A few years back, someone got the idea that China really needed to showcase its technical know-how, and put forth the idea of building one of the most technically-complex things for commercial use: a MagLev train. Magnetic levitation, while not a new idea, is an expensive proposition. Few countries have even attempted it (the major attempts have been primarily Germany and Japan, with smaller ones in England, the United States, and France), and only China has created a commercial system. At a cost estimated at $1.2 billion (US, I presume). This is for a 30km link that runs from Pudong airport to Shanghai’s state-of-the-art subway line, but not even close to the downtown core.
The technology was bought from the Germans, who were instrumental in getting the line up and running. To be sure, the Germans got a lot out of creating an actual, operating MagLev line. The line was officially opened 31 December 2002, and went into operation in early 2003.
We were told by Noah and Justin that we had to check this puppy out. With it being so close to our hotel, how could we resist?
The station is on two levels — the track is elevated (for a variety of reasons). A return ticket is 80RMB, which is only about US$10. For the trip, this is quite reasonable. Naturally, the line runs at a loss, but in the communist economy, that’s not really a concern.
The train is about 100 metres long, and all the cars are permanently linked — you can see from one end of the train to the other on the inside. Unlike some other types of MagLevs, the Shanghai system does not have wheels for lower speeds — it’s either suspended or rests on skids. You know when the train is about to leave when you start feeling like floating.
There’s not a lot of noise — important, since there are no moving parts (at least as far as the drive system is concerned). Noise is generally from vibration, assumedly coming from the changing in polarity that drives the train forward. Acceleration is smooth and very fast — you’re going over 200 km/h before you know it. But that’s not even half the upper speed — the train tops out at 431 km/h. The blur outside your window is almost frightening.
The total 30 km trip to the airport takes only 7 minutes.
If only someone had the wherewithal to build one of these puppies between Calgary and Edmonton. But I doubt anyone would ever make money from it.