Maglev trains are a very fast type of train. Magnetic levitation is a technology that uses magnetic fields to make the train move. These fields lift the train a small distance above the tracks and moves the train. They are much faster than regular trains. By 2035, a trip from Toronto to Vancouver will take 3 hours. This same trip takes three days on a regular train. After this technology has been perfected, people will be able to travel faster across land on a maglev train than they would in an airplane. The highest known speed of a maglev train is 600 km/h (370 mph). This was done in Japan in 2015.
A maglev train does not have an engine. The trains are powered by a magnetic field created by the electrified coils in the guideway walls and the track. There are three parts to this system:
- a large electrical power source
- metal coils lining a guideway (track)
- large guidance magnets attached to the under side of the train.
With magnets, opposite poles attract and like poles repel each other. This is the basic principle behind electromagnetic propulsion. Electromagnets are similar to other magnets in that they attract metal objects, but the magnetic pull is temporary. A small electromagnet can be made by connecting the ends of a copper wire to the positive and negative ends of an AA, C or D-cell battery. This creates a small magnetic field. If the wire is disconnected from either end of the battery, the magnetic field is taken away.
The magnetized coil running along the track, called a guideway, repels the large magnets on the train's undercarriage. This allows the train to lift between 0.39 and 3.93 inches (1 to 10 centimeters) above the guideway. Once the train is lifted, power is supplied to the coils within the guideway walls. This creates a unique system of magnetic fields that pull and push the train along the guideway. The electric current supplied to the coils in the guideway walls is constantly alternating to change the polarity of the magnetized coils. This change in polarity causes the magnetic field in front of the train to pull the vehicle forward, while the magnetic field behind the train adds more forward thrust.
Maglev trains float on a cushion of air, which removes friction. The trains have an aerodynamic design. This allows them to reach speeds of more than 310 mph (500 kph), or twice as fast as Amtrak's fastest commuter train. In comparison, a Boeing-777 commercial airplane used for long-range flights can reach a top speed of about 562 mph (905 kph).
Germany and Japan are both developing maglev trains, and both are currently testing prototypes. The German company, "Transrapid International", also has a train in commercial use. Although based on similar ideas, the German and Japanese trains have distinct differences. German engineers have developed an "electromagnetic suspension" (EMS) system, called "Transrapid". In this system, the bottom of the train wraps around a steel guideway. Electromagnets under the train are directed up toward the guideway, which lifts the train about 1/3 of an inch (1 centimeter) above the guideway. This lifts the train even when it's not moving. Other guidance magnets in the train's body keep it stable during travel. The Transrapid maglev train can reach 300 mph with passengers.