By Charles F Moreira, Editor
A production model or the world fastest magnetic levitation (maglev) train, with a top speed of 600 km/h rolled out of China’s state-owned CRRC Corporation Limited’s assembly line in Qingdai, Shandong Province in eastern China on 20 July 2021, according to the Global Times. These maglev trains can be configured from 2 to 10 cars according to requirement, with each car capable of accommodating more than 100 passengers.
Maglev technology comprises coils in the guideway and in the train, which when an electrical current flows through them generate magnetic fields which lifts the train above the guideway and propels it forward, without the friction encountered by wheeled trains and the track, thus enabling maglev trains to travel at much higher speeds, with less noise.
The CRRC expects its maglev train to fill the gap between current high-speed train which run at around 350 km/h and airliners which fly at 800 km/h for travel at distances of up to 1,500 km. The company expects its maglev can reduce the travel time between Shenzhen and Shanghai from 10 hours by high-speed train down to only 2.5 hours once a maglev is built, thus becoming a part of China’s comprehensive transportation network planned by 2035.
Moreover, being electrically powered, they are much more environmentally friendly than fossil fuel-burning aircraft and more cost effective.
At the end of 2020, China had a total of 146,300 km of railway, of which 38,000 km was highspeed rail, according to National Railway Administration and China aims to build 200,000 km of railways, 460,000 km of highways, and 25,000 km of high-level sea lanes by 2035, according to a 15-year transport expansion guideline published in February 2021.
Homegrown in China, the CRRC’s maglev train rollout comes 19 years after the maglev train, running 30 km between the Loyang Road Station in central Pudong district of Shanghai to the Shanghai Pudong International Airport (Shanghai Maglev) was inaugurated in 2002 by then German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder and then Chinese Premier, Zhu Rongji.
The civil works, including the elevated maglev guideway, pillars and foundation of the Shanghai Maglev was built by Chinese companies, whilst the Transrapid maglev train-sets which run at up to 431 km/h in regular operation and at up to 501 km/h in trials were built in Germany by SiemensThyssenkrupp JV (Joint venture).
Initially used for tours, the Shanghai Maglev, worth US$1.2 billion, began normal operation ferrying passengers between the airport and city on 10 October 2003, cutting travel time to the airport down to 7 minutes and 20 seconds, compared to about an hour by road in heavy traffic. Domestic development
Development of the CRRC’s maglev project began in October 2016, with a prototype vehicle successfully developed in 2019, which made a trial run in June 2020
The maglev includes several homegrown technological breakthroughs and advances, including a self-developed braking system that is 30% more efficient than the Shanghai Maglev train, thus reducing its braking distance from about 16 km to 10 km, according to the CRRC Qingdao Sifang Rolling Stock Research Institute (CRRC SRI)
CRRC SRI provides the braking system, coupler, anti-vibration system, electricity system, passenger information system (PIS) and other core components of the 600 km/h maglev train. CRRC technicians spent 19 months developing the magnetic poles for whirlpool brakes on the maglev train, which can be recycled in an -25 C to 170 C environment and can withstand vibrations. The maglev train’s power supply system is one of the key systems important to the safe operation of the train. When the speed exceeds 100 km/h, a non-contact power supply is adopted. The train receiver system developed by CRRC SRI has good environmental adaptability and can work smoothly from -25 C to 45 C, CRRC SRI claimed.
Researchers developed an articulated coupler for the train by using forged aluminium alloys as the key structural part, which ensured that the relative motion between the train cars is less than 1millimetre, according to Jiang Yulong, the project leader of coupler at CRRC SRI. The coupler length is only 280 millimetres, and weighs less than 30 kg, which meets the extremely spatial requirements of the maglev train.
To enable smooth telecommunication at high speeds, the trains Wi-Fi system is connected to the 5G wide-area network and moreover, passengers can charge their mobile phones wirelessly. After system optimisation, the final technical set was determined in January 2021, and the complete system then started a six-month test, according to CRRC.
In terms of global maglev train-related patents, China leads with 43.52% of patent applications by 2021, followed by Japan with 20.57%, according to report sent to Global Times by PatSnap, an intelligent property data service provider.
Japan’s patents focus on the research and development of superconducting materials and basic science, while China’s patents focused more on practice, including permanent magnets, rail beams, traffic engineering and suspension frame, per the PatSnap report.
According to the video documentary Mega Future Trains | Megastructures | Free Documentary posted on the Free Documentary You Tube channel of 25 December 2020, the SiemensThyssenkrupp JV had hoped to get the job to build the 170 km long Shanghai – Hangzhou maglev for which China had budgeted US$4 billion and proposed over 1,200 km long Shanghai – Beijing maglev expected to cost US$22 billion.
However, according to Zhang Xiaoxing, a lecturer of the School of Architecture at the South China University of Technology, the CRRC’s 600 km/h high-speed maglev transportation system will be more likely first used in Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong and Shanghai-Hangzhou high-speed maglev channels, as the high-quality development of core cities and town clusters along the routes is the decisive factor in the maglev’s commercial viability.
Lu Huapu, director of the Transportation Research Institute of Tsinghua University, told the Global Times that the development of the high-speed transportation system helps China realise the “National 123 transportation circle,” which was proposed in the national guideline.
The “National 123” transportation circle, stands for one-hour commute within the city, two-hour trip between city clusters and three-hour travel to major cities nationwide, and the maglev network can greatly improve the quality and efficiency of transportation and change the characteristics of economic and geographical location and regional competitiveness, according to Lu.
The system will also help consolidate China’s leading position in high-speed rail technology and is of great significance to promote the development and upgrading of related industries, analysts said.
Not yet for export
However, Zhao Jian, a professor with Beijing Jiaotong University, said that it is unlikely to export China’s maglev train and relevant technologies in the near future, since other countries lack the scale to make the maglev lines profitable, since maglev lines can earn money only when a network of high-speed transportation is formed, with huge passenger flows.