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Ever ridden on a train before? Or an airplane? What if someone could

combine the two, making a flying train? Well someone has, and even
better, this new “flying train” doesn’t need engines, is environmentally
friendly, and would require less maintenance than your car. Oh yeah,
and it’s way quieter than a normal train. This new invention is called a
MagLev train, which stands for Magnetically Levitated train. A MagLev
uses magnetism to hover above the ground, which allows it to travel
way faster than a regular train.

How it works
So what does a MagLev look like?

(From afar, it looks just like your regular SkyTrain, but when you see it up close you can see that
it's definitely hovering above the track.)
Look ma, no wheels! A MagLev is constantly kept afloat by
electromagnets on the track (also called a
guideway) and on the train's underside. As we all
know, the opposing polarities of magnets are
attracted to each other and the same polarities
oppose each other. So a MagLev would be
levitated with the track's and the train's magnets
facing each other on the opposing sides. End of
story, right?

Nope, there's way more to it than you think. There are many different
MagLev systems being developed. The most successful one so far is
called the Transrapid system and it is currently being used by the
MagLev in Shanghai. This system uses electromagnetic suspension
technology (EMS) and it works on the concept that electromagnetic
forces attract to a metal or another electromagnet when they face each
other with the opposing polarities. Another system under development
uses electrodynamic suspension technology (EDS) and it works on the
concept of repulsive magnetic forces when electromagnets face each
other with the same polarities. The EDS system uses superconductors
cooled with liquid helium, and it's still in the experimental stage with
many technical difficulties to be overcome. For starters, the train can't
not be levitated at speeds less than 100 kilometres per hour and the
magnetic field intensity inside the train is about 1000 times higher than
that of the Transrapid System. Also, the super-cooled conductors are
really expensive and the unregulated levitation causes rough rides on
the train. So far, the Transrapid system is the only one commercially
available. It's a more comfortable and safer system in terms of regulated
levitation and the magnetic field intensity inside the passenger
compartment. Its intensity is comparable to the earth's magnetic field
and far below the field intensity of a hair dryer, an electric drill or a
sewing machine. Since the Transrapid system has already been proven
successful, it is the one we will learn about in the next couple of pages.

Briefly, in this system, the train and the track each have a set of
electromagnets for levitation. The track has another set to keep the train
positioned properly and to guide the train along. These guidance
electromagnets keep the train from straying off track. Finally, another
set of electromagnets built into the track and the train generate a
electromagnetic travelling field that pushes the vehicle forward. There
are two major systems in operation in a MagLev: the Levitation System
and the Propulsion System .

1) The Levitation System

Support electromagnets built into the undercarriage and along the entire
length of the train pull it up to the guideway electromagnets, which are
called ferromagnetic reaction rails. The guidance magnets placed on
each side of the train keep it centered along the track and guide the
train along. All the electromagnets are controlled electronically in a
precise manner. It ensures the train is always levitated at a distance of 8
to 10 mm from the guideway even when it isn't moving. This levitation
system is powered by onboard batteries, which are charged up by the
linear generator when the train travels. The generator consists of
additional cable windings integrated in the levitation electromagnets.
The induced current of the generator during driving uses the propulsion
magnetic field's harmonic waves, which are due to the side effects of
the grooves of the long stator so the charging up process does not
consume the useful propulsion magnetic field. The train can rely on this
battery power for up to one hour without an external power source. The
levitation system is independent from the propulsion system.

2) The Propulsion System

For propulsion and braking of a

MagLev, a long electromagnetic
stator is installed underneath both
sides of the guideway facing the
train's support electromagnets, which
resemble a motor's rotor. The
construction of this system looks like
the stator of a rotating motor was cut
open and stretched along the
guideway undersides and the rotor
part is built into the undercarriage of a
The three-phase winded stator generates an electromagnetic travelling
field and moves the train when it is supplied with an alternating current.
The electronmagnetic field from the support electromagnets (rotor) pulls
it along. The magnetic field direction and speed of the stator and the
rotor are synchronized. The
MagLev's speed can vary from
standstill to full operating speed by
simply adjusting the frequency of the
alternating current. To bring the train
to a full stop, the direction of the
travelling field is reversed. Even
during braking, there isn't any
mechanical contact between the
stator and the rotor. Instead of
consuming energy, the Transrapid
system acts as a generator,
converting the breaking energy into
electricity, which can be used

Now that we know how the

Transrapid system works, let's take a
look at how electromagnetism works.

Scientific principles
Move cursor over images 1,
and 4 to see how polarities
On the last page, we saw how the
Transrapid MagLev System relies on
electromagnets. Well, on this page,
we're going to learn about
electromagnetism and how its motor
principle is applied to make a
MagLev work.
Electromagnetism is magnetism produced by an electric current. The
basic idea behind electromagnets are that you can create a magnetic
field by running an electric current through a conductor (like a wire).
When it is twisted into a coil and its ends are connected to a voltage
source (like a battery), the magnetic field through the center of the coil
will have north and south poles, same as a permanent magnet. The
Levitation System of the Transrapid uses the attraction forces of
electromagnets. With electromagnets, the magnetic fields can be turned
on or off, and the current flowing through the coiled conductor can even
be reversed, switching the electomagnetic field's polarity. To see how
the polarity is switched, place your cursor over the images.

The Motor Principle

When a conductor carrying a current is in an external magnetic field
perpendicular to the conductor, a force perpendicular to the conductor
and the external magnetic field will be exerted on the conductor. (I know
this sounds confusing, hopefully the third picture can clear things up a

The direction of the force on the conductor can be described by the

right-hand rule.
1. With the right hand, the thumb points in the direction of the current.
2. The fingers point in the direction of the external magnetic field.
3. The resulting force exerted on the conductor will go outwards of the

The definition of the ampere is described with the motor principle. One
ampere is defined as the amount of current, which produces a force of 2
X 10-7 newtons per metre of conductor when it flows through two straight
parallel conductors a metre apart in a vaccum.

Examples of electric devices that operate on the motor principle are

analog electric meters such as voltmeters, ammeters and
galvanometers. In the case of MagLevs, important applications of the
motor principle include an electric motor and the train. An electric motor
consists of a permanent magnet (stator) which produces an external
magnetic field and a conductor coiled to form an electromagnet as the
armature (rotor) which is free to rotate within the external magnetic field.
The armature is connected to a voltage source through brushes and a
commutator, while the rotor in a Transrapid MagLev is directly wired to
the train because the rotor doesn't move in relation to the train.

The speed of a motor's rotation depends on the strength of the external

magnetic field from the permanent magnet and the armature's
electromagnetic field strength, which is determined by the number of
coils, the amount of current flowing through it and its magnetic
permeability and the load to the shaft. Note, when the conductor of a
motor is not supplied with a current and when the shaft is moved by an
external force, a current will flow out from the conductor. This is the
effect of an electric generator. It's because a current is induced when
the rotor is moved inside the magnetic field of the stator. A MagLev
uses the same principle for charging up its onboard batteries. That is,
the cable windings moving in a magnetic field induce a current for the
onboard batteries.

The Propulsion System of the Transrapid operates on the motor

principle similar to that of an electric motor. (See )
Basically, a motor is divided into two halves, one half (the
electromagnetic stator) in the guideway and the other half (the rotor) in
the train's undercarriage. Instead of a motor using an electromagnetic
rotating field, the Transrapid system uses an electromagnetic travelling
field, which propels the train forward or brakes the train to a stop when
the direction of the electromagnetic field is reversed.

Want more side info on MagLevs? Then let's take a look at the pros and
cons of MagLevs.

MagLev Pros and Cons

MagLevs are cool and fast, sure, but as good as they sound there are
disadvantages to them. In this page we will take a look at the MagLev's
goods and bads.

• A MagLev is way faster than your usual bullet train. MagLevs can
reach speeds up to 500 kilometres per hour.
• Due to its lack of wheels, MagLevs are quieter than normal trains,
or sometimes even traffic.
• MagLevs use 30% less energy than normal trains.
• In theory, a MagLev and its track would require very little
maintenance; since the train never touches the track there is
virtually no wear and tear.


• The MagLev's track is much more expensive than railroad tracks.

• Whole new sets of tracks would have to be built for the MagLev to
run. Many transportation vechicles in Europe run on existing track,
like the TGV trains in France.
• Although MagLevs are pretty quiet, noise caused by air
disturbance still occurs.

MagLevs are still being developed and improved upon, and someone
might just find a way to reduce the cost of the track or a simpler way of
constructing the track.

Wonder what the station looks like? What about the inside of a
MagLev? Find out here.