When it comes to any piece of technology, developed countries are in a race as to who will make a groundbreaking advancement first. One of the most contestable technological titles today is in rail transit about which country has the fastest train(s), and the battle seems to be concentrated in Europe and Asia. China has held this title since launching the Shanghai Maglev back in 2002, after which other countries followed suit with high-speed bullet trains and maglevs (magnetic levitation trains). For just under 20 years, the Shanghai Maglev has held the title for the fastest high-speed maglev train with the maximum cruising speed capped at 431 Km/h.
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A New Age of Rapid Train Transportation
Back to infrastructure tech, the Chinese nation was also among the first users of the avant-garde magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, which they have been consistently reinventing. This technology works by using electromagnetic force generated by a series of superconducting magnets with opposing polarity. These create multiple electromagnetic fields that, in turn, generate DC (direct current) that lifts the train off the rails and propels it forward. Noise pollution thus becomes history as there is no contact between the rails and the locomotive’s body.
Come 2021, and a brand-new maglev that has been in the works for well over 4 years is going to be gracing the Chinese rail transit system, giving competitors a run for their money. The new, improved 600 Km/h prototype was launched on 20th July 2021 in Qingdao Sifang by China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation LTD and is now considered the world’s fastest operational ground vehicle. This means that a trip from Beijing to Shanghai will now take only 2.5 hours, just 30 minutes more than a flight between the two megacities.
What About Other Countries?
The current situation with congestion in megacities and cities around the world is making it more and more difficult to navigate with other ground vehicles. This problem is slowly being eased by rail transit systems which eliminate any concerns about being stuck in hour-long traffic jams between destinations. The need for speed has never been more in demand than it is today, and as mentioned, the race to becoming the fastest is on. So, what will influence the possibility of others catching up or even beating China in this race?
When it comes to speed, the last record holder for an operational system is the French TGV named the Alstom V150, which can go up to a maximum of 574.8 Km/h. This wonder of a train has been in operation since 2007, and it seems to work pretty well, ferrying passengers between Brussels and Paris. Whether they will pick up on the challenge and get into the battle to outshine China remains speculative at best, although we cannot rule out the possibility altogether.
Japan and South Korea
As far as the fasted maglev ever tested for speed, the Japanese SCMaglev managed to beat them all by cruising at a whooping 603 Km/h on the Yamanashi test track back in 2015. Japan is still developing the Chuo Shinkansen maglev line that will run between Tokyo and Nagoya and, with time, extend to Osaka. The projected operating speed for this 285-Km rail line is 505 Km/h.
Before the newly launched Chinese maglev, there were 6 operational maglevs, with 3 being in China, 2 in South Korea and 1 in Japan. The good news is that there are ongoing maglev projects in different countries that will absolutely feed the hunger that consumers are eagerly waiting to fulfil. As of now, we can count more than 10 active projects that begun years ago and have a bit of a long way before completion. For example, the Tokyo-Osaka Project is meant to be finalized in 2045.
Of course, the cost of developing an advanced rail system is not to be trifled with, and maglevs are at the top of the budget food chain once a country sets out to develop such infrastructure.
No Challenger for China’s Locomotive Crown Yet
We can only wait and see where this race will take the rail transit industry. As it stands now, China is the king of the fastest rail transit in use, and we can only hope that others will follow suit in the shortest time possible.