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Maglev – The Need For Speed


 bannerMaglev (derived from magnetic levitation) is a transport method that uses magnetic levitation to move vehicles without touching the ground. With maglev, a vehicle travels along a guideway using magnets to create both lift and propulsion, thereby reducing friction by a great extent and allowing very high speeds.

The Shanghai Maglev train
The Maglev Tracks at the Longyang Road Station

The Shanghai Maglev Train, also known as the Transrapid, is the fastest commercial train currently in operation and has a top speed of 430 km/h (270 mph). The line was designed to connect Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the outskirts of central Pudong, Shanghai. It covers a distance of 30.5 kilometres (19.0 mi) in 8 minutes.

Have a peek at this video ( taken a few years back ) when I actually took the 8 minutes rid on one of their Maglev trains back from Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road Station, downtown Shanghai.

Map of Shanghai, China and the Maglev Train Route to Pudong International Airport
The Maglev train arriving at Longyang Road Station, Downtown Shanghai

Maglev trains move more smoothly and more quietly than wheeled mass transit systems. They are relatively unaffected by weather. The power needed for levitation is typically not a large percentage of its overall energy consumption; most goes to overcome drag, as with other high-speed transport.


Side-view of the Maglev Coach in Longyang Road Station
Pudong International Airport Maglev Train Station

Maglev trains hold the speed record for rail transport. Vacuum tube train systems might allow maglev trains to attain still higher speeds, though no such vacuum tubes have been built commercially yet.

Longyang Road Maglev Station, Downtown Shanghai
maglevtrain map2
Map of the city of Shanghai and the Maglev Train Route to Pudong International Airport
As you debark the Maglev train at Pudong International Airport you see this at the Atrium just outside your platform exit

Compared to conventional (normal) trains, differences in construction affect the economics of maglev trains, making them much more efficient. For high-speed trains with wheels, wear and tear from friction along with the “hammer effect” from wheels on rails accelerates equipment wear and prevents high speeds. Conversely, maglev systems have been much more expensive to construct, offsetting lower maintenance costs.

The Inventors of Maglev technology

Hermann Kemper

1892 -1977

Hermann Kemper

Hermann Kemper (* April 5, 1892 Nortrup, Germany, in the district of Osnabrueck, † July 13, 1977) was a German engineer and is considered by many the inventor of the basic maglev concept.

In 1922, Hermann Kemper began his research about magnetic levitation. It took him until 1933, when he succeeded in working out at technical concept for a floating vehicle, based on the principle of electromagnetic attraction. He applied for a patent, then at the “Reichspatentamt” in Berlin. He received it in 1934, under the patent number 643316. In the patent text, his invention was described as a “monorail vehicle with no wheels attached”, that is kept floating by means of magnetic fields.

Hermann Kemper’s invention laid the foundations for further technological progress in this field, which ultimately led to the development of the Transrapid system (Germany) and the Linear Motor Car (Japan) – two different technological approaches based on the same basic principle of attracting and repulsing magnetic fields. For his scientific achievements Hermann Kemper was awarded the great Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, in 1972.

Emile Bachelet

Emile Bachelet

In 1914, the French-born American inventor Emile Bachelet presented his idea of a maglev vehicle and even displayed a first model. A report in the Swiss journal “Schwizer Familie” in the year 1914 shows a photograph of this event and provides some information about his project vision, as well as the model.

Emile Bachelet was born in France in 1863. He emigrated in the 1880s to the United States where he worked as an electrician. In this activity he discovered some therapeutic applications of electro-magnets to cure rheumatism and relieve arthritic pain.


After starting in the 1890s to commercially exploit related medical devices for which he was granted several patents, he began work on magnetic forces through electro-magnets. It is easy to understand what is involved by thinking of what can be done with natural magnets: when the north pole of a magnet faces the south pole of another magnet an attraction force is created; in reverse, a magnetic repulsion is obtained by opposing two north poles or two south poles. Electro-magnets, according to the intensity of the current and turning on and off at the desired frequency, allow the creation and control of a powerful magnetic force.

Have a peek at this video about What Maglev trains are all about.


In March 1912, Bachelet obtained a patent for a “levitating transmitting apparatus” from the United States Patent Office (patent no. 1,020,942). The invention is described as a machine to transfer bodies at a very high speed from one point to another.  Although it was primarily meant for the transmission of mail and small packages by a carrier, it was easy to imagine its application at a larger scale in trains carrying freight or passengers.

Kemper’s idea on the Maglev Theory
The center of the Shanghai Maglev Museum at Longyang Road Station

Using the forces of magnetic attraction and repulsion, Bachelet explained in detail how to arrange the magnets, with their poles, on a pathway and on the carrier and how to energise them (periodically) so as to create magnetic fields and allow the carrier to move through these fields. A first magnetic field is designed to levitate the carrier, which is made of a non-magnetic metal but which hold its own set of magnets that react with the magnetic field of the pathway. It then “floats” in the air and can be propelled like a plane without mechanical friction. Another magnetic field is used to make the carrier move along with another series of magnets that are activated to attract other magnets on board the carrier (the repulsion/attraction pushing the carrier forward) while it is levitated (although this propulsion could also be obtained by classical means). Finally, the guidance of the carrier along the pathway can also be controlled using a third magnetic field.

A shot of one of the Hermann Kemper’s “Idea of No Friction” inside the Maglev Museum
One of the exhibit rooms inside the Shanghai Maglev Museum right at Longyang Road Station


Too far ahead of his time?

Bachelet was quite successful as early as 1914 with a prototype in an exhibition in London and managed to attract financial support to continue his research until his death in 1946. This invention is one of the premier and fundamental predecessors of the technologies surrounding modern electromagnetically levitated trains (or so-called ‘Maglev’ trains for ‘magnetic levitation’).

Bachelet was probably too far ahead of his time. Although the patent described details such as how to save electricity by activating the magnets just before the passage of the train and cut the current after it has passed, it should be recalled that, at that time, the development of electric locomotives functioning on a reliable and powerful source of electricity to propel real commercial freight or passenger trains that would later overcome steam locomotivs had not even begun. In addition, the system required, and still requires nowadays, the construction of a specific network.

Longyang Road Train Station, Shanghai

Nevertheless, Bachelet’s invention undoubtedly paved the way for modern maglev trains, like the Chinese Transrapid of Shanghai or the Japanese Linimo of Aichi.

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For me and my buddy who acommpanied me from Longyang Road station in downtown Shanghai to take this trip to Pudong International Airport, what else can I say but “Wow!!”. It was a journey and experience I will never forget and made me realise how advanced modern China is. Looks like so many countries who have the money and resources to build such transportation facilities such as this, should follow in the footsteps and think about going foward with this kinda of advanced technology – the future of travel. And its already here… in China!.

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