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Japan’s Maglev Breaks World Speed Record

Japan’s new maglev bullet train broke a world speed record Wednesday, hitting 603 km/h during a demonstration. This is the second world record the new system has broken, with the first being 590 km/h a week ago which shattered the 2003 record of 581 km/h.

Maglev trains float above the track, buoyed by a long line of electromagnets along the track. The electromagnets have different poles and naturally push away from each other, causing the train to float above the tracks. Charged magnets along the side of the track pull the train forward.

The video below has a more in-depth explanation:


While the system is still in an extensive testing phase, Japan’s government is planning to implement it on a route from Tokyo to Nagoya in 2027. The route will be extended to Osaka by 2045. By road the Tokyo-Nagoya route takes approximately five hours, but when the train is ready this trip will be shortened to only 40 minutes.

The cost of such a system is far more than current high speed rail networks. It’s estimated that to build a maglev track along the Tokyo to Nagoya route, which stretches 286 km, it would cost $46 billion.

Shanghai has had a functional maglev link since 2003. The 30.5 km link whisks commuters from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport to the city and hits an average of 431 km/h.

Built by a division of German giant Siemens (ETR: SIE) this line serves as a technology demonstration of the potential of maglev technology to improve commute times in traffic clogged cities. An extension of the maglev train is planned into the city, with further routes planned to Beijing in the mid-2020s.

But maglev’s problem is the cost. While the technology has a lot of potential, governments will be hesitant to commit to it when standard high speed rail systems are sufficient.