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Maglev Trains - How do They Work

Abhijit Naik
Speeds in excess of 300 mph are characteristic speeds of Maglev trains. Have you wondered how these levitating trains are able to clock such speeds?
Magnetic levitation, abbreviated as 'Maglev', is a mode of transportation, wherein the vehicle is suspended, guided, and propelled with the help of large magnets. When we refer to this mode of transportation, most of the time we refer to 'maglev trains', which work on the basic principle of electromagnetic propulsion.

How do Maglev Trains Work?

Maglev trains are based on the basic law of magnetism, like poles repel each other, while unlike poles attract each other. Unlike a normal magnet, the magnetic pull of an electromagnet is temporary.
The three important components of the maglev system are:
  • The source of power
  • A track made from metal coil lining
  • The large magnets attached beneath the vehicle
The track on which these trains run―often referred to as the 'guideway'―has a set of magnetized coils running along it. These coils repel the large magnets attached beneath the train, which, in turn, makes the train levitate over the guideway.
The levitation can range between 0.39 and 3.93 inches in the air. When power is supplied to these coils within the guideway, it creates a unique magnetic field and sets the train in motion.

Different Types of Magnetic Levitation

Maglev trains use two different types of magnetic levitation ...
  • Electrodynamic suspension (EDS), wherein the repulsive force between the magnets in the guideway and beneath the vehicle makes the train levitate and move.
  • Electromagnetic suspension (EMS), wherein the attractive force of magnets in the guideway and beneath the vehicle makes the train move.
The fact that permanent magnets need to be installed in both, the guideway and vehicle makes the EDS system more expensive than the EMS system. At the same time, however, it is safer, as it is relatively easy to control if anything goes wrong.
Other than the low investment, the EMS system also boasts of less energy requirements. That being said, many other factors also need to be taken into consideration when deciding which system is better.
The numerous benefits that these trains have over their conventional counterparts make them favorites among tech-wizards and environment enthusiasts.
As there is no place for friction in this system, these trains can notch a speed of up to 300 mph with immense ease. At the same time, noise pollution is also curbed to a significant extent, while air pollution is virtually absent.
We have come a long way from the age-old steam trains to these super fast trains running on magnets. On the basis of all their benefits, these trains are pitched as next-gen giants in the field of transportation. In fact, several countries, including the likes of Japan and Germany, already boast of state-of-the-art maglev networks.