Trains For America

More choices for better transportation

Maglev v. High Speed Rail

Here’s the main event. Engineering News Record has an entertaining and useful debate on the contrasting capabilities of maglev trains as opposed to high speed rail. Get ready to rumble. kicks the discussion into high gear with two opposing Viewpoints, one supporting Maglev development by John Harding, a member of the International Maglev Board, and the other by Andy Kunz, president, US High Speed Rail Association in favor of ‘conventional’ high-speed rail. Readers are encouraged to read both articles then add their own voices to this debate. Steel wheels or maglev – you decide.

Filed under: Passenger Rail Transportatio Policy, United States High Speed Rail

50 Responses

  1. Avery says:

    The main problem I see with maglev, is the fact that bridges and anything made with concrete in this country seem to deteriorate very quickly, making for a bumpy ride even at slow highway speeds. Even with stronger concrete, even very slight ground shifting would cause a problem. The maintenance involved seems like it would be very expensive over time and cause a lot of disruptions to the service. Electrified high speed rail has proven to hold up over time, just look at the NEC.

  2. Maglev has an advantage over normal cars or trains that must ride on top of concrete bridges, etc. — its levitation system keeps it suspended over the guideway, not riding on top of the guideway deck. The levitation system also takes into account surface irregularities to some extent in real time, given hundreds of position updates every second, making a smooth ride possible even over deteriorating concrete surfaces. Stronger concrete does not matter; the vehicle floats above it all.

    For this reason, track maintenance for maglev is much reduced from conventional steel-wheel systems that come into contact with their infrastructure surfaces continuously.

  3. […] country and has a very thought-provoking post on the culture of speed vs. the culture of trust. And Trains for America links to a debate over the relative merits of high-speed and maglev […]

  4. Andrew says:

    Maglev is not a “train” since it does not run on wheels or rails. Maybe a floating articulated bus, or a grounded airplane would be more apt descriptions.

    What will Maglev do when it hits a snow bank, or when its guideway ices up in a tunnel or winter snow-melt flood?

    The biggest problem of Maglev though is its need for new right of way in built-up urban and suburban neighborhoods due to its incompatibility with the mainline rail or the existing road system.

  5. […] country and has a very thought-provoking post on the culture of speed vs. the culture of trust. And Trains for America links to a debate over the relative merits of high-speed and maglev […]

  6. […] country and has a very thought-provoking post on the culture of speed vs. the culture of trust. And Trains for America links to a debate over the relative merits of high-speed and maglev […]

  7. @Andrew: Looks as if maglev has lots of problems — bumpy ride on concrete, expensive maintenance, it’s not to be called a train and, oh yeah, it might have to deal with winter weather, but the real problem is it needs new rights-of-way (just as high-speed rail no doubt will). Whew.

    Good thing those Germans, Japanese and American engineers have had several decades to study those sorts of things — along with many, many more — and come up with technical solutions. So far nothing you’ve pointed out is a real concern to people who know how maglevs work.

  8. NikolasM says:

    And it is amazing that Germany, a country of infrastructure largesse on a scale we aren’t even close to approaching, has yet to fund any line anywhere in their country.

  9. That’s too true, unfortunately, about Germany. There’ve been some great planning projects — Berlin-Hamburg, MetroRapid, Munich — but nothing ever emerged from all that into a real system. Makes it hard to export a technology that’s not in use at home.

  10. […] country and has a very thought-provoking post on the culture of speed vs. the culture of trust. And Trains for America links to a debate over the relative merits of high-speed and maglev […]

  11. Don says:

    NikolasM: the answer to your statement is included in your own post. Germany has an extensive railway network in use – which in turn makes it extremely hard for an incompatible system to set foot on ground. That’s it.

  12. stuartkarlan says:

    While arguing for maglev, John T. Harding wrote, “At the present stage of development, other comparisons- energy efficiency, capital cost, maintenance- will not be particularly relevant.”

    I had read that maglev had shown much lower maintenance costs than steel rail. What are the comparative maintenance costs and where can we find them as well as comparative energy efficiency and capital costs?

  13. Without a commercial system in operation in the USA it’s tough to obtain credible data on maintenance and energy efficiency and such, but you could try looking into two references at: (p. 15)
    and (p. 16)

    There are starting points.

  14. Jakub Holic says:

    All the worries about concrete aging and snow problems are based on guessing. Without any contact between vehicle and guideway, there is no “bumping”. There is 15 cm space between vehicle and top surface of guideway so the problems with snow aro no bigger then those with HSR system. For most of the details, I recomend you to visit:
    There you find most of answers to your questions.

  15. Nathanael says:

    HSR: cheaper, more reliable, and available from multiple vendors; more than one working example; bugs ironed out over a century.

    Maglev: potentially faster, though not in the one very expensive working example.

    That’s really about it.

  16. Maglev: Compared to 100-year-old HSR, stronger acceleration and braking, better banking, better grade-climbing, noticeably quieter at all speeds, more energy efficient and proven faster…430 km/h in daily service in Shanghai.

  17. Jakub Holic says:

    HSR is not cheaper (for Transrapid type of Maglev). Construction costs are very similar to Maglev system. Running costs are lower for Maglev. High construction costs of Shanghai route were caused by bad construction conditions – namely, a lot of water in soil, which is extremely unstable. And we are comparing totaly new transport system, used commercialy in just one country, and well used rail system, which has lowered its prices of construction to minimum. In a future, with mass production, Maglev system will get cheaper, but HSR prices will be the same or higher. So in long terms, Maglev is much Cheaper.
    Maglev sysem is also safer, because it cannot derail, two trains cannot meet in opposite dirrections on one track (guideway) and it is much less probable, that someone (something) will like to walk over the track (animals included).

  18. Allan says:

    In 2020 Japan plans to launch its next generation of bullet trains: a service that will connect Tokyo and Nagoya in around 40 minutes using maglev – magnetic levitation – trains which are much faster than conventional trains. 2009/aug/ 05/high-speed- rail-japan

  19. Allan says:

    Andrew – Maglev is not a “train” since it does not run on wheels or rails.

    You need to look of the definition of train. Ever hear of a camel train? A train is a succession of vehicles or pack animals traveling in the same direction.

    A maglev is a magnetic levitated train … that floats over single rail (monorail).

  20. This “train” discussion is semantic, not substantive.

    When I worked for Transrapid in the USA office in Washington, D.C., we heard it called a train all the time, since many rail proponents would say that since it has connected cars moving together it is a train. In Germany, especially, we would call the Transrapid maglev a “vehicle” that has “sections.” That terminology just never caught on here in the U.S.

  21. Allan says:

    Yea, I know … but sometimes ya just gotta slap down the silly arguments too.

  22. Jakub Holic says:

    I belive, that the US is the best place to start with building maglev routes. All the problems it has here in Europe, don’t exist in US. I mean existing HSR network. If US gov’t decides to build new high speed infrastructure, building HSR would be nonsence – it would be a unique chance thrown away, than. And it is also good to know, that Transrapid is not just transportation system, it is also big atraction. People pay good money to take a ride on a test track in Emsland (Germany), even they leave the “train” (sorry :-), but sometimes it is the best word), where they entered it.

  23. bleh says:

    “The biggest problem of Maglev though is its need for new right of way in built-up urban and suburban neighborhoods due to its incompatibility with the mainline rail or the existing road system”


    Under no circumstances whatsoever should you use the existing tracks to get into and out of cities. Nothing will kill your average speed and on-time rates like this.

    Compare Munich-Hamburg (roughly 600km) to the same distance in Spain, France or Japan. In Germany it takes 5:40, in Japan Tokyo-Okayama (closer to 700km) takes less than 3 1/2 hours. Less than 50% of all ICE are on time compared to the Shinkansen’s famous average delay of 6 seconds.

    If anything Maglev’s incompatibility to existing tracks is an advantage because you’re not tempted to cut corners but, of course, that’s a stupid reason to choose one system over the other =)

    Compatibility with the road system is an non-issue because you want to be grade separated anyway.

  24. Pierre Terrail says:

    I wonder why there is so mush hesitation?

    It seems to me that it’s easier, faster, cheaper, simpler to do this

    Instead of this:

  25. Pierre Terrail says:

    Anyway,the steel wheel on a steel rail is too dangerous, for high speed!…._en&btnTrUrl=Traduire

    The automatic traduction is a little bit tricky, the original ref:

    The conclusion is that, for high speed, NO WHEEL is the best!

    And we know what happened when a wheel exploded:

  26. Pierre Terrail says:

    And we know what happened when a wheel exploded:

  27. Pierre Terrail says:

    The Maglev Transrapid of China is as fast as 431 km/h (268 mph) in regular business service (and could reach 500 km/h):

    The Japan HSR is limited to 300 km/h (186 mph)…Risky for the wheels!…

  28. Mr. Terrail: OK, it’s clear you prefer non-wheeled transport. But enough already with the doom and gloom, please. High-speed rail around the world is remarkably safe and does not need to be browbeaten with comments such as your recent ones, all from today.

  29. Pierre Terrail says:

    Mr Laurence E. Blow, are you against the progress? Do you want to paie more for the HSR to have less than with the Transrapid? Pres. Obama said: ” you must aim at big project, to enter the 21st century…”
    Most of all, do you know what drives the HSR in Europe? Not electricity, but the money of the tax-payer!!!…
    Look honestly at the pro and con of each means of transport and draw the conclusions: The Transrapid is the winner, and you must say it!
    Unless you are paid by the Train industry…I am only a cytizen, a tax-payer!…

  30. Mr. Terrail, your enthusiasm for maglev has gotten the better of you.

    I am one of the USA’s most consistent and vocal supporters of maglev technology and have been for more than twenty years. I am also a citizen and taxpayer who understands very well how large-scale transportation projects get built.

    Do not presume to tell me what I must say about anything. Instead, do your homework, visit my Web site and then decide whether you should tell me anything at all about maglev.

  31. Pierre Terrail says:

    Moreover, what is the price for safety and ubiquity?
    The Transrapid is not derailment prone! 50% more speedy than HSR!
    What will be the behaviour of a HSR at 300 km/h during a big earthquake in California? What are you willing to pay to stay on track?
    As a matter of facts, the Transrapid gives more than the HSR for less money!
    Facts at:

  32. Pierre Terrail says:

    Ok, Mr Laurence E. Blow, you must say that your your web site is:
    Very interesting…

  33. Pierre Terrail says:

    …very interesting, indeed! It seems you are more prone to sell yourself than the Transrapid Maglev!… May be that’s the problem!…

  34. The world is a big place. Transrapid isn’t the only system out there. And there are other needs for such things as urban maglevs, too. I don’t limit myself to any one thing, since that’s not what good consultants do.

    Please mind your own business and leave me alone.

  35. Pierre Terrail says:

    I have found a beautifull video on the Maglev board web site:

    It is a National Geographic video, which do a thorough analyse of the problematic of the Transrapid.
    It is said why the Chinese Transrapid costed so much to built, a Transrapid on a “normal” soil would have been a lot more more cheaper…

    The Maglev board web site:

  36. Pierre Terrail says:

    Some elected people of Germany are asking politicians questions about the Transrapid:
    -Why did Germany sell technology to China, as Germany needs new domains to create jobs?
    -Why politicians demanded more at the Transrapid than to the train, to screw the Transrapid?
    -Why media wanted to screw the two industrial groups which were at the origin of the Transrapid?
    -Why ecological groups demonised the Transrapid…

    …and now they are begging a small right of way for frogs through all that mess!

    I wonder how Americans and ecologists could accept this kind of frontier, inside their country, tighter than the frontier between Mexico and USA!!!

    source: Google news Transrapid

  37. Pierre Terrail says:

    To create a synergy among our industry, the ultraspeed is needed, the choice of the quicker transport could become a problem of national security…For the moment, the Transrapid is the most pertinent!…

  38. Anonymous says:

    your all abunch of morans.

  39. System Designer says:

    The profitable passenger and light freight (UPS, FexEX, DHL, USPS) transportation system that will eventually eliminate most of the present competition will be based on an electronically levitated and propelled suspended single overhead rail system that is terrain, right of way and weather independent. It will require very little maintenance (compared to existing mass transportation options) and will eventually achieve sustained speeds in excess of 600 mph on cross country lines due to a breakthrough in three specific technologies.

    It will be jointly designed by rollacoaster enthusiasts and a handfull of engineers. Due to it’s ultra fast speed, extremely low cost per mile traveled, ultra depenability, superior comfort characteristics (smoother than a boat, buss, plane or train), ecologically clean opearation and rapid boarding/exiting system, it will eventually take over the light commercial transportation industry.

  40. Pierre Terrail says:

    References? Site?

  41. Pierre Terrail says:

    Seems the Transrapid Maglev is cheaper to built than a HSR!

  42. 40: Your link is not functional. Needs to be more precise.

  43. Jack Walts says:

    We need to look for the best working model, then build a mag lev system somewhere out west where ROW considerations are less and we can establish a successful project

  44. JRTokai says:

    Let me make a record straight. I am tired of French tech worshiper to bragging of TGV. JR Tokai Nozomi is currently running at 186miles per hour (kept maximum to)because,
    1. In case of earth quake.
    (IN france Do you have this kind of natural disaster? And any technology to prevent it from derailment? absolutely not!

    2.The right of way was design in Pre-WW2.Too many sharp curves.
    Tokaido (between Tokyo and Osaka).Shinkansen started regular service at 1964,actually this route was supposed to completed in 1930’s.So, the right of way has got too man tight curves
    2500m (French standard for this is 6000m)

    3.Noize pollution.This is the biggest problem for Shinkansen.
    Shinkansen has to run in the most populated urban area in the world.
    So running at the area is not feasable option for them.

    So None of Europians have to face this kind of challenges.
    Now, Shinkasen departs every 5minutes from Tokyo. 120 trains per day.(till midnight)
    Since 1964.0 fatalities.carried billions of people, whether heavy snow storms,Tyhoons,earth quakes,floods,Trust JR.folks.
    and sorry for my poor English.

  45. JRTokai says:

    I have to correct a few phrases.
    2500m -a radius of 2500m vs.a radius of 6000m.
    Actual fact. French TGV derailed 3 times during the regular service.
    few years ago,collided with a truck.
    JR East Komachi start running at 200miles per hour from 2011.
    Also JR Tokai Nozomi will also speed up to 205miles per hour.

  46. dominic vecchio says:

    talk ,talk ,talk maglev train from clev. to calif.lets go get off your buts

  47. Victor Bobier says:

    The California-Nevada Interstate Maglev that wants to use Transrapid Maglev trains(sorry, But It looks like a train, wheels or not) and has secured a $7 Billion loan from China and plans to build the 1st segment from Las Vegas NV to Primm NV or 40 miles for $1.8 Billion and to spend money on the Anaheim CA to Ontario CA route for planning, There will be two other stations, One in Victorville CA and one in Barstow CA, They will be able to climb Cajon pass as from what I’ve read Maglev can handle up to a 10% grade, The few grades I could find are for freight trains and the tracks don’t exceed either 2.2% or 3%(Both BNSF and UP have trains on these congested rails), The I15 Freeway at one point is much steeper, How much I don’t know, But I doubt It exceeds 10%.

  48. Anonymous says:


  49. Ed Rowland says:

    Maglev is by far the most safest, cleanest, comfortable and cost effective. It’s a vehicle which can start and stop smoother and quicker than current trains, planes and cars. When airlines and trains began people were very cautious because of crashes and comfort. Also, cars could only travel in the daytime for long distance because fuel could only be obtained during the daytime. Well times have changed and those systems of travel have improved really well.
    Now it’s time to move rapidly toward a maglev transportation system. Not only can you travel in significantly less time, but the right-of-way can be also used for other things such as securing power transmission from bad weather and asthetic issues; internet back-up and boosting along major populated areas (4g right now but within 10 years can be at 10g and up); eliminated dead/weak spots of cell phones; provide water and natural gas to areas to costly at current. The last and most important issue is the next generation of transportation must be elevated and/or sub-surface to eliminate the possiblility of collisions with cars, trucks, birds, legged animals and people!

    I think that with this advancement in transportation would minimize the widening and noise of highways and existing rail.

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August 2009


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