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JR-Maglev at Yamanashi, Japan test track in November 2005
Transrapid 09 at the Emsland test facility in Germany

Maglev (derived from magnetic levitation) is a system of transportation that uses magnetic levitation to suspend, guide and propel vehicles with magnets rather than using methods such as wheels, axles and bearings. With maglev, a vehicle is levitated a short distance away from a guideway using magnets to create both lift and thrust. High-speed maglev trains promise dramatic improvements for human travel if widespread adoption occurs.

Maglev trains move more smoothly and somewhat more quietly than wheeled mass transit systems. Their non-reliance on friction means that acceleration and deceleration can surpass that of wheeled transports, and they are unaffected by weather. The power needed for levitation is typically not a large percentage of the overall energy consumption; most of the power is used to overcome air resistance ( drag), as with any other high-speed form of transport. Although conventional wheeled transportation can go very fast, maglev allows routine use of higher top speeds than conventional rail, and this type holds the speed record for rail transportation. Vacuum tube train systems might hypothetically allow maglev trains to attain speeds in a different order of magnitude, but no such tracks have ever been built.

Compared to conventional wheeled trains, differences in construction affect the economics of maglev trains. With wheeled trains at very high speeds, the wear and tear from friction along with the concentrated pounding from wheels on rails accelerates equipment deterioration and prevents mechanically-based train systems from routinely achieving higher speeds. Conversely, maglev tracks have historically been found to be much more expensive to construct, but require less maintenance and have low ongoing costs.

Despite decades-long research and development, there are presently only two commercial maglev transport systems in operation, with two others under construction. In April 2004, Shanghai began commercial operations of the high-speed Transrapid system. In March 2005, Japan began operation of the relatively low-speed HSST " Linimo" line in time for the 2005 World Expo. In its first three months, the Linimo line carried over 10 million passengers. South Korea and the People's Republic of China are both building low-speed maglev lines of their own design, one in Beijing and the other at Seoul's Incheon Airport. Many maglev projects are controversial, and the technological potential, adoption prospects and economics of maglev systems have often been hotly debated. The Shanghai system has been accused of being a white elephant.


First patent

High-speed transportation patents were granted to various inventors throughout the world. Early United States patents for a linear motor propelled train were awarded to the inventor, Alfred Zehden (German). The inventor was awarded U.S. Patent 782,312 (14 February 1905) and U.S. Patent RE12,700 (21 August 1907). In 1907, another early electromagnetic transportation system was developed by F. S. Smith. A series of German patents for magnetic levitation trains propelled by linear motors were awarded to Hermann Kemper between 1937 and 1941. An early modern type of maglev train was described in U.S. Patent 3,158,765, Magnetic system of transportation, by G. R. Polgreen (25 August 1959). The first use of "maglev" in a United States patent was in "Magnetic levitation guidance system" by Canadian Patents and Development Limited.


In the late 1940s, Professor Eric Laithwaite of Imperial College in London developed the first full-size working model of the linear induction motor. He became professor of heavy electrical engineering at Imperial College in 1964, where he continued his successful development of the linear motor. As the linear motor does not require physical contact between the vehicle and guideway, it became a common fixture on many advanced transportation systems being developed in the 1960s and 70s. Laithwaite himself joined development of one such project, the Tracked Hovercraft, although funding for this project was cancelled in 1973.

The linear motor was naturally suited to use with maglev systems as well. In the early 1970s, Laithwaite discovered a new arrangement of magnets, magnetic river, that allowed a single linear motor to produce both lift as well as forward thrust, allowing a maglev system to be built with a single set of magnets. Working at the British Rail Research Division in Derby, along with teams at several civil engineering firms, the "traverse-flux" system was developed into a working system.

The first commercial maglev people mover was simply called " MAGLEV" and officially opened in 1984 near Birmingham, England. It operated on an elevated 600-metre (2,000 ft) section of monorail track between Birmingham International Airport and Birmingham International railway station, running at speeds up to 42 km/h (26 mph); the system was eventually closed in 1995 due to reliability problems.

New York, United States 1968

In 1950, when he was delayed during rush hour traffic on the Throgs Neck Bridge, James Powell, a researcher at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), thought of using magnetically levitated transportation to solve the traffic problem. Powell and BNL colleague Gordon Danby jointly worked out a MagLev concept using static magnets mounted on a moving vehicle to induce electrodynamic lifting and stabilizing forces in specially shaped loops on a guideway.

Hamburg, Germany 1979

Transrapid 05 was the first maglev train with longstator propulsion licensed for passenger transportation. In 1979, a 908 m track was opened in Hamburg for the first International Transportation Exhibition (IVA 79). There was so much interest that operations had to be extended three months after the exhibition finished, having carried more than 50,000 passengers. It was reassembled in Kassel in 1980.

Birmingham, United Kingdom 1984–1995

The Birmingham International Maglev shuttle

The world's first commercial automated maglev system was a low-speed maglev shuttle that ran from the airport terminal of Birmingham International Airport to the nearby Birmingham International railway station between 1984–1995. The length of the track was 600 metres (2,000 ft), and trains "flew" at an altitude of 15 millimetres (0.59 in), levitated by electromagnets, and propelled with linear induction motors. It was in operation for nearly eleven years, but obsolescence problems with the electronic systems made it unreliable in its later years. One of the original cars is now on display at Railworld in Peterborough, together with the RTV31 hover train vehicle.

Several favourable conditions existed when the link was built:

  • The British Rail Research vehicle was 3 tonnes and extension to the 8 tonne vehicle was easy.
  • Electrical power was easily available.
  • The airport and rail buildings were suitable for terminal platforms.
  • Only one crossing over a public road was required and no steep gradients were involved.
  • Land was owned by the railway or airport.
  • Local industries and councils were supportive.
  • Some government finance was provided and because of sharing work, the cost per organization was low.

After the original system closed in 1995, the original guideway lay dormant. The guideway was reused in 2003 when the replacement cable-hauled AirRail Link Cable Liner people mover was opened.

Japan 1985–

JNR ML500 at Miyazaki, Japan test track on 21 December 1979 517 km/h (321 mph); Guinness World Records authorization at that time

In Japan, there are two independently developed maglev trains. One is HSST by Japan Airlines and the other, which is more well-known, is JR-Maglev by Japan Railways Group.

The development of the latter started in 1969, and Miyazaki test track had regularly hit 517 km/h (321 mph) by 1979 but, after an accident that destroyed the train, a new design was decided upon. In Okazaki, Japan (1987), the JR-Maglev took a test ride at the Okazaki exhibition. Tests through the 1980s continued in Miyazaki before transferring a far larger and elaborate test track, 20 km (12 mi) long, in Yamanashi in 1997.

Development of HSST started in 1974, based on technologies introduced from Germany. In Tsukuba, Japan (1985), the HSST-03 ( Linimo) wins popularity in spite of being 30 km/h (19 mph) at the Tsukuba World Exposition. In Saitama, Japan (1988), the HSST-04-1 was revealed at the Saitama exhibition performed in Kumagaya. Its fastest recorded speed was 30 km/h (19 mph).

Vancouver Canada and Hamburg Germany 1986–1988

In Vancouver, Canada (1986), the JR-Maglev was exhibited at Expo 86. Guests could ride the train along a short section of track at the fairgrounds. In Hamburg, Germany (1988), the TR-07 in international traffic exhibition (IVA88) performed Hamburg which was also in 1988.

Berlin, Germany 1989–1991

In West Berlin, the M-Bahn was built in the late 1980s. It was a driverless maglev system with a 1.61 km (1.00 mi) track connecting three stations. Testing in passenger traffic started in August 1989, and regular operation started in July 1991. Although the line largely followed a new elevated alignment, it terminated at the U-Bahn station Gleisdreieck, where it took over a platform that was then no longer in use; it was from a line that formerly ran to East Berlin. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, plans were set in motion to reconnect this line (today's U2). Deconstruction of the M-Bahn line began only two months after regular service began that was called Pundai project and was completed in February 1992.


In the public imagination, "maglev" often evokes the concept of an elevated monorail track with a linear motor. This can be misleading. While several maglev systems are monorail designs, not all maglevs use monorails, and not all monorail trains use linear motors or magnetic levitation. Some railway transport systems incorporate linear motors but only use electromagnetism for propulsion, without actually levitating the vehicle. Such trains (which might also be monorail trains) are wheeled vehicles and not maglev trains. Maglev tracks, monorail or not, can also be constructed at grade (i.e. not elevated). Conversely, non-maglev tracks, monorail or not, can be elevated too. Some maglev trains do incorporate wheels and function like linear motor-propelled wheeled vehicles at slower speeds but "take off" and levitate at higher speeds.


MLX01 Maglev train Superconducting magnet Bogie

The term "maglev" refers not only to the vehicles, but to the railway system as well, specifically designed for magnetic levitation and propulsion. All operational implementations of maglev technology have had minimal overlap with wheeled train technology and have not been compatible with conventional rail tracks. Because they cannot share existing infrastructure, these maglev systems must be designed as complete transportation systems. The Applied Levitation SPM maglev system is inter-operable with steel rail tracks and would permit maglev vehicles and conventional trains to operate at the same time on the same right of way. MAN in Germany also designed a maglev system that worked with conventional rails, but it was never fully developed.

There are two particularly notable types of maglev technology:

  • For electromagnetic suspension (EMS), electronically controlled electromagnets in the train attract it to a magnetically conductive (usually steel) track.
  • Electrodynamic suspension (EDS) uses superconducting electromagnets or strong permanent magnets which create a magnetic field that induces currents in nearby metallic conductors when there is relative movement which pushes and pulls the train towards the designed levitation position on the guide way.

Another experimental technology, which was designed, proven mathematically, peer reviewed, and patented, but is yet to be built, is the magnetodynamic suspension (MDS), which uses the attractive magnetic force of a permanent magnet array near a steel track to lift the train and hold it in place. Other technologies such as repulsive permanent magnets and superconducting magnets have seen some research.

Electromagnetic suspension

In current electromagnetic suspension (EMS) systems, the train levitates above a steel rail while electromagnets, attached to the train, are oriented toward the rail from below. The system is typically arranged on a series of C-shaped arms, with the upper portion of the arm attached to the vehicle, and the lower inside edge containing the magnets. The rail is situated between the upper and lower edges.

Magnetic attraction varies inversely with the cube of distance, so minor changes in distance between the magnets and the rail produce greatly varying forces. These changes in force are dynamically unstable – if there is a slight divergence from the optimum position, the tendency will be to exacerbate this, and complex systems of feedback control are required to maintain a train at a constant distance from the track, (approximately 15 millimeters (0.59 in)).

The major advantage to suspended maglev systems is that they work at all speeds, unlike electrodynamic systems which only work at a minimum speed of about 30 km/h (19 mph). This eliminates the need for a separate low-speed suspension system, and can simplify the track layout as a result. On the downside, the dynamic instability of the system puts high demands on tolerance control of the track, which can offset, or eliminate this advantage. Laithwaite, highly skeptical of the concept, was concerned that in order to make a track with the required tolerances, the gap between the magnets and rail would have to be increased to the point where the magnets would be unreasonably large. In practice, this problem was addressed through increased performance of the feedback systems, which allow the system to run with close tolerances.

Electrodynamic suspension

JR-Maglev EDS suspension is due to the magnetic fields induced either side of the vehicle by the passage of the vehicle's superconducting magnets.
EDS Maglev propulsion via propulsion coils

In electrodynamic suspension (EDS), both the guideway and the train exert a magnetic field, and the train is levitated by the repulsive and attractive force between these magnetic fields. In some configurations, the train can be levitated only by repulsive force. In the early stages of JR-Maglev development in Miyazaki test track, a purely repulsive system was used instead of the later repulsive and attractive EDS system. There is a misconception that the EDS system is purely a repulsive one, but that is not true. The magnetic field in the train is produced by either superconducting magnets (as in JR–Maglev) or by an array of permanent magnets (as in Inductrack). The repulsive and attractive force in the track is created by an induced magnetic field in wires or other conducting strips in the track. A major advantage of the EDS maglev systems is that they are naturally stable – minor narrowing in distance between the track and the magnets creates strong forces to repel the magnets back to their original position, while a slight increase in distance greatly reduces the repulsive force and again returns the vehicle to the right separation. In addition, the attractive force varies in the opposite manner, providing the same adjustment effects. No feedback control is needed.

EDS systems have a major downside as well. At slow speeds, the current induced in these coils and the resultant magnetic flux is not large enough to support the weight of the train. For this reason, the train must have wheels or some other form of landing gear to support the train until it reaches a speed that can sustain levitation. Since a train may stop at any location, due to equipment problems for instance, the entire track must be able to support both low-speed and high-speed operation. Another downside is that the EDS system naturally creates a field in the track in front and to the rear of the lift magnets, which acts against the magnets and creates a form of drag. This is generally only a concern at low speeds (This is one of the reasons why JR abandoned a purely repulsive system and adopted the sidewall levitation system.); at higher speeds the effect does not have time to build to its full potential and other forms of drag dominate.

The drag force can be used to the electrodynamic system's advantage, however, as it creates a varying force in the rails that can be used as a reactionary system to drive the train, without the need for a separate reaction plate, as in most linear motor systems. Laithwaite led development of such "traverse-flux" systems at his Imperial College laboratory. Alternatively, propulsion coils on the guideway are used to exert a force on the magnets in the train and make the train move forward. The propulsion coils that exert a force on the train are effectively a linear motor: an alternating current through the coils generates a continuously varying magnetic field that moves forward along the track. The frequency of the alternating current is synchronized to match the speed of the train. The offset between the field exerted by magnets on the train and the applied field creates a force moving the train forward.

Pros and cons of different technologies

Each implementation of the magnetic levitation principle for train-type travel involves advantages and disadvantages.

Technology    Pros    Cons

EMS ( Electromagnetic suspension) Magnetic fields inside and outside the vehicle are less than EDS; proven, commercially available technology that can attain very high speeds (500 km/h (310 mph)); no wheels or secondary propulsion system needed. The separation between the vehicle and the guideway must be constantly monitored and corrected by computer systems to avoid collision due to the unstable nature of electromagnetic attraction; due to the system's inherent instability and the required constant corrections by outside systems, vibration issues may occur.

(Electrodynamic suspension)
Onboard magnets and large margin between rail and train enable highest recorded train speeds (581 km/h (361 mph)) and heavy load capacity; has demonstrated (December 2005) successful operations using high-temperature superconductors in its onboard magnets, cooled with inexpensive liquid nitrogen. Strong magnetic fields on board the train would make the train inaccessible to passengers with pacemakers or magnetic data storage media such as hard drives and credit cards, necessitating the use of magnetic shielding; limitations on guideway inductivity limit the maximum speed of the vehicle; vehicle must be wheeled for travel at low speeds.

Inductrack System (Permanent Magnet Passive Suspension) Failsafe Suspension—no power required to activate magnets; Magnetic field is localized below the car; can generate enough force at low speeds (around 5 km/h (3.1 mph)) to levitate maglev train; in case of power failure cars slow down on their own safely; Halbach arrays of permanent magnets may prove more cost-effective than electromagnets. Requires either wheels or track segments that move for when the vehicle is stopped. New technology that is still under development (as of 2008) and as yet has no commercial version or full scale system prototype.

Neither Inductrack nor the Superconducting EDS are able to levitate vehicles at a standstill, although Inductrack provides levitation down to a much lower speed; wheels are required for these systems. EMS systems are wheel-less.

The German Transrapid, Japanese HSST (Linimo), and Korean Rotem EMS maglevs levitate at a standstill, with electricity extracted from guideway using power rails for the latter two, and wirelessly for Transrapid. If guideway power is lost on the move, the Transrapid is still able to generate levitation down to 10 km/h (6.2 mph) speed, using the power from onboard batteries. This is not the case with the HSST and Rotem systems.


Some EMS systems such as HSST/ Linimo can provide both levitation and propulsion using an onboard linear motor. But EDS systems and some EMS systems such as Transrapid can only levitate the train using the magnets on board, not propel it forward. As such, vehicles need some other technology for propulsion. A linear motor (propulsion coils) mounted in the track is one solution. Over long distances the cost of propulsion coils could be prohibitive.


Earnshaw's theorem shows that any combination of static magnets cannot be in a stable equilibrium. However, the various levitation systems achieve stable levitation by violating the assumptions of Earnshaw's theorem. Earnshaw's theorem assumes that the magnets are static and unchanging in field strength and that the relative permeability is constant and greater than unity everywhere. EMS systems rely on active electronic stabilization. Such systems constantly measure the bearing distance and adjust the electromagnet current accordingly. All EDS systems are moving systems (no EDS system can levitate the train unless it is in motion).

Because maglev vehicles essentially fly, stabilisation of pitch, roll and yaw is required by magnetic technology. In addition to rotation, surge (forward and backward motions), sway (sideways motion) or heave (up and down motions) can be problematic with some technologies.

If superconducting magnets are used on a train above a track made out of a permanent magnet, then the train would be locked in to its lateral position on the track. It can move linearly along the track, but not off the track. This is due to the Meissner effect.


Some systems use Null Current systems (also sometimes called Null Flux systems); these use a coil which is wound so that it enters two opposing, alternating fields, so that the average flux in the loop is zero. When the vehicle is in the straight ahead position, no current flows, but if it moves off-line this creates a changing flux that generates a field that pushes and pulls it back into line. However, some systems use coils that try to remain as much as possible in the null flux point between repulsive magnets, as this reduces eddy current losses.

Evacuated tubes

Some systems (notably the Swissmetro system) propose the use of vactrains—maglev train technology used in evacuated (airless) tubes, which removes air drag. This has the potential to increase speed and efficiency greatly, as most of the energy for conventional maglev trains is lost in air drag.

One potential risk for passengers of trains operating in evacuated tubes is that they could be exposed to the risk of cabin depressurization unless tunnel safety monitoring systems can repressurize the tube in the event of a train malfunction or accident. The RAND Corporation has depicted a vacuum tube train that could, in theory, cross the Atlantic or the USA in ~21 minutes.

Power and energy usage

Energy for maglev trains is used to accelerate the train, and may be regained when the train slows down (" regenerative braking"). It is also used to make the train levitate and to stabilise the movement of the train. The main part of the energy is needed to force the train through the air (" air drag"). Also some energy is used for air conditioning, heating, lighting and other miscellaneous systems.

At low speeds the percentage of power (energy per time) used for levitation can be significant consuming up to 15% more power than a subway or light rail service. Also for very short distances the energy used for acceleration might be considerable. But the power used to overcome air drag increases with the cube of the velocity, and hence dominates at high speed (note: the energy needed per mile increases by the square of the velocity and the time decreases linearly.).

Comparison with conventional trains

Maglev transport is non-contact, electric powered. It does not rely on the wheels, bearings and axles common to mechanical friction-reliant rail systems.

  • Speeds Maglev allows higher top speeds than conventional rail, but at least experimentally, wheel-based high-speed trains have been able to demonstrate similar speeds.
  • Maintenance Requirements Of Electronic Versus Mechanical Systems: Maglev trains currently in operation have demonstrated the need for nearly insignificant guideway maintenance. Their electronic vehicle maintenance is minimal and more closely aligned with aircraft maintenance schedules based on hours of operation, rather than on speed or distance traveled. Traditional rail is subject to the wear and tear of miles of friction on mechanical systems and increases exponentially with speed, unlike maglev systems. The running costs difference is a cost advantage of maglev over rail and also directly affects system reliability, availability and sustainability.
  • All-Weather Operations: While maglev trains currently in operation are not stopped, slowed, or have their schedules affected by snow, ice, severe cold, rain or high winds, they have not been operated in the wide range of conditions that traditional friction-based rail systems have operated. Maglev vehicles accelerate and decelerate faster than mechanical systems regardless of the slickness of the guideway or the slope of the grade because they are non-contact systems.
  • Backwards Compatibility: Maglev trains currently in operation are not compatible with conventional track, and therefore require all new infrastructure for their entire route, but this is not a negative if high levels of reliability and low operational costs are the goal. By contrast conventional high speed trains such as the TGV are able to run at reduced speeds on existing rail infrastructure, thus reducing expenditure where new infrastructure would be particularly expensive (such as the final approaches to city terminals), or on extensions where traffic does not justify new infrastructure. However,this "shared track approach" ignores mechanical rail's high maintenance requirements, costs and disruptions to travel from periodic maintenance on these existing lines. It is claimed by maglev advocates that the use of a completely separate maglev infrastructure more than pays for itself with dramatically higher levels of all-weather operational reliability and almost insignificant maintenance costs, but these claims have yet to be proven in an operational setting as intense as many traditional rail operations, and ignore the difference in maglev and traditional rail initial construction costs. So, maglev advocates would argue against rail backward compatibility and its concomitant high maintenance needs and costs.
  • Efficiency: Due to the lack of physical contact between the track and the vehicle, maglev trains experience no rolling resistance, leaving only air resistance and electromagnetic drag, potentially improving power efficiency.
  • Weight: The weight of the electromagnets in many EMS and EDS designs seems like a major design issue to the uninitiated. A strong magnetic field is required to levitate a maglev vehicle. For the Transrapid, this is between 1 and 2 kilowatts per ton. Another path for levitation is the use of superconductor magnets to reduce the energy consumption of the electromagnets, and the cost of maintaining the field. However, a 50-ton Transrapid maglev vehicle can lift an additional 20 tons, for a total of 70 tons, which consumes between 70 and 140 kW. Most energy use for the TRI is for propulsion and overcoming the friction of air resistance at speeds over 100 mph.
  • Noise: Because the major source of noise of a maglev train comes from displaced air, maglev trains produce less noise than a conventional train at equivalent speeds. However, the psychoacoustic profile of the maglev may reduce this benefit: a study concluded that maglev noise should be rated like road traffic while conventional trains have a 5–10 dB "bonus" as they are found less annoying at the same loudness level.
  • Design Comparisons: Braking and overhead wire wear have caused problems for the Fastech 360 railed Shinkansen. Maglev would eliminate these issues. Magnet reliability at higher temperatures is a countervailing comparative disadvantage (see suspension types), but new alloys and manufacturing techniques have resulted in magnets that maintain their levitational force at higher temperatures.
  • Control Systems: There are no signalling systems for high or low speed maglev systems. There is no need since all these systems are computer controlled. Besides, at the extremely high speeds of these systems, no human operator could react fast enough to slow down or stop in time. This is also why these systems require dedicated rights of way and are usually proposed to be elevated several meters above ground level. Two maglev system microwave towers are in contact with an EMS vehicle at all times for two-way communication between the vehicle and the central command centre's main operations computer. There are no need for train whistles or horns, either.

Comparison with aircraft

For many systems, it is possible to define a lift-to-drag ratio. For maglev systems these ratios can exceed that of aircraft (for example Inductrack can approach 200:1 at high speed, far higher than any aircraft). This can make maglev more efficient per kilometer. However, at high cruising speeds, aerodynamic drag is much larger than lift-induced drag. Jet transport aircraft take advantage of low air density at high altitudes to significantly reduce drag during cruise, hence despite their lift-to-drag ratio disadvantage, they can travel more efficiently at high speeds than maglev trains that operate at sea level (this has been proposed to be fixed by the vactrain concept).

While aircraft are theoretically more flexible, commercial air routes are not. High-speed maglevs are designed to be trip-time competitive with flights of 800 kilometers/500 miles or less. Additionally, while maglevs can service several cities in between such routes and be on time in all weather conditions, airlines cannot come close to such reliability or performance.

Because maglev vehicles are powered by electricity and do not carry fuel, maglev fares are less susceptible to the volatile price swings created by oil markets. Travelling via maglev also offers a significant safety margin over air travel since maglevs are designed not to crash into other maglevs or leave their guideways. Aircraft fuel is a significant danger during takeoff and landing accidents.


The Shanghai maglev demonstration line cost US$1.2 billion to build. This total includes infrastructure capital costs such as right-of-way clearing, extensive pile driving, on-site guideway manufacturing, in-situ pier construction every 25 meters, a maintenance facility and vehicle yard, several switches, two stations, operations and control systems, power feed system, cables and inverters, and operational training. Ridership is not a primary focus of this demonstration line, since the Longyang Road station is on the eastern outskirts of Shanghai. Once the line is extended to South Shanghai Train station and Hongqiao Airport station, ridership will be ample enough for the SMT to not only cover operation and maintenance costs, which it already does with its demonstration leg, but it will be able to generate significant revenue.

When the SMT in Shanghai begins to extend its line to South Shanghai Train Station, its goal is to limit the cost of future construction to approximately US$18 million per kilometer. They are confident about this since the German government, in 2006, put $125 million into guideway cost reduction development, which resulted in an all-concrete modular guideway design that is faster to build, has an 80-year life cycle, and is more than 30% less costly than what was used in Shanghai. In addition, new construction techniques were also developed that now put maglev at price parity with new high-speed rail construction, or even less.

The United States Federal Railroad Administration 2003 Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed Baltimore-Washington Maglev project gives an estimated 2008 capital costs of US$4.361 billion for 39.1 miles (62.9 km), or US$111.5 million per mile (US$69.3 million per kilometer). The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) conducted their own Environmental Impact Statement, and put the pricetag at US$4.9 billion for construction, and $53 million a year for operations.

The proposed Chuo Shinkansen maglev in Japan is estimated to cost approximately US$82 billion to build, with a route blasting long tunnels through mountains. A Tokaido maglev route replacing the current Shinkansen would cost some 1/10 the cost, as no new tunnel blasting would be needed, but noise pollution issues would make it infeasible.

The only low-speed maglev (100 km/h (62 mph)) currently operational, the Japanese Linimo HSST, cost approximately US$100 million/km to build. Besides offering improved operation and maintenance costs over other transit systems, these low-speed maglevs provide ultra-high levels of operational reliability and introduce little noise and zero air pollution into dense urban settings.

As maglev systems are deployed around the world, experts expect construction costs to drop as new construction methods are innovated along with economies of scale.


The highest recorded speed of a maglev train is 581 km/h (361 mph), achieved in Japan by JR Central's MLX01 superconducting maglev in 2003, 6 km/h (3.7 mph) faster than the conventional TGV wheel-rail speed record. However, the operational and performance differences between these two very different technologies is far greater than a mere 6 km/h (3.7 mph) of speed. For example, the TGV record was achieved accelerating down a 72.4 km (45.0 mi) slight incline, requiring 13 minutes. It then took another 77.25 km (48.00 mi) for the TGV to stop, requiring a total distance of 149.65 km (92.99 mi) for the test. The MLX01 record, however, was achieved on the 18.4 km (11.4 mi) Yamanashi test track – 1/8 the distance needed for the TGV test. While it is claimed high-speed maglevs can actually operate commercially at these speeds while wheel-rail trains cannot, and do so without the burden and expense of extensive maintenance, no maglev or wheel-rail commercial operation has actually been attempted at these speeds over 500 kph.

History of maglev speed records

  • 1971 – West Germany – Prinzipfahrzeug – 90 km/h (56 mph)
  • 1971 – West Germany – TR-02 ( TSST) – 164 km/h (102 mph)
  • 1972 – Japan – ML100 – 60 km/h (37 mph) – (manned)
  • 1973 – West Germany – TR04 – 250 km/h (160 mph) (manned)
  • 1974 – West Germany – EET-01 – 230 km/h (140 mph) (unmanned)
  • 1975 – West Germany – Komet – 401 km/h (249 mph) (by steam rocket propulsion, unmanned)
  • 1978 – Japan – HSST-01 – 308 km/h (191 mph) (by supporting rockets propulsion, made in Nissan, unmanned)
  • 1978 – Japan – HSST-02 – 110 km/h (68 mph) (manned)
  • 1979-12-12 – Japan-ML-500R – 504 km/h (313 mph) (unmanned) It succeeds in operation over 500 km/h for the first time in the world.
  • 1979-12-21 – Japan-ML-500R – 517 km/h (321 mph) (unmanned)
  • 1987 – West Germany – TR-06 – 406 km/h (252 mph) (manned)
  • 1987 – Japan – MLU001 – 401 km/h (249 mph) (manned)
  • 1988 – West Germany – TR-06 – 413 km/h (257 mph) (manned)
  • 1989 – West Germany – TR-07 – 436 km/h (271 mph) (manned)
  • 1993 – Germany – TR-07 – 450 km/h (280 mph) (manned)
  • 1994 – Japan – MLU002N – 431 km/h (268 mph) (unmanned)
  • 1997 – Japan – MLX01 – 531 km/h (330 mph) (manned)
  • 1997 – Japan – MLX01 – 550 km/h (340 mph) (unmanned)
  • 1999 – Japan – MLX01 – 548 km/h (341 mph) (unmanned)
  • 1999 – Japan – MLX01 – 552 km/h (343 mph) (manned/five formation). Guinness authorization.
  • 2003 – China – Transrapid SMT (built in Germany) – 501 km/h (311 mph) (manned/three formation)
  • 2003 – Japan – MLX01 – 581 km/h (361 mph) (manned/three formation). Guinness authorization.

Existing maglev systems

Testing tracks

San Diego, USA

General Atomics has a 120-meter test facility in San Diego, which is being used as the basis of Union Pacific's 8 km (5.0 mi) freight shuttle in Los Angeles. The technology is "passive" (or "permanent"), using permanent magnets in a halbach array for lift, and requiring no electromagnets for either levitation or propulsion. General Atomics has received US$90 million in research funding from the federal government. They are also looking to apply their technology to high-speed passenger services.

Emsland, Germany

Transrapid at the Emsland test facility

Transrapid, a German maglev company, has a test track in Emsland with a total length of 31.5 km (19.6 mi). The single track line runs between Dörpen and Lathen with turning loops at each end. The trains regularly run at up to 420 km/h (260 mph). The construction of the test facility began in 1980 and finished in 1984.

JR-Maglev, Japan

Japan has a demonstration line in Yamanashi prefecture where test trains JR-Maglev MLX01 have reached 581 km/h (361 mph), slightly faster than any wheeled trains. (The current TGV speed record is 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph).)

These trains use superconducting magnets which allow for a larger gap, and repulsive/attractive-type electrodynamic suspension (EDS). In comparison Transrapid uses conventional electromagnets and attractive-type electromagnetic suspension (EMS). These "Superconducting Maglev Shinkansen", developed by the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, are currently the fastest trains in the world, achieving a record speed of 581 km/h (361 mph) on 2 December 2003.

FTA's UMTD program

In the US, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Urban Maglev Technology Demonstration program has funded the design of several low-speed urban maglev demonstration projects. It has assessed HSST for the Maryland Department of Transportation and maglev technology for the Colorado Department of Transportation. The FTA has also funded work by General Atomics at California University of Pennsylvania to demonstrate new maglev designs, the MagneMotion M3 and of the Maglev2000 of Florida superconducting EDS system. Other US urban maglev demonstration projects of note are the LEVX in Washington State and the Massachusetts-based Magplane.

Southwest Jiaotong University, China

On 31 December 2000, the first crewed high-temperature superconducting maglev was tested successfully at Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu, China. This system is based on the principle that bulk high-temperature superconductors can be levitated or suspended stably above or below a permanent magnet. The load was over 530 kg (1,200 lb) and the levitation gap over 20 mm (0.79 in). The system uses liquid nitrogen, which is very cheap, to cool the superconductor.

Operational systems serving the public

Linimo (Tobu Kyuryo Line, Japan)

Linimo train approaching Banpaku Kinen Koen, towards Fujigaoka Station in March 2005

The commercial automated "Urban Maglev" system commenced operation in March 2005 in Aichi, Japan. This is the nine-station 9 km (5.6 mi) long Tobu-kyuryo Line, otherwise known as the Linimo. The line has a minimum operating radius of 75 m (246 ft) and a maximum gradient of 6%. The linear-motor magnetically levitated train has a top speed of 100 km/h (62 mph). More than 10 million passengers used this "urban maglev" line in its first three months of operation. At 100 km/h (62 mph), this urban transit technology is sufficiently fast for frequent stops, has little or no noise impact on surrounding communities, can fit into tight turn radii rights of way, and will operate reliably during most inclement weather conditions. The trains were designed by the Chubu HSST Development Corporation, which also operates a test track in Nagoya.

Shanghai Maglev Train

A maglev train coming out of the Pudong International Airport

In January 2001, the Chinese signed an agreement with the German maglev consortium Transrapid to build an EMS high-speed maglev line to link Pudong International Airport with Longyang Road Metro station on the eastern edge of Shanghai. This Shanghai Maglev Train demonstration line, or Initial Operating Segment (IOS), has been in commercial operations since April 2004 and now operates 115 (up from 110 daily trips in 2010) daily trips that traverse the 30 km (19 mi) between the two stations in just 7 minutes, achieving a top speed of 431 km/h (268 mph), averaging 266 km/h (165 mph). On a 12 November 2003 system commissioning test run, the Shanghai maglev achieved a speed of 501 km/h (311 mph), which is its designed top cruising speed for longer intercity routes. Unlike the old Birmingham maglev technology, the Shanghai maglev is extremely fast and comes with on time – to the second – reliability of greater than 99.97%.( 7-minute real time video of the maglev reaching 431 km/h in only 3 minutes)

Plans to extend the line to Shanghai South Railway Station and Hongqiao Airport on the western edge of Shanghai are presently on hold, awaiting government approval.

Daejeon, South Korea

A maglev train in Daejeon

The first maglev using electromagnetic suspension opened to public was HML-03, made by Hyundai Heavy Industries for the Daejeon Expo in 1993, after five years of research and manufacturing two prototypes, HML-01 and HML-02. Research for urban maglev using electromagnetic suspension began in 1994 by the government. The first urban maglev opened to public was UTM-02 in Daejeon on 21 April 2008 after 14 years of development and building one prototype; UTM-01. The urban maglev runs on a 1 km (0.62 mi) track between Expo Park and National Science Museum. Meanwhile UTM-02 remarked an innovation by conducting the world's first ever maglev simulation. However UTM-02 is still the second prototype of a final model. The final UTM model of Rotem's urban maglev, UTM-03, is scheduled to debut at the end of 2013 in Incheon's Yeongjong island where Incheon International Airport is located.

Under construction

Old Dominion University

Track of less than a mile in length has been constructed at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, USA. Although the system was initially built by AMT, problems caused the company to abandon the project and turn it over to the University. This system uses a "smart train, dumb track" design in which most of the sensors, magnets, and computation reside on the train rather than the track. This system will cost less to build per mile than existing systems. The US$14 million originally planned did not allow for completion. The system is currently not operational, but research has proved useful. In October 2006, the research team performed an unscheduled test of the car that went smoothly. The whole system, unfortunately, was removed from the power grid for nearby construction. In February 2009, the team was able to retest the sled, or bogie, and was again successful despite power outages on campus. Further testing is planned, increasing both speed and distance. Meanwhile, ODU has partnered with a Massachusetts-based company to test another maglev train on its campus. MagneMotion Inc. is expected to bring its prototype maglev vehicle, which is about the size of a van, to the campus to test in early 2010.

AMT Test Track – Powder Springs, Georgia

The same principle is involved in the construction of a second prototype system in Powder Springs, Georgia, USA, by American Maglev Technology, Inc.

Applied Levitation/Fastransit Test Track – Santa Barbara, California

Applied Levitation, Inc. has built a levitating prototype on a short indoor track, and is now planning a quarter-mile outdoor track, with switches, in or near Santa Barbara.

Beijing S1 Line

The Beijing municipal government is building China's first low-speed maglev line using technology developed by Defense Technology University. This is the 10.2 km (6.3 mi) long S1-West commuter rail line, which, together with seven other conventional lines, saw construction begin on 28 February 2011. The top speed will be 105 km/h (65 mph). This project is scheduled to be completed in 2015.

Proposed systems

Many maglev systems have been proposed in various nations of North America, Asia, and Europe. Many are still in the early planning stages, or even mere speculation, as with the transatlantic tunnel. But a few of the following examples have progressed beyond that point.


Johor: Malaysia has decided to use Maglev technology to link important landmarks across the city. This will be a boost to business to compete against the neighbouring country, Singapore. The system will be a monorail type maglev, developed in China.

The line would be from Penang-Kuala Lumpur-Singapore. It would take 1-hour 30-minute from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.


Sydney-Illawarra Maglev Proposal

There is a current proposal for a maglev route between Sydney and Wollongong.

The proposal came to prominence in the mid-1990s. The Sydney – Wollongong commuter corridor is the largest in Australia, with upwards of 20,000 people commuting from the Illawarra to Sydney for work each day. Current trains crawl along the dated Illawarra line, between the cliff face of the Illawarra escarpment and the Pacific Ocean, with travel times about two hours between Wollongong Station and Central. The proposed maglev would cut travel times to 20 minutes.

Melbourne Maglev Proposal

The proposed Melbourne maglev connecting the city of Geelong through Metropolitan Melbourne's outer suburban growth corridors, Tullamarine and Avalon domestic in and international terminals in under 20 mins and on to Frankston, Victoria in under 30 minutes

In late 2008, a proposal was put forward to the Government of Victoria to build a privately funded and operated maglev line to service the Greater Melbourne metropolitan area in response to the Eddington Transport Report which neglected to investigate above ground transport options. The maglev would service a population of over 4 million and the proposal was costed at A$8 billion.

However despite relentless road congestion and the highest roadspace per capita in Australia, the government quickly dismissed the proposal in favour of road expansion including an A$8.5 billion road tunnel, $6 billion extension of the Eastlink to the Western Ring Road and a $700 million Frankston Bypass.

United Kingdom

London – Glasgow: A maglev line, described in a 2006 factbook, was proposed in the United Kingdom from London to Glasgow with several route options through the Midlands, Northwest and Northeast of England and was reported to be under favourable consideration by the government. But the technology was rejected for future planning in the Government White Paper Delivering a Sustainable Railway published on 24 July 2007. Another high speed link is being planned between Glasgow and Edinburgh but there is no settled technology for it.


In May 2009, Iran and a German company signed an agreement on using maglev trains to link the cities of Tehran and Mashhad. The agreement was signed at the Mashhad International Fair site between Iranian Ministry of Roads and Transportation and the German company. Maglev trains can reduce the 900 km (560 mi) travel time between Tehran and Mashhad to about 2.5 hours. Munich-based Schlegel Consulting Engineers said they had signed the contract with the Iranian ministry of transport and the governor of Mashad. "We have been mandated to lead a German consortium in this project," a spokesman said. "We are in a preparatory phase." The next step will be assemble a consortium, a process that is expected to take place "in the coming months," the spokesman said. The project could be worth between 10 billion and 12 billion euros, the Schlegel spokesman said.

Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, the developers of a high-speed maglev train called the Transrapid, both said they were unaware of the proposal. The Schlegel spokesman said Siemens and ThyssenKrupp were currently "not involved." in the consortium


Tokyo – Nagoya – Osaka

Proposed Chūō Shinkansen route (thin broken orange line) and existing Tōkaidō Shinkansen route (bold solid orange line)

The plan for the Chuo Shinkansen bullet train system was finalized based on the Law for Construction of Countrywide Shinkansen. The Linear Chuo Shinkansen Project aims to realize this plan using the Superconductive Magnetically Levitated Train, which connects Tokyo and Osaka by way of Nagoya, the capital city of Aichi, in approximately one hour at a speed of 500 km/h (310 mph). In April 2007, JR Central President Masayuki Matsumoto said that JR Central aims to begin commercial maglev service between Tokyo and Nagoya in the year 2025 with the full track between Tokyo and Osaka finalized in 2045.


Caracas – La Guaira
A maglev train ( TELMAGV) has been proposed to connect the capital city Caracas to the main port town of La Guaira and Simón Bolívar International Airport. No budget has been allocated, pending definition of the route, although a route of six to nine kilometers (four to six miles) has been suggested. The proposal envisages that, initially, a full-sized prototype train would be built with about 1 km (0.62 mi) of test track.

In proposing a maglev system, its improved life and performance over mechanical engines were cited as important factors, as well as improving comfort, safety, economics and environmental impact over conventional rail.


Shanghai – Hangzhou
China is planning to extend the existing Shanghai Maglev Train, initially by some 35 kilometers to Shanghai Hongqiao Airport and then 200 kilometers to the city of Hangzhou ( Shanghai-Hangzhou Maglev Train). If built, this would be the first inter-city maglev rail line in commercial service.

The project has been controversial and repeatedly delayed. In May 2007 the project was suspended by officials, reportedly due to public concerns about radiation from the maglev system. In January and February 2008 hundreds of residents demonstrated in downtown Shanghai against the line being built too close to their homes, citing concerns about sickness due to exposure to the strong magnetic field, noise, pollution and devaluation of property near to the lines. Final approval to build the line was granted on 18 August 2008. Originally scheduled to be ready by Expo 2010, current plans call for completion by 2014. The Shanghai municipal government has considered multiple options, including building the line underground to allay the public's fear of electromagnetic pollution. This same report states that the final decision has to be approved by the National Development and Reform Commission.

The Shanghai municipal government may also build a factory in Nanhui district to produce low-speed maglev trains for urban use.


Mumbai – Delhi
A maglev line project was presented to the Indian railway minister ( Mamta Banerjee) by an American company. A line was proposed to serve between the cities of Mumbai and Delhi, the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that if the line project is successful the Indian government would build lines between other cities and also between Mumbai Central and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.
Mumbai – Nagpur
The State of Maharashtra has also approved a feasibility study for a maglev train between Mumbai (the commercial capital of India as well as the State government capital) and Nagpur (the second State capital) about 1,000 km (620 mi) away. It plans to connect the regions of Mumbai and Pune with Nagpur via less developed hinterland (via Ahmednagar, Beed, Latur, Nanded and Yavatmal).
Chennai – Bangalore – Mysore
Large and Medium Scale Industries Minister of Karnataka Mr. Murugesh Nirani, a detailed report will be prepared and submitted by December 2012 and the project is expected to cost $26 million per kilometer of railway track. The speed of Maglev will be 350 kmph and will take 1hr 30 mins from Chennai to Mysore via Bangalore.

Puerto Rico

San Juan – Caguas: A 16.7-mile (26.8 km) maglev project has been proposed linking Tren Urbano's Cupey Station in San Juan with two proposed stations to be built in the city of Caguas, south of San Juan. The maglev line would run along Highway PR-52, connecting both cities. According to American Maglev Technology (AMT), which is the company in charge of the construction of this train, the cost of the project is approximately US$380 million for one track connecting both cities.

United States

Union Pacific Freight Conveyor: Plans are under way by American rail road operator Union Pacific to build a 7.9 km (4.9 mi) container shuttle between the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, with UP's Intermodal Container Transfer Facility. The system would be based on "passive" technology, especially well suited to freight transfer as no power is needed on board, simply a chassis which glides to its destination. The system is being designed by General Atomics.

California-Nevada Interstate Maglev: High-speed maglev lines between major cities of southern California and Las Vegas are also being studied via the California-Nevada Interstate Maglev Project. This plan was originally supposed to be part of an I-5 or I-15 expansion plan, but the federal government has ruled it must be separated from interstate public work projects.

Since the federal government decision, private groups from Nevada have proposed a line running from Las Vegas to Los Angeles with stops in Primm, Nevada; Baker, California; and points throughout San Bernardino County into Los Angeles. Southern California politicians have not been receptive to these proposals; many are concerned that a high speed rail line out of state would drive out dollars that would be spent in state "on a rail" to Nevada.

Baltimore – Washington D.C. Maglev: A 64 km (40 mi) project has been proposed linking Camden Yards in Baltimore and Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport to Union Station in Washington, D.C. It is said to be in demand for the area due to its current traffic/congestion problems.

The Pennsylvania Project: The Pennsylvania High-Speed Maglev Project corridor extends from the Pittsburgh International Airport to Greensburg, with intermediate stops in Downtown Pittsburgh and Monroeville. This initial project will serve a population of approximately 2.4 million people in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. The Baltimore proposal is competing with the Pittsburgh proposal for a US$90 million federal grant. The purpose of the project is to see if the maglev system can function properly in a U.S. city environment.

San Diego-Imperial County airport: In 2006 San Diego commissioned a study for a maglev line to a proposed airport located in Imperial County. SANDAG says that the concept would be an "airports without terminals", allowing passengers to check in at a terminal in San Diego ("satellite terminals") and take the maglev to Imperial airport and board the airplane there as if they went directly through the terminal in the Imperial location. In addition, the maglev would have the potential to carry high priority freight. Further studies have been requested although no funding has yet been agreed.

Atlanta Chattanooga: The proposed maglev route would run from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, run through Atlanta, continue to the northern suburbs of Atlanta, and possibly even extend to Chattanooga, Tennessee. If built, the maglev line would rival Atlanta's current subway system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA), the rail system of which includes a major branch running from downtown Atlanta to Hartsfield-Jackson airport.


On 25 September 2007, Bavaria announced it would build a high-speed maglev-rail service from the city of Munich to its airport. The Bavarian government signed contracts with Deutsche Bahn and Transrapid with Siemens and ThyssenKrupp for the 1.85 billion euro project.

On 27 March 2008, the German Transport minister announced the project had been cancelled due to rising costs associated with constructing the track. A new estimate put the project between 3.2 and 3.4 billion euros.


SwissRapide: The SwissRapide AG together with the SwissRapide Consortium is planning and developing the first maglev monorail system for intercity traffic between major cities in the country. The SwissRapide Express is an innovative solution for the coming transportation challenges in Switzerland. As pioneer for large infrastructure projects, SwissRapide is to be financed to 100% by private investors. In the long-term, the SwissRapide Express is to connect the major cities north of the Alps between Geneva and St. Gallen, including Lucerne and Basel. The first projects currently in planning are Berne – Zurich, Lausanne – Geneva as well as Zurich – Winterthur. The first line (Lausanne – Geneva or Zurich – Winterthur) could go into service as early as 2020.

Swissmetro: An earlier project, Swissmetro, has previously attempted to provide a solution for the transportation challenges in the country. The Swissmetro AG had the technically challenging vision of constructing an underground maglev rail system, which would have been in a partial vacuum in order to reduce air friction at high speeds. As with SwissRapide, Swissmetro envisioned connecting the major cities in Switzerland with one another. In 2011, Swissmetro AG was dissolved and the IPRs from the organisation were passed onto the EPFL in Lausanne.


There are plans to build a 683 km (424 mi) long maglev rail service between Jakarta and Surabaya. This maglev will have 7 stations including Semarang. Also there are plans to build a maglev rail service between Pontianak and Samarinda.

Significant incidents

There have been two incidents involving fires. The Japanese test train in Miyazaki, MLU002, was completely consumed in a fire in 1991. As a result of the fire, political opposition in Japan claimed maglev was a waste of public money.

On 11 August 2006, a fire broke out on the commercial Shanghai Transrapid shortly after arriving at the Longyang terminal. People were quickly evacuated without incident before the vehicle was moved down line about 1 kilometer to avoid smoke filling the station. NAMTI officials toured the SMT maintenance facility in November 2010 and learned that the cause of the battery fire was "thermal runaway" in one of the battery trays. As a result of these findings, SMT secured a new battery vendor, installed new temperature sensors and insulators, and redesigned the battery trays to prevent a re-occurrence of the event.

On 22 September 2006, a Transrapid train collided with a maintenance vehicle on a test/publicity run in Lathen (Lower Saxony / north-western Germany). Twenty-three people were killed and ten were injured; these were the first fatalities resulting from an accident on a maglev system. The accident was caused by human error; charges were brought against three Transrapid employees after a year-long investigation.

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