It seems not a month goes by without us running a story about an ambitious Chinese rail project. And today is a big one - local press are reporting that the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) has started research and development on a new type of maglev train that could reach speeds of up to 600 km/h, far faster than anything else in operation today. The Beijing based company is the world’s largest rolling stock manufacturer employing a staggering 175,700 employees and is no stranger to major projects both at home and increasingly abroad. Their team of engineers have been given the task of reducing the Shanghai to Beijing journey time from five hours down to two. Chinese researchers have already been working on a new generation of these maglev bullet trains that can reach a speed of around 500km/h train, but this is not good enough for the ever-ambitious CRRC.
Chinese press agency Xinhua has reported this week that CRRC will build a 5km-long track to test out this new maglev and also develop maglev trains that travel at 200 km/h. Sun Bangcheng, a CRRC official stated they had an aim of establishing technology and standard systems for new-generation medium- and high-speed maglev transportation that can used around the world.
Maglev technology was initially created by English inventor Eric Laithwaite who made the train commercially viable in Birmingham 1984. This first maglev train travelled only 42km/h covering a distance of 600m, but since its invention, some of the world's technology leaders have run with the idea. Last year, Japan used the maglev technology to design the SCMaglev; the first train that can zoom at a record speed of 603km/h. However, passengers will have a long wait because even the Japanese 500km/h maglev will not be commercially viable until 2027 due to the concerns about the infrastructure and costs to build the long tracks.
By contrast, China is home to the fastest commercial Shanghai Maglev which darts from the city to Pudong International Airport at speeds of 431 km/h. However, this seems anticlimactic after plans were revealed in 2014 to create a maglev prototype that would race 3000km/h down the tracks. Earlier in May, China launched its first commercially viable and Chinese manufactured maglev line in Changsha. This line now transports passengers from the South Rail Station to the airport but at a disappointing top speed of 100 km/h.
So how does the maglev train reach such dizzying speeds? In contrast to conventional rolling stock, the maglev line uses electrically charged magnets. These electromagnets pull the train from the front and push it from behind. They are then controlled by alternating currents which propel the train forward. Hovering 10cm above the tracks, the maglev does not need to be fitted with wheels or traditional rolling stock technology. Despite the excessive construction costs, maglev trains are a sustainable alternative to current rail infrastructures which are operated on electricity rather than fossil fuels. CRRC says that it will need to improve its levitation and traction technology before developing this next set of high-speed rail links.
Here is a diagram which demonstrates the magnetic pull allowing the train to levitate:
China is currently the world’s leading country to offer 20,000 km of high-speed rail lines. The government have also provided a financial input of 3.8 trillion yuan ($538 billion) to spur on the impressive developments in the rail industry. So in the coming years, high speed rail links are expected to expand to 30,000km by 2020 and 45,000 by 2030.
The nation also has ambitions to be the world-leading provider of high speed rail links. For instance, they have already made bids to build these networks in the UK, Australia, Southeast Asia, Iran and Mexico, and already they are working on building 3,000 km of high-speed rail in Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia and Russia. The firm aspires to deliver high-speed trains that can run at 400 km/h and alternate between different track gauges, making international crossings quick and easy.
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