LEVITATING TRAINS?

Augustine Wianicho

Imagine sitting in a train while literally flying a few centimeters above the ground. Instead of rolling, it glides effortlessly between points A and B, without coming into touch with any of the rails. Despite the fact that this technology may seem to be something out of a science fiction book, genuine examples may be found all over the globe. They are referred to as maglev trains (magnetically levitating trains). These futuristic trains usher in a new era of intriguing travel possibilities. They have the capacity to be more energy efficient, faster, and safer than conventional forms of transportation, both in terms of energy consumption and passenger safety.

Emile Bachelet, an American engineer of French ancestry, filed the first patents for magnetic levitation in the early 1910s (maglev). Maglev technology was initially proposed in 1904 by Robert Goddard, an American professor and inventor. Engineers quickly began building train systems based on this futuristic concept. Magnetically powered automobiles are expected to be employed in the near future, enabling passengers to travel at great speeds without the safety and maintenance concerns associated with conventional trains.

One of the primary distinctions between magnetic levitation trains and other kinds of trains is that magnetic levitation trains are propelled by magnets rather than engines. The maglev train's engine is nearly imperceptible. For propulsion, the train uses an electric field in the guideway walls and track to create a magnetic field instead of burning fossil fuel.

As anybody who has ever played with magnets can tell, magnets have opposing or unlike poles that attract and like poles that repel. This concept serves as the basis for the utilization of electromagnetic propulsion technologies. Unlike conventional magnets, electromagnets' magnetic attraction is only temporary. With the positive and negative ends of an AA, C, or D-cell battery and a copper wire,  a miniature electromagnet is constructed. As a consequence, a very weak magnetic field is produced. By unplugging either end of a wire from a battery, the magnetic field is removed.

This wire-and-battery experiment lays the groundwork for a maglev train track system. This system is composed of three components:

1. A substantial source of electrical energy

2. A rail or guideway lined with metal coils.

3. As a last safeguard, the train's underbelly is covered with strong magnets.

The train may float between 0.39 and 3.93 inches (1 to 10 cm) above the guideway due to the massive magnets on the railway's undercarriage being resisted by a magnetic coil running down the track. To keep the train going along the tracks, an electrical charge is applied to the guideway walls. This creates a unique system of magnetic fields. Magnetic coils embedded in the guideway walls are polarized by switching the electric current provided to the coils on and off continuously. This implies that the magnetic field just ahead of the train functions as a propellant, while the magnetic field directly behind it acts as a regeneration force.

Maglev trains float on an air cushion to save wear and tear. Trains may travel at speeds of up to 310 miles per hour (500 kilometers per hour), which is double the speed of America's fastest commuter train, the Amtrak. On the other hand, a Boeing 777 commercial jet capable of long-distance travel can achieve speeds of up to 562 mph (905 kph). Maglev trains, according to developers, will eventually be able to link cities separated by up to 1,609 kilometers. A travel from Paris to Rome at 310 mph would take little over two hours and fifteen minutes.

Certain maglev trains are capable of speeds exceeding those of conventional trains. In October 2016, a Japan Railways maglev bullet train achieved 374 mph during a test run. (601 kilometers per hour). Engineers think that the technique will be beneficial for routes covering hundreds of kilometers because of the high speeds.

Maglev trains have been built and tested in Germany and Japan. Even while both German and Japanese trains operate on the same principles, there are significant variances between them. German engineers invented the Transrapid Electromagnetic Suspension (EMS) system. A steel guideway wraps around the train's bottom as a consequence of this configuration. Even while the train is stationary, it is levitated by electromagnets mounted on the railway's undercarriage and directed toward the guideway, enabling it to hover a few millimeters above the ground. Additionally, the train's body is fitted with guiding magnets to ensure its stability while it moves. The German-developed Transrapid maglev train has shown passenger-carrying speeds of up to 300 mph. Munich Central Station-to-airport maglev train lines were abandoned in 2008 due to a 2006 accident and significant cost overruns on the project. Asia has been the epicentre of maglev activity since then.

GERMAN TRANSRAPID ELECTROMAGNETIC SUSPENSION (EMS) SYSTEM

As a competitor to maglev trains, Japanese researchers created the Electrodynamic Suspension (EDS) technology, which is based on the repelling force of magnets. The fact that Japanese trains use supercooled, superconducting electromagnets is one of the most significant distinctions between them and German maglev trains. This kind of electromagnet can continue to conduct electricity even after the power source is turned off. When a power supply is provided, the coils of the standard electromagnets in the EMS system conduct electricity. Japan's technique cools the coils to very low temperatures, which conserves energy. On the other hand, the cryogenic system used to cool the coils may be rather costly, significantly increasing the construction and maintenance expenses.

JAPANESE ELECTRODYNAMIC SUSPENSION (EDS) SYSTEM

Another distinction between the two systems is that Japanese trains float about four inches (ten centimeters) over the guideway. One disadvantage of using EDS technology is that maglev trains must operate on rubber tires until they achieved a liftoff speed of around 93 miles per hour (approximately 150 kph). According to Japanese experts, if the system fails due to a power breakdown, the wheels can assist. Pacemakers would also need to be insulated from the superconducting electromagnets' magnetic fields.

Despite their many benefits, maglev trains are not widely used. Perhaps the most serious obstacle is that maglev guideways are incompatible with existing rail infrastructure. To construct a maglev system, a company must begin from scratch and construct an entirely new set of tracks. As a consequence, a sizable upfront payment is required. While guideways may be less costly in the long term than railways, the initial investment is difficult to justify. Additionally, maglev trains' top speeds may be insufficient. A system that is just slightly better than what they now have is not worth billions of dollars in investment. At the moment, there is minimal demand for these trains. In comparison to conventional trains, they are unquestionably the winners. There is still more work to be done before they can be widely accepted.

It's difficult to predict how maglevs will be used in the future of human transportation. Technological advancements in self-driving automobiles and air travel may jeopardize the construction of maglev lines. Despite their high cost, flying vehicles may someday outperform rail systems because they do not need enormous infrastructure investments to get off the ground.

Over the next decade or so, countries worldwide may choose maglev trains. It would be fascinating to see if they become a cornerstone of high-speed travel or just pet projects for a few individuals in a crowded city. Additionally, they might just vanish, using a kind of levitation technology that never gained traction.

REFERENCES

  1. Bonsor, Kevin & Chandler, Nathan. "How Maglev Trains work". Retrieved from How Maglev Trains Work | HowStuffWorks. May 20,2019.
  2. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. "Maglev". Retrieved from Maglev - Wikipedia.
Technology

Augustine Wianicho

A technological and astronomic enthusiast who seeks to inform about mind-blowing and developing technology and projects that are going to transform our lives and the world at large.