Magnetic levitation trains, or maglev for short, have been a big hit in Asia thanks to their incredible speed and capacity.
But a new development called super-maglev could be set to push the limits even higher.
China’s first manned megathermal superconducting maglev loop has been tested successfully by the Applied Superconductivity Laboratory of Southwest Jiaotong University.
A super-maglev enclosed tube vehicle has been unveiled at Southwest Jiaotong University, Chengdu city, Sichuan province, China. It was tested successfully bythe Applied Superconductivity Laboratory, and could further increase the speeds of commercial high-speed trains. Pictured is a student going for a test ride
The lead on the project is Dr Deng Zigang, who has been developing the technology for a number of years.
In March 2013 they completed the first high-temperature superconducting maglev ring test, which was similar to the one you can see here but without the enclosed tube.
But now the new ‘loop line’ could be set to usher in a new wave of faster trains than ever before.
Maglev was first proposed as a method to propel trains as far back as the mid 20th century.
The first commercial maglev train to come into operation was a relatively low-speed shuttle at Birmingham International Airport in 1984.
This travelled at a rather mundane 26 miles (42 kilometres) per hour.
It was not until the turn of the century, though, that high-speed maglev would come into commercial operation, mostly in Japan and China.
The world’s fastest passenger-carrying train is currently the Shanghai Maglev Train, opened in April 2004, which can reach 268 miles (431 kilometres) per hour.
Super-maglev, however, could allow for even higher speeds.
This is because, by using a vacuum tube, they decrease the speed limitations imposed by air resistance on regular maglev trains.
In a paper on the subject, Dr Zigang says: 'If the running speed exceeds 400 kilometres (250 miles) per hour, more than 83 per ceny of traction energy will wastefully dissipate in air resistance.'
And, he adds, 'Aerodynamic noise will break through 90 decibels (the environmental standard is 75 decibels).'
The only way to break this barrier is to reduce the air pressure in the running environment, which he has done in his tube by lowering it to 10 times less than normal atmospheric pressure at sea level.
'Some systems (notably the Swiss metro system) have proposed the use of vacuum trains - Maglev train technology used in evacuated (airless) tubes,' he continues, 'which removes air drag and pushes the speed higher and higher.'
'ETT (Evacuated Tube Transport) systems might allow HTS Maglev trains to attain speeds in a new order of magnitude, such as super-high 3,000 kilometres (1,800 miles) per hour, which could be applied to some military or space launch systems.
Dr Deng Zigang, associate professor of the Applied Superconductivity Laboratory at Southwest Jiaotong University, poses with the track where the super-maglev vehicle runs. The circle, China's first manned megathermal superconducting maglev loop line, is 12 metres (40 feet) in diameter
Super-maglev (pink) has the potential to improve travel times, as shown in this graph. Modern maglev (blue) still eclipses other forms of transport but cannot compete with planes over large distances
To further develop the project, Dr Zigang there are two phases that must be reached.
‘The first was to develop a ring line of high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev vehicle that can accelerate to a certain speed, 25 km (15 miles) per hour,’ he tells MailOnline.
This target was achieved in February 2013, leading the researchers to move onto the next phase.
'The second phase is to cover the ring line with an evacuation tube (ET), which is called the ET HTS Maglev,’ continues Dr Zigang.
‘The vehicle was designed to accelerate to a maximum speed of 50 kilometres (30 miles) per hour without passengers.
‘This speed is limited by the small radius of the ring guideway, which is only six metres (20 feet).’
‘The meaning of the project is that it will be the first one to realize the prototype of the future evacuation tube transportation (ETT).
‘At this moment, we are conducting evacuation tests on the new system. We will release our achievements after the successful running in the near future.'
Dr Zigang operates a super-maglev vehicle by remote control during the trial run. In a paper he claims such enclosed tube maglev systems could reach speeds as high as 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometres) per hour, which 'could be applied to some military or space launch systems'