|Should India go for Maglev Trains ?
by Dr. Parames Ghosh & Mr. Pranab RayChaudhuri
( Click on the above Author's Names to read about them )
E- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com respectively.
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In the 20th century the speed of our material progress was vastly accelerated by the increase
in our speed of communication; the transport by air let us deliver things in hours, which earlier
took days. In the later part of the century, the Internet helped us communicate even further. It is
now possible to pay for the goods almost instantaneously, while we still take time to deliver the
goods. Airplanes help us transport small goods faster, but not the elephants and heavy goods.
In this article, we are considering alternatives to airplanes – Maglev Trains that can help mass
transport of goods as well as personnel that provides services.
Various countries have already invested in Maglev Trains or have been planning to do so. We
need to find out whether India affords Maglev Trains and whether Maglev trains will reduce the
cost and bottlenecks of transporting people and material in India to increase GDP of India. We
would perhaps find that other developed and developing countries would invest in the
infrastructure including Maglev Trains, and if that happens, it could be possible to have an
alternative for air travel, in countries connected by land.
In this paper, we have reproduced ideas of many veteran scholars to lead others to research
further whether India should invest in this new technology that is promising to bring a revolution.
Need for Faster Transport & Introduction to Maglev Trains [Ref-2] Top
If you've been to an airstrip lately, you've probably noticed that air travel is becoming more and
more congested. Despite frequent delays, airplanes still provide the fastest way to travel
hundreds or thousands of miles. Passenger air travel revolutionized the transportation industry
in the last century, letting people traverse great distances in a matter of hours instead of days
The only alternatives to airplanes -- feet, cars, buses, boats and conventional trains -- are just
too slow for today's fast-paced society. However, there is a new form of transportation that
could revolutionize transportation of the 21st century the way airplanes did in the 20th century.
A few countries are using powerful electromagnets to develop high-speed trains, called
maglev trains. Maglev is short for magnetic levitation , which means that these trains will float
over a guide-way using the basic principles of magnets to replace the old steel wheel and
The big difference between a maglev train and a conventional train is that maglev trains do not
have an engine -- at least not the kind of engine used to pull typical train cars along steel
tracks. The engine for maglev trains is rather inconspicuous. Instead of using fossil fuels, the
magnetic field created by the electrified coils in the guide-way walls and the track combines to
propel the train.
How Various Countries are Planning for Maglev Trains [Ref-16] Top
Let us first check how different nations in the world are considering the prospects of Maglev
The Indian Ministry is reportedly reviewing a proposal to start a Maglev train system in India. It
has already been estimated that the cost to complete this process would be over $30 Billion.
The company who sent the proposals is a company based in the United States. There have
been feelers sent to Lalu Prasad, Railway Minister, in which the advantages of a Maglev train
system were presented. Although still at a preliminary stage, if completed, the train travel time
between the two cities will be reduced to three hours, compared to an original 16 hours.
A Maglev line has recently been proposed in the United Kingdom from London to Glasgow
with several route options through the Midlands, Northwest and Northeast of England and is
reported to be under favourable consideration by the government. A further high speed link is
also being planned between Glasgow to Edinburgh though there is no settled technology for
this concept yet, ie (Maglev/Hi Speed Electric etc)
A separate maglev link is also being planned between Glasgow Airport and Glasgow to
Edinburgh Airport and Edinburgh which would cut journey time between the two cities from
one hour to 15 minutes. Work will begin as early as January 2008. The technology that will be
used has not been decided.
China has decided to extend the world’s first commercial TransRapid line between Pudong
airport and the city of Shanghai initially by some 35 kilometers to Hong Qiao airport before the
World Expo 2010 and then, in an additional phase, by 200 kilometers to the city of Hangzhou
(Shanghai-Hangzhou Maglev Train), becoming the first inter-city Maglev rail line in commercial
service in the world. The line will be an extension of the Shanghai airport Maglev line. Talks
with Germany and Transrapid Konsortium about the details of the construction contracts have
started. On March 7, 2006, the Chinese Minister of Transportation was quoted by several
Chinese and Western newspapers as saying the line was approved. [Ref-16]
Economics of past projects on Maglev trains [Ref-4] Top
The Shanghai maglev cost 9.93 billion Yuan (US$1.2 billion) to build. This total includes
infrastructure capital costs such as manufacturing and construction facilities, and operational
training. At 50 Yuan per passenger and the current 7,000 passengers per day, income from
the system is incapable of recouping the capital costs (including interest on financing) over the
expected lifetime of the system, even ignoring operating costs.
China aims to limit the cost of future construction extending the maglev line to approximately
200 million Yuan (US$24.6 million) per kilometre. These costs compare competitively with
airport construction (e.g., Hong Kong Airport cost US$20 billion to build in 1998) and eight-
lane Interstate highway systems that cost around US$50 million per mile in the US.
While high-speed maglevs are expensive to build, they are less expensive to operate and
maintain than traditional high-speed trains, planes or intercity buses. Data from the Shanghai
maglev project indicates that the current relatively low volume of 7,000 passengers per day
covers operation and maintenance costs. Passenger volumes on the Pudong International
Airport line are expected to rise dramatically once the line is extended from Longyang Road
metro station all the way to Shanghai's downtown train depot.
The proposed Chūō Shinkansen maglev in Japan is estimated to cost approximately US$82
billion to build, with a route blasting long tunnels through mountains. A Tokaido maglev route
replacing current Shinkansen would cost some 1/10 the cost, as no new tunnel blasting would
be needed, but noise pollution issues would make it infeasible.
The only low-speed maglev (100 km/h) currently operational, the Japanese Linimo HSST, cost
approximately US$100 million/km to build. Besides offering improved O&M costs over other
transit systems, these low-speed maglevs provide ultra-high levels of operational reliability
and introduce little noise and zero air pollution into dense urban settings.
As maglev systems are deployed around the world, experts expect construction costs to drop
as new construction methods are perfected. 
MNC proposed to build magnetic levitation train in Punjab [Ref-9] Top
In May-2005, “BCD Oil and Foods, a multi-national company, has proposed to build a mass
rapid transit system in the city. It gave a presentation of its transit system at the UT secretariat
to the home secretary Krishna Mohan. Proposed Cost was Rs 4,300 Crore For Coverage of
50 Kms; Train Can Move At 100 Kms An Hour.
The transit system operates by using a magnetic levitation train, whereby the train floats on the
track without touching it. The main features of the trains are that there is no noise and pollution
in this system. It will be built by spending approximately Rs 4,300 crore, considering that it
covers at least 50 kms -- at the rate of 20 million dollars per km. The UT will only get one per
cent of the overall profits since it will be built on build, operate and own (BOO) basis.
One of the Directors of BCD, Prof S. Dat said, "The train can move at any speed, from snail's
pace to about 100 km per hour within the city. If it has to move between two cities, it can move
at a speed of over 500 km per hour. The construction time is 18 months, while 20 kms of track
can be built in 200 days."
The cost of travelling will be Rs 1.50 per km in second class and Rs 5.00 per km in first class.
Prof Dat said for the train to be successful in the city, it would need at least 60,000
passengers per day to start with. Its capacity is 220 passengers on seat, and 100 passengers
standing in two compartments. The trains will run at a frequency of less than one minute. It is a
safe mode of transport, with emergency stairway and staff to disembark the passengers
At present, it is operational in Shanghai and also in Japan. Other places where the magnetic
levitation train is being proposed in South Asia are Indore, Karachi and Chittagong. Prof Dat
said, "The support services such as restaurants, tea stalls, shops and escalators will also
come up with this transit system.” [Ref-9]
Can Maglev Trains be useful for developing countries? [Ref-13] Top
Not just magnetic levitation super fast monorail transportation systems, but an almost
unending variety of things would be useful for the development of poverty-stricken remote
areas. Not merely for those areas, all of those unending variety of things would be useful for
the development of not so remote and not so poverty-stricken areas of any developing country.
Thus that question is actually content-free.
It is hard to argue that Maglev Trains or anything else for that matter cannot be useful in
development. There are only two problems:
• Our resources are limited. Anyone who does not keep that in mind is clearly out of touch
• Prioritizing the needs and sequencing the required intervention is an impossible task
unless considerable thinking goes into the analysis of the problem. 
The Need to Do Arithmetic [Ref-13]
Over the years we have seen too many instances of errant nonsense that a little bit of
arithmetic would have prevented. I think that the power of arithmetic is not fully appreciated.
Even people in very powerful positions utter complete nonsense when they refuse to do simple
In a recent workshop, a model called RISC (Rural Infrastructure & Services Commons) was
presented. The model is based on the recognition that the provision of infrastructure is a
necessary precondition for services that are necessary for rural development. Infrastructure
investment is ‘lumpy.’ You have to have at least a certain minimum amount of investment
before it is of any use to anybody.
Since there is a minimum scale below which infrastructural investment is not viable, and since
total investment is limited, providing infrastructure to every of the 600,000 Indian villages is not
an efficient option. Therefore, RISC recommends that infrastructure investments be made in
locations that are accessible by a large number of villages to start off with. Later, as economic
conditions improve, village level development of infrastructure would make more sense. This,
of course, implies that the facilities will not be immediately accessible to everyone. Some will
incur a travel cost. Moreover, the travel cost will be relatively greater on women than on men
considering that men are more inclined to travel the 10 kms or so the average facility may be
One participant objected to the model based on the differential travel cost. She held that the
solution is that every village should have all facilities. Here is where we need to do some
arithmetic. Add up all resources for infrastructure investment at our disposal. Divide that by
600,000 and you have quantity x, the available resource per village. Find out the investment
cost of the minimum viable unit of infrastructure and call it y. Now compute the ratio y over x
and call that number z. If z is equal to or less than 1, we can provide every village with the
required infrastructure base. Otherwise, we need to invest y resources in a central location that
z villages will have to share.
It is true that women would be at a disadvantage relative to men when it comes to travel. But
then the answer is not that infrastructure resources should be squandered based on gender
equity considerations but rather that women should be assisted in some way so that they
overcome their mobility issues. (It is always more practical for Mohammed to go to the
mountain than for the mountain to come to Mohammed.)
Let’s do arithmetic and persuade others to do some arithmetic as well. [Ref-13]
In the above paragraphs, we have merely reproduced the ideas and reports from various
scholars and industry stalwarts. We encourage the readers to study further, and find out
whether India affords Maglev Trains and whether Maglev trains will reduce the cost and
bottlenecks of transporting people and material in India to increase GDP of India. We would
perhaps find that other developed and developing countries would invest in the infrastructure
including Maglev Trains, and if that happens, it could be possible to have an alternative for air
travel, in countries connected by land.
We may find that we do not need Maglev Trains across the lengths and breadths of India, but
we may need Maglev Trains between the spots where transport is the main constraint.
Once again, we acknowledge the ideas of various authors, listed in the reference below; we
have only put them together to help India’s planing heads to reach some conclusions.
Introduction to Maglev Technology [Ref-4,17] Top
All operational implementations of maglev technology have had minimal overlap with wheeled
train technology and have not been compatible with conventional rail tracks. Because they
cannot share existing infrastructure, maglevs must be designed as complete transportation
systems. The term "maglev" refers not only to the vehicles, but to the railway system as well,
specifically designed for magnetic levitation and propulsion.
Let us define a few technical terms before we proceed further.
It is the process by which an object is suspended above another object with no other support
but magnetic fields. The electromagnetic force is used to counteract the effects of the
The action of pushing or driving, usually forward or onward.
A magnet consisting essentially of a coil of insulated wire wrapped around a soft iron core that
is magnetized only when current flows through the coil.
In current EMS systems, the train levitates above a steel rail while electromagnets, attached to
the train, are oriented toward the rail from below. The electromagnets, use feedback control to
maintain a train at a constant distance from the track, at approximately 15 millimeters (0.6 in).
EDS Maglev Propulsion via propulsion coils
In Electrodynamic suspension (EDS), both the rail and the train exert a magnetic field, and the
train is levitated by the repulsive force between these magnetic fields. The magnetic field in
the train is produced by either electromagnets (as in JR-Maglev) or by an array of permanent
magnets (as in Inductrack). The repulsive force in the track is created by an induced magnetic
field in wires or other conducting strips in the track.
At slow speeds, the current induced in these coils and the resultant magnetic flux is not large
enough to support the weight of the train. For this reason the train must have wheels or some
other form of landing gear to support the train until it reaches a speed that can sustain
Propulsion coils on the guideway are used to exert a force on the magnets in the train and
make the train move forward. The propulsion coils that exert a force on the train are effectively
a linear motor. An alternating current flowing through the coils generates a continuously varying
magnetic field that moves forward along the track. The frequency of the alternating current is
synchronized to match the speed of the train. The offset between the field exerted by magnets
on the train and the applied field create a force moving the train forward.
Magnetodynamic suspension, invented by Dr.Oleg Tozoni, is similar to the EMS system in that
it uses attractive forces, but differs in the magnets used for suspension are permanent, and
the stability is built into the system itself using physics/mechanical systems, as opposed to
EMS's computer systems. MDS is based on the idea of using a minimum energy point to
balance the train. Easy way to explain this is to compare EMS to a hill, with minimum energy
points on the sides of it, and MDS to a valley with the minimum point in the center. The center
of each would be the vehicle's suspended center point. If you put a ball on the top of the hill and
apply any force to it, the ball will try to roll down, and you would need to apply a compensation
force in the other direction to keep it centered. Once the ball gets to the top of the hill, it will try
to keep rolling down the other side, and an opposite, compensating force is needed. This is
what EMS does when it uses stabilising systems to increase or decrease the strength of the
electromagnets holding the train suspended, and that system is inherently unstable, requiring a
constant outside stabilising force. MDS, on the other hand, is more like a valley with the
energy minimum in the center. It takes energy to move the ball away from the bottom, and the
ball returns to the bottom on its own. This is possible because steel magnetic permeability is
highly dependent on magnetic flux intensity in that steel. Basically, the more you magnetize
steel, the more difficult it is to magnetize it even more. Once the steel becomes fully saturated,
bringing a magnet closer to it will not increase the strength of the magnetic field between the
magnet and the magnetically saturated steel. Dr. Tozoni figured out how to create what is
essentially magnetic insulation, which would keep magnetic fields escaping from the steel rails
into the surrounding air, thus concentrating the magnetic field in those rails and saturating
them. MDS uses a series of magnets constructed in such a way that when the array is
suspended within the steel rail, the lateral, side-to-side, forces pulling the train towards the
steel rails become much weaker than the horizontal, up-down, force holding the magnets
centered between the rails. When two such magnet arrays are arranged perpendicular to each
other, the stronger forces cancel out the weaker forces, forcing the train to stay centered
between the rails automatically, thus holding it in the minimum energy point; any outside force
that moves the train away from the center line of travel is countered by a force wanting to bring
the train back to the center minimum. AMLEVTrans
Pros and cons of different technologies [Ref-4, 17]
Each implementation of the magnetic levitation principle for train-type travel involves
advantages and disadvantages. Time will tell us to which principle, and whose
implementation, wins out commercially.
||Magnetic fields inside and
outside the vehicle are
technology that can attain very
high speeds (500 km/h); no
wheels or secondary propulsion
|The separation between the
vehicle and the guide way must
be constantly monitored and
corrected by computer systems
to avoid collision due to the
unstable nature of
electromagnetic attraction; due
to the system's inherent
instability and the required
constant corrections by outside
systems, vibration issues may
||Onboard magnets and large
margin between rail and train
enable highest recorded train
speeds (581 km/h) and heavy
load capacity; has recently
demonstrated (Dec 2005)
successful operations using high
temperature superconductors in
its onboard magnets, cooled with
inexpensive liquid nitrogen
|Strong magnetic fields onboard
the train would make the train
inaccessible to passengers with
pacemakers or magnetic data
storage media such as hard
drives and credit cards,
necessitating the use of
magnetic shielding; limitations on
guide way inductivity limit the
maximum speed of the vehicle;
vehicle must be wheeled for
travel at low speeds; system per
mile cost still considered
prohibitive; the system is not yet
out of prototype phase.
|Inductrack System (Permanent
|Failsafe Suspension - no power
required to activate magnets;
Magnetic field is localized below
the car; can generate enough
force at low speeds (around 5
km/h) to levitate maglev train; in
case of power failure cars slow
down on their own safely;
Halbach arrays of permanent
magnets may prove more
|Requires either wheels or track
segments that move for when the
vehicle is stopped. New
technology that is still under
development (as of 2007) and
has as yet no commercial
version or full-scale system
||Failsafe Suspension - no power
required to activate magnets;
separation between vehicle and
guide way is automatic, requiring
no outside control or monitoring;
attractive force of permanent
magnets is far greater than the
repulsive or Halbach array force,
thus smaller, cheaper magnets
can be used; magnetic fields
inside and outside vehicle are
insignificant; in case of power
failure cars slow down on their
own safely; entire system is
designed using physics and
mathematic calculations, and all
aspects of it, including resulting
forces, can be calculated,
designed, and improved upon on
paper or computers before
construction, thus not requiring
costly experiments with test
models; because permanent
magnets and steel is used, there
is no limit, within the system itself,
on the speed the train can
achieve while still being able to
|Because guide way insulation
works via vehicle-generated
eddy currents, the vehicle must
be wheeled to travel at low
speeds; guide way construction
requires laminated steel encased
in aluminium cores, all of which
must be made to exact
specifications, and thus may
prove costly. Technology exists
as only proof on paper, patents,
and peer-reviewed IEEE papers.
No actual physical constructed
models exist yet.
Neither Inductrack nor the Superconducting EDS nor the MDS are able to levitate vehicles at a
standstill, although Inductrack provides levitation down to a much lower speed. Wheels are
required for these systems. EMS systems are wheel-less.
The German Transrapid, Japanese HSST (Linimo), and Korean Rotem EMS maglevs levitate
at a standstill, with electricity extracted from guide way using power rails for the latter two, and
wirelessly for Transrapid. If guide way power is lost on the move, the Transrapid is still able to
generate levitation down to 10 km/h speed, using the power from onboard batteries. This is
not the case with the HSST and Rotem systems.
An EMS system can provide both levitation and propulsion using an onboard linear motor.
EDS systems can only levitate the train using the magnets onboard, not propel it forward. As
such, vehicles need some other technology for propulsion. A linear motor (propulsion coils)
mounted in the track is one solution. Over long distances where the cost of propulsion coils
could be prohibitive, a propeller or jet engine could be used.
Static magnetic bearings using only electromagnets and permagnets are unstable. EMS
systems rely on active electronic stabilization. Such systems constantly measure the bearing
distance and adjust the electromagnet current accordingly. All EDS systems are moving
systems (i.e. no EDS system can levitate the train unless it is in motion). MDS system is valid
only for magnetized bodies, which are made of materials with constant magnetic permeability
(theoretical bodies). Since steel does not have constant permeability, MDS may not be that
Pros and cons of maglev vs. conventional trains
Due to the lack of physical contact between the track and the vehicle, there is no rolling friction,
leaving only air resistance (although maglev trains also experience electromagnetic drag, this
is relatively small at high speeds).
The weight of the large electromagnets in EMS and EDS designs is a major design issue. A
very strong magnetic field is required to levitate a massive train. For this reason one research
path is using superconductors to improve the efficiency of the electromagnets.
The high speed of some maglev trains translates to more sound due to air displacement,
which gets louder as the trains go faster. A study found that high-speed maglev trains are 5 dB
noisier than traditional trains. At low speeds, however, maglev trains are nearly silent.
However, two trains passing at a combined 1,000 km/h has been successfully demonstrated
without major problems in Japan.
Braking issues, overhead wire wear are problems for the FASTTECH 360 km/h railed
Shinkansen. Maglev would eliminate these issues, but not the noise pollution issue. One
advantage of maglev being higher speed would be extension of the serviceable area (3 hours
radius) that can outcompete subsonic commercial aircraft.
Issues relating to magnets are also a factor.
|Transrapid Shanghai Maglev Train
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