“Maglev trains” may eventually be used for intercontinental travel
If I tell you that you can reach your destination faster by train than by flight, you probably won’t take me very seriously. But then, you have probably not heard of the maglev train.
Maglev – which is short for magnetic levitation – trains use magnetic propulsion for movement, rather than depending on axles and bearings.
This new form of transport could revolutionise the way we travel in the future, just as airplanes and cars have come to play a crucial role in our lives today.
How does maglev work?
The basic principle behind electromagnetic propulsion is that of magnetism—like poles repel while unlike poles attract each other. The magnetic pull is temporary, but electromagnets are similar to magnets in that they attract metal objects.
A large power source, guidance magnets on the underside of the trains, and metal coils lining the track or guideway are the three main components of a maglev rail system.
The guidance magnets repel the magnetic coils running along the guideway, enabling the train to levitate 1 to 10 cm above the guideway.
The current to the coils is alternating, reversing their polarity constantly.
As a result, the magnetic field in the front pulls the vehicle forward, while a forward thrust is also created from behind the train. Thus, the magnetic field creates a unique push-pull mechanism along the guideway to propel the train forward.
Maglev trains effectively float on air, eliminating a lot of friction. This allows them to reach unprecedented levels of speed and it is because of this that developers believe that eventually maglev trains will be able to connect intercontinental distances.
What’s in store?
Earlier in June, Japan conducted their first successful test of a high speed maglev train that can go up to speeds of 500 km/hour.
The L0 series train, slated to go into operation in 2027, would then be able to traverse the 322 km between Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes - a commute that takes the Shinkansen “bullet train” 90 minutes.
China, on its part, is working on developing a vactrain – a maglev train that travels in a vacuum tube. The airless tunnel implies that friction because of air would also be absent, allowing these trains to reach speeds of 1000 km/hour.
Looks like we will all be breaking the sound barrier in the years to come...
Lost yourself in a scientific phenomenon? Not sure if you are on the right track? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org with yours topics and suggestions. Do include your name, class and school.