Japan’s economic aspirations for their maglev project is to sell the technology to the U.S. In fact, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, proposes a route from Washington to New York. The proposed project was mentioned recently by Abe during his meeting with President Trump. During the joint press conference, Abe said, “Those of you who have rode on the Japanese Shinkansen, I’m sure you would appreciate the speed, the comfort and safety with the latest maglev technology.  From Washington, D.C. to New York, where Trump Tower exists, only one hour would it take if you ride the maglev train from Washington, D.C. to New York.”

Though there was no official response on the matter, a Washington D.C. based company, called The Northeast Maglev, is working with the Central Japan Railway Company to bring the Superconducting Maglev (SCMAGLEV) to the Northeast Corridor. This area would be the ideal place to begin if the United States wanted to bring this technology into effect. Not only is it the most congested traffic region in the country, but it has the highest train travel usage rates in the country.

Though the system seems enticing in theory, its biggest problem is money. Amtrak estimates the cost of upgrading the Northeast Corridor to true high-speed rail to be upward of $150 billion. California has committed to building its own line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, using money raised by the cap-and-trade market on carbon emissions. This train is projected to surpass even Chuo Shinkansen in speed. Projects like this in the U.S., however, have been plagued by monetary, political, and logistical issues for several years.

With other economic issues taking precedence, a costly transportation undertaking has garnered little attention. When Japan hosts the Olympics in 2020, however, and shows off their incredible rail breakthrough, competitive spirit might inspire other countries to revolutionize their rail system as well.

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