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It is not always easy for a carefully invented technology to be accepted in the market. The Transrapid maglev train, originally developed in Germany by Siemens and ThyssenKrupp, is one example of how maximum technological performance alone does not guarantee success. The project began in 1969, the first prototypes were produced in 1979 and the train became mature enough to use in 1991, yet in Germany it never made it past the test track in the end. Transrapid projects such as a Berlin–Hamburg route, a Metrorapid and an airport link in Munich were cancelled after many years of planning. In China, on the other hand, development continued on the high-speed train, with one sole route commencing regular operation in Shanghai in 2003. Now 18 years later, the next generation of magnetic-levitation trains has been unveiled in the form of a super-bullet maglev train in the southern Chinese city of Chengdu.

The locomotive prototype was developed in China and is equipped with high-temperature superconducting (HTS) technology. Southwest Jiaotong University, which helped engineer it, says the model was designed for speeds of up to 620 km/h. Likewise, a 165-metre-long track has been put into operation to test the new train. Deng Zigang, deputy director of the university’s research centre for super-high-speed maglev transport in low-pressure tunnels, says that even though the theory sounds positive, most people had previously seen HTS maglev technology as a laboratory toy without any real-world testing. China is a world leader when it comes to building high-speed railways. The country had 37,900 km of them in operation by the end of 2020.

Maglev trains levitate above the tracks and are powered by strong magnets in order to avoid friction between the wheels and the rails. They are intended to surpass the eventually limited speeds of high-speed trains and be a substitute for flying over the long term. The 30 km route between Shanghai’s city centre and the Pudong airport is based on the German magnetic-levitation technology of electromagnetic suspension (EMS), whereas the HTS project is a joint development between Southwest Jiaotong University, China Railway Group Limited and CRRC Corporation Limited, which have together invested CNY 60 million (USD 9.3 million). The HTS technology involves the train being able to levitate without electricity. It is said to be better than other systems for the concept of superfast transport in vacuum tubes, in which the trains can apparently reach speeds of more than 1,000 km/h.

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