Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Maglev Train

Shanghai's Maglev Train is pretty cool! Or at least that's my opinion. Nobody I talk to agrees with me about this. They say it's overpriced and only foreigners who don't know any better would use it.

The maglev is a Magnetic Levitation train, using magnets to suspend the train a fraction of an inch above the monorail, and then uses magnetic propulsion to zoom the train forward. I don't want to get into the technical details, the point is that you go really fast and it's a very smooth, quiet ride.

A ticket to ride the maglev costs $6.25 one way, compared to a $1.50 bus offering the same route. The entrance gate area is bright and clean and has a small check-in process, giving the station the feel of an underused aiport, or maybe a subway system from the future.

Looking at the picture, it obviously has an empty feel - it's a matter of logistics. The subway goes extremely fast, but only for 19 miles, from the International Airport to a train station on the far end of town. From my apartment to the train station is 14 subway stops, which isn't slow, but isn't at all fast. So truthfully it's somewhat absurd. They talk about expanding to the domestic airport across town. I don't doubt it could happen, but first they'll need to knock down some massive apartment buildings, directly across from the station.

The errors of the system are obvious, but it's not all negative. The maglev train is faster and more convenient than taking the bus from the aiport to the subway, only a few dollars more expensive, and it makes for a fun introduction to the city. I would definitely recommend it to new arrivals who don't require a taxi. The insides are a lot more pleasant than your average bus or taxi, and this simple photographic evidence shows that Chinese (or at least, East Asian) people also use the Maglev.

The train works on a monorail system. There's two monorails, but for whatever reason only one is used. Probably because the ride only takes about 10 minutes, and there aren't enough people to require two trains operating in parallel. Taking the train is a rush, way better than a Disney ride. The train goes 270 miles/hour right alongside the ground, it feels more like a low-flying jet than a car or a subway. It doesn't stay the top speed long, though - after just a minute or two it starts slowing down, for arrival at the destination.

The train goes through a lot of turns, and there's no friction from the rail, so the track leans over an absurd amount - maybe 45%? Of course the g-forces cancel that out, and you wouldn't even know the train was leaning, without looking out the window. Things fly past so quickly, it's really strange. As soon as you notice any details, it's out of sight. For the most part the view is nothing exciting, though - the train passes a lot of farmland, although there's the occasional factory or group of housing.

Even though I like the train, it's something of an albatross to Shanghai. That'll be less true in the future - for one, the system would probably be very useful if it gets expanded across Shanghai. And more interesting, Shanghai will have a Maglev train built to the city of Hangzhou, 122 miles away. Unbelievably, while it started just a few months ago, it's supposed to be completed by the International Expo in 2010. It seems like a good idea, if done right - it'll cut the travel time down from more than two hours, to half an hour.

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