China Shows Off the World’s Fastest Train

The levitating train hurtles along the track at speeds up to 373 miles per hour

1: Shanghai Maglev – 460 kph/286 mph (China)

The world’s fastest public train is also unique — it’s the only link in the world currently carrying passengers using magnetic levitation (Maglev) rather than conventional steel wheels on steel rails

There’s something delightfully nostalgic about the concept of slow travel via train, whether that’s winding through the peaks of the Alps or crossing the steppes of Mongolia, and those are certainly lovely trips to take. But this is the 21st century, and high-speed trains are the way of the future. China has taken the lead on that front, debuting the world’s fastest train this week in Qingdao.

The new maglev (short for magnetic levitation) bullet train by the China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation can travel up to 373 miles per hour or roughly half the speed of sound. That maglev technology is key in achieving such high speeds; the train actually levitates over the track thanks to mighty electromagnetic forces, reducing friction. Friction, as any physicist will tell you, is a detriment to speed.

Maglev trains aren’t new—in fact, China itself has been using them for decades, but in minimal capacities—but engineers are developing faster and faster models as demand for sustainable transportation increases.

The hopes are that one day high-speed rail lines will connect many of China’s major cities. But for now, that’s only a dream. China’s rail network is in its infancy—the only maglev train currently in operation connects Shanghai with its Pudong airport. A journey of just 19 miles that takes just seven-and-a-half minutes.

But if a maglev track is laid between Beijing and Shanghai. The new train would be able to connect the two cities in just 2.5 hours. Down from a three-hour flight and a 5.5-hour rail journey.

Of course, laying hundreds or thousands of miles of new tracks is a massive undertaking. So there are still some roadblocks to the wider deployment of maglev trains in China and Japan, and Germany. Who are similarly developing maglev infrastructure plans.

In any event, it certainly looks like Amtrak has some catching up to do.