Scalping tickets toa football or basketball game? Happens all the time. Scalping tickets for a 30-kilometer train ride? Now, that's unusual.
Ah, but what a ride it was. The train is the fastest by far on the planet, and it literally flies while suspended and propelled by magnetic forces. Built in China by a trio of German companies and the Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Co., it reaches 430 km/h (268 mi/h)—130 km/h faster than Japan's famous bullet train. And even as it goes faster than any commercial vehicle without wings, the Chinese train is smoother and quieter than Amtrak's wheel-on-rail Acela—the state of the art in the United States—which pokes along when it can at a maximum 240 km/h.
Could this be the dawning, at last, of the long-awaited age of magnetic-levitation ("maglev") trains? After many false starts and the completion of full-scale experimental maglev systems in Japan and Germany in the 1980s, maglev in China will finally start shuttling passengers in October in a reasonably large-scale, commercial system. The trains will run from downtown Shanghai's financial district to Pudong International Airport, making an 8-minute run that will shave about 40 minutes off the typical trip time in a taxi. With three five-car trains, each carrying as many as 574 passengers, and trains leaving every 10 minutes, the US $1.2 billion system could carry more than 10 million passengers a year.
The Shanghai line is the first of several maglev projects planned for later this decade [see "Selected Maglev Projects"]. They include:
- A 37-km Munich-to-airport link in Germany.
- A U.S. regional maglev for either Pittsburgh or Baltimore, finalists in a competition for funding by the U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT's) Federal Railroad Administration (Washington, D.C.).
A 78-km Düsseldorf-to-Dortmund link in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany's most populous state, was cancelled only in late June because of a budget shortfall and political differences.
Another system was almost up and running, meant to carry students across the campus of Old Dominion University [see "Riding on Air in Virginia," IEEE Spectrum, October 2002, pp. 20-21]. But following its shakeout on a test guideway, the 1000-meter-long monorail, with a top speed of 64 km/h, provided a much bumpier ride on the real thing than expected. It sits unfinished, awaiting funds for further tweaking.
Passenger travel will not be the only beneficiary of maglev technology. NASA is considering it for assisting the launch of space vehicles, and the U.S. Navy wants it for catapulting its planes from the decks of aircraft carriers [see "Magnetic Takeoffs"].