Fly through Europe by train at up to 550 kilometers per hour. The Polish company Nevomo sees this in the tangible future with the help of magnetic levitation technology. And it doesn’t require a new rail network – just a conversion, albeit expensive, of the existing train tracks.
Gliding over the tracks – this is already a reality today. With so-called magnetic levitation technology, the trains do not travel on tracks, but float a few centimeters above them. The speed record for such a magnetic levitation train is 603 kilometers per hour. It was installed on the Japanese Shinkansen L0 during test drives.
In China, such a train runs from the city center to Shanghai airport. A few times a day the train speeds at 430 kilometers per hour – otherwise, to save energy, at 300 kilometers per hour. At the faster speed, the route from Zurich to Paris would take one hour and 36 minutes. For comparison: today it takes just over four hours.
Conventional ground-contact trains travel through Europe at a top speed of 330 kilometers per hour. It’s different in test drives: the TGV reaches 574.8 kilometers per hour. Professor Thomas Sauter-Servaes from the ZHAW School of Engineering justifies the significantly lower maximum speed in everyday life with economic efficiency and the infrastructural conditions – for example the curved route, the risk of catenary breaks and material wear.
In order for trains to travel faster despite curves, technologies such as magnetic levitation or hyperloop technology are needed.
The new magnetic levitation train from Nevomo
The Polish company Nevomo develops trains with magnetic levitation technology. The big advantage of their recently announced invention: the existing rail network can be converted for their magnetic levitation train.
This is how magnetic levitation technology works
Maglev trains do not travel on tracks, but rather hover a few centimeters above them. With the clamp design of the Transrapid, the housing of the train extends laterally under the rail. Magnets are attached to this part of the housing. There are also magnets mounted on the underside of the track. These magnets attract each other. The housing is pulled to the underside of the tracks. This causes the whole wagon to rise and there is a gap between the top of the track and the train. The train is floating. The advantage of this magnetic levitation technology: There is no friction between the train wheels and the track. Speeds of over 600 kilometers per hour are possible.
In order for the train to move forward, magnets are needed below the running gear (“runners”) and above the tracks (“stators”). The magnets on the tracks in front of the train attract the magnets on the train. As soon as the train arrives there, these magnets on the track are reversed. Now magnets further forward pull the train forward. Magnets behind the train, on the other hand, repel the train. And so that the train stays on track, there are so-called guide magnets on the side.
This means that existing and new trains could roll or float on the same rails. This saves costs. Otherwise all the tracks would have to be re-laid. But it’s not cheap either: the conversion costs around five million euros for one kilometer of route.
The planned hyperloop train from Nevomo
Nevomo’s long-term goal is the hyperloop train. Electric magnetic fields are also used for locomotion. But the train no longer hovers over the tracks, but flies in a vacuum tube. The advantage: Without air resistance, speeds of up to 1,200 kilometers per hour are possible, almost as fast as sound.
Magnetic levitation trains are currently controlled by train drivers. But the latest models of Japanese and Chinese maglev trains, which are currently in the testing phase, are self-propelled. The plan is for only accompanying staff to travel.
Hyperloop trains are particularly suitable as self-driving trains. Because the tube system of the hyperloop train is a closed system. This means that the risk of external influences such as collisions with drivers or pedestrians decreases.
Conventional trains vs. magnetic levitation trains and hyperloop trains
In addition to being faster, floating and flying trains are quieter and lead to less material wear. At speeds of 150 kilometers per hour or more, they consume less energy than conventional trains. Nevertheless, even with magnetic levitation and hyperloop trains, higher speeds go hand in hand with more energy consumption. Hyperloop trains also need a new tube system.
Professor Thomas Sauter-Servaes sees aircraft with sustainable fuel as possibly the most sustainable solution for fast long-haul connections. The advantage of this: “We don’t have to cross the continents with a concrete pipe system that is thousands of kilometers long and therefore very resource-intensive.”