Kylan Huang
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How Do Maglev Trains Work? 

— Kylan Huang

The world’s fastest commercial train travels between Shanghai Pudong airport and the Longyang railroad at speeds up to 460 km/h (around 285 mph). It has neither wheels nor a combustion engine. How could this be? The answer is magnetic levitation.

A Maglev, short for magnetic levitation, has two primary components: 1) guideways, the track on which the train runs, and 2) magnets, which are located inside the train compartments. There are metal coils lining the guideways, which can be magnetized to form a magnetic field.

Since like poles repel each other, if both the magnets in the train compartments and the guideways have the same pole, the train will be able to levitate. As shown in the diagram below, if the poles of the magnets and the guideways alternate between North and South, the train will not just levitate—it will also be pushed forward, since the like poles will cause levitation and opposite poles will cause forward movement. This phenomenon is referred to as “propulsion.” 

Maglevs have many advantages. First, they can travel at speeds up to 600 km/h (around 373 mph), while typical bullet trains can run at only 350 km/h. Minimal contact between the guideway and the train results in maglevs being highly efficient and requiring less maintenance. Maglev trains are also much quieter than commercial trains. 

Finally, maglevs are very safe, especially compared to other types of passenger trains. The probability of tracks and wheels getting damaged is less likely, and the train has the ability to almost instantly stop by reducing the strength of the magnetic field, which causes the train to stop levitating. 

There are only two accidents to date involving maglev trains: 1) in 2006, a Transrapid maglev caught fire in Shanghai, and 2) a German Transrapid maglev crashed into a repair car that was accidentally left on the track, killing 23 and injuring 11. This was deemed to be caused by human error, and no accidents have occurred since. 

Unfortunately, after the accident that occurred in Germany, maglevs lost appeal in Europe. The six commercial maglev lines are all located in Asia, specifically in China, Japan, and Korea.


How do maglev trains work? (2023, May 22). Electricity – Magnetism.

Jones, B. (2021, December 10). Flying without wings: The world’s fastest trains. CNN.

Rob. (2022, April 14). How do Maglev trains work? Warning, they’re FAST! Train Conductor HQ – Your No 1 Source For Train & Railroad Info.