China dreams of 4,000km/h “flying trains”

A Chinese state-owned space and military technology group will investigate the feasibility of a magnetic levitation (maglev) rail system that would leave Elon Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop concept in the dust.

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which develops space and missile technology, plans to research a "flying" train network that it says could eventually have a top speed of 4,000km/h.

China was a pioneer in maglev rail, completing a 30.5-km line from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to a suburban station at the end of 2003.

The maglev line has struggled to pay for itself, however, and China has since focussed on conventional high-speed rail.

Its bullet trains now have a top speed of 320km/h, but CASIC’s vehicles would be able to reach 1,000km/h, initially.

Acting as an alternative to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, the MagLev train would travel inside a similar vacuum tube. Hyperloop’s top speed is estimated to be 1,200km/h.

Mao Kai, chair of the project told the state run China News Service: "The vehicle’s acceleration speed would be slower than a plane in taking off so passengers could be free of safety concerns."

Mao said the train will work in all types of weather and won’t be reliant on fossil fuels.

Trains running between cities would have a top speed of 1,000km/h, while those linking China’s megacity zones could reach 2,000km/h. International travel could top 4,000km/h.

If successful, the vehicles would allow traveling between Beijing to Wuhan to take half an hour.

One expert is skeptical. Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Transport University, said humans couldn’t physically handle the speed.

The human body "could only physiologically withstand acceleration to speeds of 4,000km/h for a very short amount of time," he told The South China Morning Post. "In that case, are the passengers going to be astronauts only?"

There is currently no timeframe for the project.

Image courtesy of CASIC

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  1. The issue of what the human body can stand in terms of G forces is really the crux; 1G is probably the maximum for sustained acceleration, and the limit for curving probably rather less, which makes the bends shown in the hyperloop graphics look rather gut-wrenching. China has at least avoided that in its initial illustration. How you deal with the brain’s response to eye-wateringly fast landscape – if indeed you have windows in the passenger cabin – or the problems of motion sickness if you don’t, looks to be more difficult to solve that any of the technology.

    Line capacity looks a bit on the low side, and route setting looks to be an interesting problem, not least because this is already a problem in capacity terms on so-called high speed rail today.

  2. And we are still pressing on with mid to late 20th century rail technology in the form of the HS2 that will not be ready until the late 2020’s.
    What happened to the nation that developed railways and built railways all over the world and supplied the rolling stock?

  3. what about a carbon free mobility system in the near future , it seems to be that the need for that is much higher and affordable than the next acceleration in speed ?

  4. This is a fabulous plan! It should be encouraged and implemented as quickly as possible. Pollution will be reduced with less use of airlines and people can travel from city-center to city-center if the planning and implementation are done correctly. We need to ignore the uneducated naysayers! When railways were first built, poor uneducated naysayers thought they would die if travel speed exceeded 5 MPH. Let’s get the system developed and built, but NOT only from the edge of cities.

  5. As a practical matter we need not go any faster than 300 MPH. Any speed in excess of that number would encounter a lot of air resistance at sea level. That resistance would be very costly in enegy expended as we go any faster.
    However ultra-high speeds of several thousand mph are possible in a tube. The drawback of using an enclosed tube is the enormous cost and no visibility outside of the vehicle. The travel experience is lost when you cannot see the scenery.

  6. Purpose of such trains is to reach activity centres fast. Object is to travel as early as possible. So, there is no need to think of viewing the scenery.
    Regarding acceleration, the train being a machine cannot reach 4000 in seconds. Allowing for time for acceleration and retardation, time duration of travel at maximum speeds is very short.
    Technology has to be so developed that the body remains comfortable as the speed increases. It is not impossible, when we can design jet fighters piloted by humans without any special dresses.

  7. The purpose of these types of trains is to facilitate commerce. Whether they are cargo or people movers, it doesn’t really matter- the faster you can get to your destination, the more commerce is available between the two ends.

    For those concerned about the scenery, there is a possibility that these trains would be built without windows- but have OLED screens on the interiors that show live cams that are mounted to the exterior of the tube. Such a possibility would be ideal, actually. At those speeds, air friction can be the deciding factor, so you will want surfaces as smooth as possible in the vacuum. You can’t do that and have conventional windows. But you can have digital windows all day long. From a design standpoint, this would also help standardize the structure and envelope of the car, while allowing for multiple options for interior layouts, helping to reduce costs.

    For those concerned about motion sickness, this is also irrelevant in that sickness is usually caused by changes in pressure brought on by motion. Pressure, as our brains recognize it, doesn’t exist in vacuums- which is why astronauts are able to withstand the speeds of ISS orbits. At best, it would simply register that one is in motion. Which the above mentioned screens can placate.

  8. If that train does become an actual reality. I highly doubt they would just ramp it up to its maximum speed. Because of the g-force. So it should be able to slow down a bit from its max speed and achieve 1000 km per hour. Imagine it be like driving cars on the road – none of us really go all out full 200 km per hour as it’s dangerous and unnecessary. Even tho our cars can achieve that speed. That flying train must be able to achieve a “cruise speed” of 1000 km per hour when carrying human passengers, in order to be feasible.

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