Maglev trains are frictionless, propelled by electromagnets and hovering above the track once they get going. They rest on wheels when they come to a halt at stations. China already has short maglev lines operating at different top speeds as part of public transit networks.
At 80 to 120 km/h, low- to medium-speed maglev trains are used in urban rail or airport rail systems. In May 2016, Changsha Maglev Express was launched in Hunan Province to connect Changsha South Station and Changsha Huanghua International Airport. It runs at 100 km/h. A mid-speed maglev runs at 200 to 400 km/h, similar to high-speed rail. A speed of 400 to 1,000 km/h is considered a high-speed maglev. The Shanghai TransRapid maglev, which opened to passengers in 2004 and runs to Pudong International Airport on a 30-kilometer track, hits a top speed of 431 km/h, still the fastest maglev in commercial operation.
A speed of over 1,000 kilometers per hour is called a super-high-speed maglev. In 2013, Tesla founder Elon Musk proposed an idea for a futuristic transportation system named the Hyperloop, which could transport passengers at ultra-fast speeds of up to 1,000 kilometers per hour in underground tunnels. Similar to the Hyperloop concept, a high-speed maglev transportation system is so far the only large-scale ground public transportation system which could be realized.
Japan is at the forefront of research and development in this field. In 2015, Japan set a new land-speed record of 603 km/h for a manned train at its Miyazaki test track. The country is building a high-speed maglev train line between Tokyo and Nagoya aiming to operate at 505 km/h which is slated to start carrying passengers in 2027. China has set the target speed for its high-speed maglev trains at 600 km/h. Yet the higher the speed, the greater the technical challenges.
According to CRRC Qingdao Sifang, the test of the vehicle, one of five prototype vehicles it is building, enabled them to obtain crucial data. The dynamic trials confirmed the vehicle’s stability and the performance of its suspension, and the key concepts of the design performance of the system from the previous static trials. It also provides important technical support for the next prototype.
Sun Zhang, a retired professor and expert on high-speed rail at Tongji University, told NewsChina: “The guideway at Tongji University is only 1.5 kilometers, so it’s really a very preliminary test. But it’s a significant first step toward success through the initial achievements to run, float, turn and climb.”
In Sun’s opinion, the greater significance is that while Shanghai’s maglev project was based on German technology from Siemens and Thyssen-Krupp, this time China is developing its own technology.
In 2019, high-speed maglev was listed as a frontier key technology in China’s “Outline for the Construction of a Powerful Transportation Country.” The success of the trial run, according to Chen means that, “In terms of overall national planning and construction, it will enable researchers, engineers and decision-makers to observe the real progress of the system, perceive how the new generation of self-developed maglev vehicles is running, and further enhance the confidence of various stakeholders to continue promoting the implementation of the project.”
Others are more cautious. Zhu Qijie, former vice president of the China Railway Research Institute, told NewsChina that there was no need to get too excited about the trial run. “I was also the head of the General Station of Supervision and Inspection of Product Quality of the Ministry of Railways during my tenure, and was the technical director of the Ministry of Railways’ speed-up and high-speed tests, so I am clear about the process of different tests for rail transit vehicles before they go into real operation,” Zhu said. “This kind of trial run isn’t a big deal.”