superconducting maglev train

Superconducting maglev train unveiled in China

Image credit: SWJTU

Chinese researchers have unveiled the prototype of a high-speed maglev train based on ‘high-temperature’ superconducting technology, using liquid nitrogen instead of more expensive liquid helium.

The engineering prototype was presented to press and officials last week on a length of test track at Southwest Jiaotong University (SWJTU) in Chengdu.

Many new technologies are incorporated in the prototype, including a full carbon-fibre lightweight body, low-resistance locomotive shape, and high-temperature superconducting maglev with large load capacity.

Maglev, or magnetic levitation, means the train is propelled along just above a guide rail, unlike conventional railway trains that run on wheels.

SWJTU describes itself as the birthplace of high-temperature superconducting maglev technology, having carried out basic theoretical research and key technology innovation since the 1980s.

In 2020, the university collaborated with China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC), China Railway Group Limited, and other institutions and companies, to embark on the manufacture of the prototype and test line, and build the integrated high-temperature superconducting high-speed maglev transit system. 

In an interview with South China Morning Post, SWJTU senior engineer Wu Zili explained that the train uses a system that achieves superconductivity at one-fiftieth the cost of liquid helium systems. “Ordinary superconductors need a temperature of -269°C,” he said, “but the high-temperature ones can work at only -196°C, using liquid nitrogen.”

Another feature, Wu added, is that the train is ‘self-maglev’, meaning it doesn’t require extra energy to remain in suspension. “This makes the train very energy efficient,” he said.

At the design speed of 620km/h (385mph), the vehicle is expected to create a new rail speed record, and in future could run even faster, up to 800km/h (500mph) with the application of low vacuum tube (tunnel) technology, according to publicity material.

Last year CRRC completed a trial run of a different maglev prototype at Shanghai Tongji University.

Southwest Jiaotong University is also involved in other areas of railway research. On the day it showed off its maglev system it announced that an urban rail vehicle with an SWJTU-developed wireless power supply had just rolled off the production line at the CRRC Tangshan works.

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