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Technology and Future of Maglev Trains - Physics Behind The Train Without Wheels

Technology and Future of Maglev Trains - Physics Behind The Train Without Wheels

  • SEPTEMBER 14, 2022

Can you imagine a train without wheels floating smoothly above the guideways without making contact with them? Such a train that seems like science fiction does exist in real life and can take you to your destination. They are known as maglev trains that run based on the system of magnetic levitation. These trains open the possibilities of faster and more energy-saving travel than standard transportation systems. As of now, these high-end trains are operational only in China, Japan, and South Korea. With proper research and development, maglev may operate in other countries soon.

How Do Maglev Trains Work?

Maglev trains float above guideways or guide tracks without wheels, making it easier to achieve greater speed than what we experience in usual trains. There are three essential functions of running trains through maglev technology: levitation or suspension, propulsion, and guidance.


Levitation is the train's ability to remain suspended above the track. There are two primary levitation technologies:

  1. Electromagnetic Suspension (EMS) is a system of attractive force levitation that aids interaction between electromagnets placed on the vehicle and the guideway. It was made possible by developing electronic control systems that prevent contact between the train and guideway by maintaining air gaps in between. Altering the magnetic field in response to vehicle/guideway air-gap measurements can compensate for the discrepancy in guideway irregularities, dynamic loads, and payload weight.
  2. Electrodynamic Suspension (EDS) uses superconducting magnets (these magnets are just like normal electromagnets that do not have resistance to electricity and provide high magnetic fields) positioned on the train and guideway to create repulsive force. These magnets move past each other and push the train further. This method aids the train in remaining stable even at high speeds. But the vehicle needs wheels or other support that can aid in taking off and landing as EDS can not levitate the train at speeds below approximately 25 mph. The advancement of superconducting magnet technology and cryogenics has led to the progress of EDS over the past years.


  1. The force that directs the train ahead is known as Propulsion. An electrically powered linear motor winding is used for 'long-stator' propulsion as it seems to be a suitable option for high-speed maglev systems. Its budget increases due to the cost of guideway construction being higher.
  2. The second alternative is 'short-stator' propulsion, which uses a passive guideway and a linear induction motor (LIM). Although the cost of the guideway reduces with this option, the heavy LIM lowers vehicle payload capacity, which increases the operating cost and decreases revenue probability compared to the long-stator propulsion. 
  3. The third option is a nonmagnetic energy source - a gas turbine or turboprop. However, this increases the vehicle's weight and decreases its efficiency.


Guidance is the process of keeping the train situated over the guideway. Repulsive magnetic forces help in achieving this for high-speed maglev. TransRapid (a German-developed maglev train) has two electromagnetic rails facing either side of the guideway. These magnets keep the train in the middle. In the Japanese MLX maglev train, guidance and levitation work simultaneously. The levitation rails are connected with each other and placed on either side of the train. So when the train moves near one side, the induced repulsive force pushes it back to the center. 

The Future of Maglev Trains

Magnetic levitation technology has excellent potential for the future. Such a transportation mode will not only be faster but also cheaper, safer, and greener than the ones we have today. However, we will require the right engineers and innovative minds to help develop and adequately execute these trains. This technology can be applied in various modes, from intercity to country-wise transport. Although this technology may take a while to grow globally, it is hard to deny its possibility of being prevalent in the future.

Final Notes

Today's generation is moving faster than usual, and many such geniuses are coming to the forefront of technology. With proper guidance and learning methods, students can surpass many limitations and give out-of-the-box solutions to make our lives easier and more economical.

If one has to make more such innovations in this fast-paced and competitive world, they need to have high-end technology and mastery of STEM subjects. Aiming to empower tomorrow's trailblazers, Saras-3D found a solution for teachers and students. Concepts of 9th to 12th Maths & Science are shown through 3D simulations that can be explored with hands-on interaction for deeper understanding. Learn more about it here.