The U.S. Department of Transportation late last year awarded nearly $28 million to conduct studies on building a high-speed, magnetic levitation (maglev) rail line that would carry passengers between Washington, D.C., and Baltimore in about 15 minutes. This comes as part of a larger vision for building a maglev system along the Northeast corridor.
While the jury is still out on whether or not a maglev connecting such a short distance between D.C. and Baltimore is economically viable, the technology has been gaining steady traction across the globe.
Maglev is a form of transport method that uses magnetic levitation to move vehicles without touching the ground. Vehicles travel along a guideway using magnets to create both lift and propulsion, which reduces friction significantly and allows high speeds. Maglev trains also move more smoothly and more quietly than wheeled mass transit systems, and are relatively unaffected by weather.
From a sustainability perspective, maglev is superior to traditional trains because the power needed for levitation typically is not a large percentage of its overall energy consumption — most goes to overcome drag, as with other high-speed transport. While maglev systems have lower maintenance costs than traditional rail systems, they have been much more expensive to build.
That’s why, despite decades of research and development, only a handful of commercial maglev transport systems are in operation, with a couple others under construction. However, several other maglev systems prototype systems are being developed around the world.
Currently, the only commercially operational maglev systems are in Asia, but if you happen to be in Japan, China or South Korea, you can take a ride on them today:
Linimo (Tobu Kyuryo Line, Japan)
The commercial automated “urban maglev" system began operation in March 2005 in Aichi, Japan. The Tobu-kyuryo Line — also known as the Linimo line — covers just under 6 miles, with a top speed of 62 miles per hour.
More than 10 million passengers used this maglev line in its first three months of operation. It is fast enough for frequent stops, has little or no noise impact on surrounding communities, can navigate short radius rights of way and operates during inclement weather.
Shanghai Maglev Train
Also known as the Shanghai Transrapid, this is the first commercially operated high-speed maglev line in the world. Construction of the line began in early 2001, and public commercial service commenced on New Year’s Day 2004. With a top operational commercial speed of 268 mph, it is the world's fastest commercial train.
The train line was designed to connect Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the outskirts of central Pudong where passengers could interchange to the Shanghai Metro to continue their trip to the city center. The maglev came with a hefty price tag of $1.2 billion, which was built by a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp in Kassel.
Incheon Airport Maglev
This maglev in South Korea opened earlier this month, which links Incheon International Airport to the Yongyu Station and Leisure Complex, as well as transfers to the Seoul subway system. Its futuristic design is thanks to the lighter design, which cut construction costs in half. The maglev system was co-developed by the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) and Hyundai Rotem. It is just under 4 miles long, with six stations and a 68 mph operating speed.
The best part? It is offered free of charge to anyone to ride.
(Photo source: Wikimedia)