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Made in China: the floating train

Published on December 1st, 2014 by Erwin Völkening


Not so long ago I came back from the Far East, more precisely: from China. As part of an exchange program, I was first in Beijing and then with a host family in Shanghai. China is a country that offers me a very wide range of possible topics for the IdeenFinderBlog. What I find most interesting, however, is actually due to a German development: the Chinese Transrapid.

The Maglev in Shanghai

On December 31, 2002, the world's first and so far only commercial Transrapid line went into operation in Shanghai. The magnetic levitation train only takes a good seven minutes and reaches a speed of up to 430 kilometers per hour for the approximately 30-kilometer route from the departure station near the Expo site to Pudong Airport. Up until a few years ago there was even a Transrapid test track here in Lower Saxony, namely in Emsland. However, this was shut down for various reasons, so that I had to travel to Shanghai for a trip on the maglev train. After I explained to my exchange partner that I absolutely had to take the futuristic airport shuttle train, I was finally able to persuade him to take a tour with me. And it was worth it!

The Transrapid in Shanghai is called “Maglev”, which stands for magnetic levitation train. The meaning of this name really became clear to me when I stepped onto the platform at the latest. Because instead of the usual rails, there were only gray concrete slabs in the track bed with two metal beams on the left and on the right that stretch the entire length of the path. This construction did not run on the ground, but on concrete columns about five meters high, which were set up at a distance of 25 meters. Unfortunately, the outside of the train couldn't really tell that it was not in contact with the ground, as various stability components of the magnetic suspension obscure the view of the empty space between the ground and the train. The interior of the train, on the other hand, looked more like that of a spacious airplane than the interior of a train.

How does a maglev train work?

With the help of magnetic forces, the train hovers about 15 centimeters above the track bed and is pulled over the route by means of rail magnets, which act as so-called linear motors, on a moving magnetic field. The main advantage of the magnetic levitation train is the elimination of ground friction, which makes the train noticeably faster. In addition, the Transrapid is far superior to conventional trains in terms of possible acceleration and sharpness of curves.

The technical basis for the Transrapid is by no means new. As early as 1914, the Frenchman Emile Bachelet presented a system in London with which he could levitate a small hollow body made of aluminum over a system of alternating current magnets. The aim was to transport mail between different cities in the capsules with a speed of 300 km / h. In 1922, the development of a magnetic suspension railway for passenger traffic began in Germany. After this concept was resumed after the end of World War II, the first test drive with a Transrapid took place on April 2, 1971. Today the technology has been largely abandoned in Germany. In Asia, however, there are still developments in the field of magnetic levitation trains.

Japan goes one better

The most ambitious Transrapid project is currently maintained by Japan with its magnetic levitation train project called JR Maglev. The JR-Maglev works with a new, more modern magnetic drive system. This is designed for higher speeds than the conventional Transrapid and is even dependent on wheels up to 150 km / h, which, however, are retracted at higher speeds. During a test drive in 2003, the JR-Maglev set the current world record for rail vehicles: 581 km / h. This speed was reached from a standing start after an unbelievable one and a half minutes. For comparison: the ICE3 takes over five minutes to reach a speed of 300 km / h.

The Transrapid may actually be the express train of the future. Or maybe there is an even more efficient system. Unfortunately, that cannot be said today. But the fact is: the express train industry is a booming industry with interesting future prospects and innovation opportunities.

So: stay tuned.

Keywords: China, linear motor, maglev, magnetic field, magnetic levitation train, Shanghai, Transrapid

Categorized in: General