Maglev Trains

Maglev Trains

One of the most modern means of transport is the Maglev, capable of travelling at speeds of over 400 km/h.



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Magnetic levitation train

The principle of magnetic levitation and propulsion was patented by the German Hermann Kemper as early as 1934. From the 1960s onwards Germany, Japan and the US have conducted several experiments in an attempt to implement it.
Although Germany was the leading developer of Maglev, at the end of the 1990s the German government decided to suspend the construction of a rail line, due to costs reaching astronomical proportions. A foreign order ended the impasse over the Maglev.
At the end of 1999, the Berlin-based company Transrapid agreed with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology to implement and build the system. Operating since 2003, the trains are capable of travelling at speeds of over 400 km/h. Their introduction marked the beginning of a new era in the history of rail transport.

Magnetic levitation train

Top view

Driver´s cabin

Fast travel - high costs

The world´s first magnetic levitation train started operating in China, between Shanghai´s business district and Pudong Airport, in 2003. Built by the German Transrapid company, the commercial train covers a 30 km distance in only 7 minutes.
Maglev needs its own, totally separate track. As nothing can cross its way, closed or elevated tracks have to be built. In the latter case, 5-6 m high concrete pillars support the electromagnetic track. Consequently, the costs are much higher than those of other types of trains.
The new type of trains will be able to overcome steep slopes, thus more tightly curving tracks can be built, which may result in cost reduction. Because there is no friction between the train and the track, Maglev tracks require less maintenance and have longer lifespan in comparison with other traditional train tracks.

Maglev speeding on a track near Shanghai


  • closed track on concrete pillars
  • driver´s cabin
  • wraparound skirt
  • passenger cabin
  • passenger doors
  • transmitter


  • electromagnet
  • steel rail
  • concrete pillar

Structure and operation

Conventional trains have a high energy consumption to reduce friction generated at the wheels. Magnetic levitation, however, eliminates friction so higher speeds can be reached by using a lot less energy.

The two most widespread types of magnetic levitation are EDS (electrodynamic suspension), used mostly in Japanese trains, and EMS (electromagnetic suspension), used mostly in German and Chinese trains.

The Shanghai Maglev Train also uses the EMS system. In this system the 'skirt' at the bottom of the train extends below the rail and, due to the attractive force between the steel rail and the electromagnets placed on the train, the train starts to levitate. If the strength of the magnets was not controlled, the train would either not rise against gravity and remain on the concrete pillar, or rise too high, attaching to the bottom surface of the rail.

Therefore the train must be in a state of unstable equilibrium between these two extremes. This is achieved by a sophisticated feedback system that monitors the distance between the train and the rail more than a thousand times a second and adjusts the electric current flowing in the electromagnets accordingly. The optimum distance above and below the rail is 15 mm and 10 mm respectively.

The EDS system, however, works in a completely different way. There are superconducting or very strong magnets located on both sides of the train. If the train is travelling faster than about 30 km/h, these generate a strong enough current in the coils placed on the sides of the guideway so that the coils become electromagnets which repel the permanent magnets on the train, thus achieving levitation.


  • permanent magnet
  • electromagnet


The train can be accelerated or slowed down by changing the poles of the electromagnets in the right rhythm.
In order to avoid having to store large batteries on the train and to allow the train proceed faster, the coils used for acceleration are embedded in the sides of the guideway and they have an external power supply.
Sensors send information to the control computer about the position and speed of train. The computer switches the poles of the electromagnets at the right point, slowing down or accelerating the train. The coils are organised into sections along the rail and each section of coils can be switched on or off.


  • closed track on concrete pillars
  • driver´s cabin
  • wraparound skirt
  • passenger cabin
  • passenger doors
  • transmitter
  • electromagnet
  • steel rail
  • concrete pillar
  • permanent magnet
  • electromagnet


Maglev trains are maintained and propelled on their tracks by magnetic fields. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation.

The principle of magnetic levitation and propulsion was developed as early as 1930, but it was not until decades later that it was implemented in practice. Although Germany was the leading developer of Maglev, the project lost government support and it was therefore China that operated the first Maglev line in 2003.
The world´s first magnetic train connected Shanghai´s business district and Pudong Airport. The train covers a distance of 30 km in 7-8 minutes, occasionally reaching speeds of 430 km/h.

Due to their operating principle, maglev trains require separate and continuous tracks. One option is to built elevated tracks supported by 5-6 m high concrete pillars.

The principle of magnetic levitation originates in the principle of the operation of electric motors. There are several ways to implement this principle in practice. One way is to place magnets on the concrete guideway, that is, at the bottom of the guide rail as well as at the lower part of the trains, that is at the 'skirt'.

In this synchronous linear motor system, the first acts as a stator, the latter acts as a rotor. The current lifts the train up and propels it forward.

The guide magnets fixed to the 'skirt', the built-in sensors and the control computers ensure that trains do not touch the tracks while in motion.

Although the principle of magnetic levitation is very simple, it is very costly to implement. Yet, it is a fact that the new maglev technology, with trains running quickly and quietly without wheels, axles and bearings, has marked a new era in the history of the railway.

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