Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Maglev Trains Work


Maglev Technology In Use
A Transrapid train at the Emsland, Germany test facility.
A Transrapid train at the Emsland, Germany test facility.

While maglev transportation was first proposed more than a century ago, the first commercial maglev train made its test debut in Shanghai, China, in 2002 (click here to learn more), using the train developed by German company Transrapid International. The same line made its first open-to-the-public commercial run about a year later in December of 2003. The Shanghai Transrapid line currently runs to and from the Longyang Road station at the city's center and Pudong airport. Traveling at an average speed of 267 mph (430 kph), the 19 mile (30 kilometer) journey takes less than 10 minutes on the maglev train as opposed to an hour-long taxi ride. China is building an extension of the Shanghai line that will run 99 miles (160 km) to Hangzhou. Construction is scheduled to begin in fall 2006 and should be completed by the 2010 Shanghai Expo. This line will be the first Maglev rail line to run between two cities.

Several other countries have plans to build their own maglev trains, but the Shanghai airport line remains the only commercial maglev line. U.S. cities from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh have had maglev line plans in the works, but the expense of building a maglev transportation system has been prohibitive. The administration at Old Dominion University in Virginia had hoped to have a super shuttle zipping students back and forth across campus starting back in the fall semester of 2002, but the train remains motionless while research continues. The American Maglev Company is building a prototype using similar technology in Georgia that it plans to finish by fall 2006.

For more information on magnetic levitation trains and related topics, check out the links on the next page.