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Riding The Fastest Train In The World, Shanghai’s Maglev

The experience of riding the fastest train in the world.

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The ride ended almost as soon as it began. I would have demanded my money back if I had not just traveled 30 km in 7 minutes and 20 seconds. I had just ridden the fastest train in the world: Shanghai’s Maglev.

The Shanghai Maglev has obtained a top speed of 501 km/hr, but travels at 431 km/h during commercial operation — which is roughly half that of a Boeing 757, faster than the top speed of any Formula One race car, and a third the speed of sound.

Costing 1.2 billion dollars to build, Shanghai’s Maglev line began passenger service in 2004, connecting Pudong airport with Longyang Road station in Pudong — a convenient entry/ exit point of the city on subway line 2. This was the first commercial high-speed magnetic levitation train in the world, and just the third Maglev line to ever be operated commercially. The first two were in the United Kingdom and Berlin respectively. Both of these pioneering lines are now defunct, and both paled in comparison with the Shanghai line in terms of speed and efficiency.

This train flies. Literally, it flies. The Shanghai maglev works by magnetic levitation, which means no support other than magnetic fields are used to counteract gravity and propel the train forward. This train floats in the air, without contact with the track.

The Shanghai Maglev doesn’t have an engine, a caboose, or even wheels for that matter. The only thing that really makes the this train a train is the fact that it looks like one and is guided by a track. Other than this, the maglev is something completely different than its earth bound brethren.

Levitation maglev trains are powered by electromagnets. There are large metal coils in the track which generate a magnetic field, which like-forced magnets on the underside of the train are repel by, suspended in the air, and propelled forward. If you’ve ever put the like ends of two magnets together and watched how they can move each other you have the basic idea of how maglev trains work.

Video of riding a maglev train

The effect of riding the Shanghai Maglev was like being on a plane during takeoff. The thing shook, it rattled, it went so fast that the view outside the window appeared blurred. The disappointing thing about this maglev line is that it is so short that as soon as the train gets up to full speed its time for it to start slowing down again. You get up to 431 km/h, but in the amount of time it takes to “ooh” or “ahh” you’re already slowing down and beginning your descent.

Riding this train is a global novelty. It’s also rather convenient. Though you need to take the same subway line to get to the maglev that you would to get all the way to the airport, taking the super fast train shaves about an hour off the trip. At ¥40 (around $6) for a ticket with proof of a airline ticket purchase it’s only a fiver more than the subway — which is sometimes an acceptable price to pay for the efficiency.


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Filed under: China, Train Travel, Travel Guide

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3717 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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