China is known across the globe for the many wonderful gifts they’ve given to our world, from kung fu and pandas to fantastic food and the Great Wall. Along with age-old knowledge of insane architecture and delicious cuisine, they are now also the unparalleled leaders of innovation where train technology is concerned.

In the last decade, Chinese engineers have built the world’s largest train network to move their population around efficiently and quickly. They’ve also completely revamped their train equipment to leave any potential competitors in the dust in terms of automation and technology.

And rather than resting on their laurels, Chinese innovators continue to discover, create, and push the boundaries of transportation.

South China’s Floating Trains

China recently launched the world’s first maglev sky train transport system that operates without power thanks to the permanent magnetic tracks that keep the vehicles suspended securely in mid-air.

The first trial run of the 800-meter-long Red Rail was successfully done in southern China, where the sky train reached 80 km per hour. The next test run is set to push things even further, up to 120 kilometers per hour on 7.5 kilometers of track. 

The entire project is composed of a single test track built on steel poles that suspend the track about 33 feet from the ground. Magnetically suspended underneath the track is a two-carriage train capable of carrying 88 passengers. 

This marvel of transportation innovation, called the Red Rail, makes no contact with the track, so it can travel along silently and without friction between elevated passenger platforms at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour or 80 km per hour.

One immediately apparent advantage of this setup is that it requires less real estate on the ground than a light rail operation. The trains themselves also cost about 90% less than their subway counterparts, even when you consider the use of the powerful permanent magnets that are abundant in rare earth elements, like neodymium, that make up the magnets.

In fact, neodymium-infused magnets tend to last longer – losing less than 5% of their magnetism over a century – so this design is situated to age well.

Advantages of the Sky Train over Other Setups

The benefits of South China’s magnetic levitation system are clear:

  • They provide a smooth, silent ride since the trains don’t touch the suspended tracks as they glide along. This is something that both passengers and those living near the rail system can appreciate.
  • They require little maintenance due to the nature of construction and the types of materials used. This will translate into a lower cost of travel overall.
  • Because the trains don’t touch the tracks, rolling resistance is eliminated, which translates to less energy required for acceleration.

Since maglev sky train systems are run on electromagnets, they generally use about 75% less energy than the energy required to run a subway or light rail. And the benefits become even more significant when a permanent magnet is used, as with China’s Red Rail, because it delivers magnetic forces 24/7 with no energy costs. And China is particularly blessed with being the world leader in the rare earth metals required to build these magnets.

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