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Maglev trains: The future of high-speed rail?

The new ‘floating’ Maglev trains in Japan have broken land-speed records. Will Europe ever follow suit?

Maglev trains: The future of high-speed rail?
High speed train. Image: Getty

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Japan has long been at the forefront of rail technology. Its iconic Bullet Train — the world’s first high-speed rail service  — was introduced back in 1964, when British Rail was still overseeing the phase out of steam trains.

Now the country’s rail services are back in the headlines, after a Japanese magnetic levitation (Maglev) train broke its own world speed record, hitting 603km/h (374mph) on a test track near Mount Fuji. For comparison, Eurostar’s top speed is 186mph, while the proposed HS2 line will travel at up to 250mph.

Maglev trains are propelled using electromagnets powered by currents and, as the trains don’t actually touch their guideways, friction is reduced, allowing for higher speeds.

The UK may have to wait a while before this revolution hits. Japan’s Maglev service won’t commence operations until 2027. Meanwhile, other proposed Maglev services have been either delayed or cancelled, due to prohibitive construction costs.

Where to start: The Maglev experience
There are currently only three Maglev services in operation: The Incheon Airport Maglev in South Korea; the Linimo maglev in Aichi, Japan; and Shanghai Maglev, which traverses the 19 miles to Pudong International Airport in seven minutes, at a top speed of 268mph.

Published in the Jul/Aug 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)