Maglev is a vehicle propulsion system that uses magnetic levitation to move a vehicle with magnets instead of wheels. The vehicle hovers a short distance above the guide way by magnets and also uses the magnets for motion. The operation of this system is quite and maintains less friction for improved acceleration and deceleration. Weather does not affect the performance of the vehicle. Currently, some trains make use of the Maglev system, but vacuum tube trains could allow a Maglev system transport to attain higher speeds, but none have been built as of yet.

Energy used to levitate the Maglev vehicle is only a small percent of the total energy needed for travel. Air resistance or drag uses almost all the power for a Maglev train. One advantage of this system is that less friction is created and there is no hammer effect from wheels on the rails, thus causing less maintenance and reducing operational costs.

Several patents have been granted for Maglev type systems around the world. F.S. Smith was awarded a patent in 1907, Hermann Kemper was awarded several between 1937 and 1941, and G.R. Polgreen in 1959. The first full sized working model of a linear induction motor was manufactured in the late 1940s by British electrical engineer Eric Laithwaite. The linear motor doesn’t need direct contact between the vehicle and rail and during the 1960s and 1970s it became a common component to transportation systems.

During the 1970s, the linear motor was modified to suit the Maglev system by using magnets to allow the motor to produce forward thrust as well as lift. The first commercial Maglev system opened in 1984 near Birmingham, England. It operated at 26 miles per hour on a 2,000 foot section of monorail track between the airport and railway station in Birmingham. Reliability problems caused it to close in 1995.

In 1980, construction began on a 19.6 mile single track Maglev test system in Emsland, Germany. It ran between Dorpen and Lathen and contained turning loops at each location. It was completed in 1984. The train reached speeds up to 260 mph on regular runs with paying passengers. However, in 2006 an accident at the Lathen end killed 23 people. Human error was the cause and from 2006 to 2011 when the operations license expired, no passengers traveled on the train. Early 2012 demolition of the facility and all components were given permission for demolition.

In Japan on a test track in 1979, a train reached a world record speed of 321 mph. An accident in 1979 destroyed the train and a new design was implemented. Tests continued through the 1980s and 1990s and in 1997 a larger test track was used that was 12 miles long.

Current and future Maglev systems:

An automated “Urban Maglev” began operation in 2005 in Aichi, Japan. It operates on a 5.6 mile track and stops at nine different stations. It runs at a speed of 62 mph and more than ten million passengers used the system in the first three months.

Since April 2004 a Maglev system runs on a 19 mile track with 115 trips daily in Shanghai. It reaches speeds of up to 268 mph making the trip in seven minutes with an average speed of 165 mph.

In Daejeon, South Korea on April 21, 2008, a Maglev was opened to the public after 14 years in development. It runs on a .62 mile section of track between Expo Park and the National Science Museum.

In Beijing, the first low-speed commuter Maglev line is a 6.3 mile long system that began construction in February 2011 with a completion date sometime in 2015.

South Korea’s Incheon Airport has a 3.8 mile section with six stations set for an early 2014 opening.

In Australia a proposed system was dismissed by the government would have serviced a population of four million. Instead, road expansions and a $8.5 billion tunnel was approved.

The United States has several proposals for systems around the country.

Freight transfer from Los Angeles to Long Beach, California. A line between southern California cities and Las Vegas was proposed but the federal government states it must be separate from the I-5 and I-15 expansions. Other proposals from California have not been receptive by politicians. A Pennsylvania Project and Baltimore project are competing for government grants.

A Line in Switzerland could be operational as early as 2020. Another line in Japan from Tokyo to Nagoya could have service by 2025 and to Osaka by 2045.

Image Caption: Transrapid on testing center in Germany nearby Bremen. Credit: Stahlkocher/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)