A prototype locomotive using high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev technology was rolled out on Wednesday in southwest China’s city of Chengdu.
The domestically developed maglev train boasts a designed speed of 620 kph, according to Southwest Jiaotong University, one of the train’s designers.
A 165-meter line to test the new train was launched on the same day.
At the launch ceremony, the 21-meter-long silver-and-black locomotive was seen floating slowly along the track. Experts hailed the key development of HTS technology emerging from lab tests in China.
“Although the theory sounds good, everyone saw it (HTS maglev technology) as a lab toy in the past, without tests in a real situation,” said Deng Zigang, deputy director of the university’s research centre for super-high-speed maglev transport in low-pressure tubes.
China has been a world leader in the construction of high-speed railway. By the end of 2020, the country had 37,900 km of high-speed rail lines in service, the longest in the world, according to China’s railway operator.
Maglev trains, levitated from the tracks and propelled by powerful magnets to avoid wheel-rail friction, are designed to break the speed bottlenecks facing high-speed trains.
The country’s first commercial maglev system was put into operation in 2003 in Shanghai.
The 30-km stretch between downtown and the city’s Pudong airport is based on German maglev technology of “electromagnetic suspension” (EMS).
China’s first medium-and-low speed maglev line fully supported by the country’s own EMS technology started operations in May 2016 in Changsha, Hunan Province. It has a design speed of 100 kph.
Involving an investment of 60 million yuan ($9.3 million), the HTS maglev project was jointly developed by Southwest Jiaotong University, China Railway Group Limited and CRRC Corporation Limited.
Compared with other maglev technologies, HTS tech is more suitable for the futuristic concept of superfast transportation in vacuum tubes, where trains could hit speeds of over 1,000 kph, according to experts.
“The HTS technology can make the train float without electricity, and it can be moved with just one hand,” said Deng.
At the site, a reporter succeeded in moving the 12-tonne levitated locomotive with one finger.
Wu Zili, a senior engineer with the Southwest Jiaotong University, said the cost of the (HTS) maglev system is estimated to be slightly higher than high-speed rail, but the cost is expected to go down further if mass production of main components is achieved.