An average train moves at about 100 km/h although capable of reaching higher speeds of around 300 km. This although faster than what is legal with a personal vehicle, is still not exceptional compared to other options like planes that travel at 800-1000 km/h. For most of the historical relevancy of trains, they have never been able to go fast enough to compete directly with air travel. However, one key technology that is slowly making its way to the west could change that.
Maglev trains are capable of over doubling what a current locomotive is capable of achieving. This is because of one major advancement in how Maglev trains operate; they hover in the air. Now I know what you are thinking, trains don’t fly, and I understand why this probably sounds like a feature in a sci-fi film. However I assure you it is very real, and I’ll do my best to explain how it works.
A Maglev train operates by taking magnets, something many people have played with as a kid and using them in a way that is much more extreme. These trains abuse the simple fact that magnets either attract or repel each other depending on which side they are facing. Different sides attract (ex. North/South) same sides repel (ex. North/North). These trains harness the power of very large magnets to lift the train off of the track and allow it to hover in place. Furthermore, they use a special electromagnetic rail on the outside of the train as a sort of propulsion device. By swapping the electrical current flow direction in each magnet along the track in an alternating pattern they can create a forward or backward force on the train. This is possible because as many people say, opposites attract. So, as the train moves along the track the magnet along the rail just in front of the train’s own internal magnet will be switched to the pole that would pull the train forward and the one behind will switch to push it. By changing the frequency of these switches train operators can control the speed of the train both accelerating it and causing it to slow or stop if desired. However, this still leaves one question, what stops the train from going off the tracks on sharp turns if it isn’t connected to anything? The answer is simpler than you may expect. The aforementioned magnetic rails are not just for propulsion, they also stop the train from swaying back and forth. If the train starts to get too close to either side of the track the magnets will simply push it back in place naturally as the force increases relative to the distance from the magnet. This means that there is no friction acting on the train from contact with the wheels to the ground, only air resistance. That is how these trains are able to go at a much quicker speed than regular trains.
Honestly, these trains aren’t the newest technology available. Although, they are new to the western hemisphere. Both the United States and Canada have plans to build these trains in the near future. There are even plans to build a Maglev between Edmonton and Calgary, a trip that would normally take about 3 hours cut down a mere 30 minutes. Unfortunately, this project has not begun yet and is estimated to take about a decade to complete once started. So, we won’t be riding these super trains anytime soon.