-  Technologies
  -  Projects
    Contact & Links
    Imprint & Disclaimer

back to list go back to technology list      previous previous technology  next technology  next

   Magnetic levitation technology (maglev)  evaluated  
Maglev is an innovative ground transportation system based on magnetic levitation technology. Maglev trains are propelled and braked by a linear motor.
Technology field: Non-conventional trains (Maglev etc.)
close main section General information
  close sub-section Description

HSST and Transrapid

Different types of maglev systems have been developed in Japan and Germany. Whereas Japan has developed the High Speed Surface Transport (HSST) system, Germany has developed the Transrapid technology. Both systems coincide by using linear motors for propulsion and electromagnets for levitation. However, the two systems use different types of linear motor. The HSST is driven by linear induction motors with primary coils attached to the train body and the guideway consisting of steel rails and aluminium reaction plates. In contrast, the propulsion of Transrapid trains is realised by a linear synchronous motor. These differences may be explained historically: the Japanese and German systems were planned for different speeds. While the HSST was initially planned for speeds of 300 km/h and present development efforts focus on intra-urban trains running at about 100 km/h, the transrapid developers have been aiming at speeds of 450 to 500 km/h from the beginning.

This evaluation puts a clear focus on transrapid technology, but in great part applies to maglev systems in general.

Technical details of Transrapid

The Transrapid is both propelled and braked by means of a synchronous long-stator linear motor. Ferromagnetic stator packs and three phase stator windings are mounted on both sides along the underside of the guideway. The operation principle can be visualised best by a conventional (rotating) electric motor whose stator is cut open and unwound along the underside of the guideway. Its rotor (excitation) function is taken by the on-board levitation magnets. The vehicle is propelled by an electromagnetic travelling field produced by the longstator linear motor.

The thrust is controlled by means of power electronics on substations along the track. By varying the amplitude and frequency of the AC supply, the vehicle may be accelerated smoothly from standstill to full speed. During deceleration the linear motor becomes a generator (regenerative braking) just as in the case of conventional AC motors.

The vehicles

The planned Transrapid trains are composed of a minimum of two sections, each with about 90 seats. Depending on application and traffic volume, trains may comprise up to ten sections (two end and eight middle sections).

Freight operation

The Transrapid is also discussed as a means for transporting goods. For high-speed freight transport, special cargo cars could be combined with passenger cars or operated as dedicated cargo trains (payload up to 18 tons per section). The propulsion system being integrated in the guideway, the length of the vehicle and the payload do not affect the acceleration power.

close main section General criteria
  close sub-section Status of development: test series
    A transrapid route is currently built in China. In Germany two lines are being discussed at present.
  Time horizon for broad application: in > 10 years
    (no details available)
  Expected technological development: highly dynamic
    Transrapid being a relatively new technology with virtually no in-service experience still offers potential for further optimisation in many fields.
    Development of an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system to compete with short and mid distance air travel.
  Benefits (other than environmental): big

Transportation service

  • Short travelling time
  • High riding comfort


The track for a maglev system can be constructed more flexibly in topographically difficult areas, since much smaller curve radii (2250 m) are permissible than for conventional railways (3250 m). The reason is that maglev is independent from wheel-rail adhesion and the vehicle encloses the driveway so that there is no danger of derailment.

  Barriers: high

Incompatibility of infrastructure

The Transrapid being a system technologically incompatible with conventional railway systems, it would need a completely new infrastructure and a step-by-step transition from one system to the other is impossible.


The high investment costs of infrastructure represent the main obstacle for the implementation of maglev systems.

Lack of in-service experience

The introduction of a new technology is always associated with a number of risks for the operator, especially high uncertainties about the downtime of the system and the maintenance costs.


The controversial discussion in Germany on the (finally abandoned) plan for a Transrapid route from Hamburg to Berlin showed that there is a high level of scepticism about the benefits and worries about the risks of Transrapid systems.

    Success factors:
    Successful and economic operation of the first Transrapid lines in China and Germany could eliminate scepticism and facilitate a further diffusion.
  Applicability for railway segments: medium
    Type of traction:  not applicable
    Type of transportation:  passenger - main lines, passenger - high speed, passenger - regional lines, passenger - suburban lines, freight
    Transrapid offers high speed ground transportation for passengers and high value goods. The main benefit of Transrapid being the short travel time, the system is especially attractive for national long distance or international passenger transport. On shorter domestic lines (such as the planned route between Hamburg and Berlin), the time gain compared to conventional high speed lines or even cars is often too small to justify the high costs.
    Grade of diffusion into railway markets:
  Diffusion into relevant segment of fleet: 0 %
  Share of newly purchased stock: 0 %
    (no details available)
  Market potential (railways): highly uncertain
    In principle, it is the most developed and promising option for high-speed ground transportation beyond 350 km/h. However, investment costs for infrastructure are very high and a rapid diffusion within the next twenty years is uncertain.
    (no details available)
close main section Environmental criteria
  close sub-section Impacts on energy efficiency:
  Energy efficiency potential for single vehicle: 5 - 10%
  Energy efficiency potential throughout fleet: not applicable

Comparison Transrapid – conventional high-speed trains

A comparison of energy consumption between the ICE and the Transrapid has been the subject of several publications (Mnich et al. (no year), Breimeier 2000, Leitgeb 1998).

There are results from simulation and measurements of power demand for Transrapid. For an unbiased comparison between Transrapid and ICE it is preferable to take energy demand per square meter (of usable interior space) and km rather than energy demand per seat km as a point of reference. The latter perspective would depend on the specific space utilisation of a particular vehicle design and not on the system characteristics. The following figures are therefore based on energy consumption per usable interior area.

Breimeier 2000 gives the following values for ICE and Transrapid for different speeds:


Specific energy consumption in Wh per square meter and km




150 km/h



200 km/h



250 km/h



300 km/h



330 km/h



350 km/h



400 km/h



430 km/h



* extrapolated value

Source: Breimeier 2000

The above table shows that above 330 km/h, the Transrapid has an energy advantage over conventional high-speed trains (based on extrapolation).

Due to better acceleration rates, the Transrapid needs less maximum speed in order to achieve the same running time on a given line. As a consequence, comparing running times rather than speeds, the energy comparison will be even more favourable for the Transrapid (at high speeds).

Comparison Transrapid – short-distance air travel and cars

At speeds above 350 km/h that will in the foreseeable future not be reached by conventional high-speed trains, energy efficiency of maglev technology should be compared to airplanes. This comparison yields very strong energy advantages of maglev.

Especially in business travel on medium distances (>300 km), the Transrapid technology could be a serious alternative to cars. It is obviously not possible to make the comparison at equal speeds but even given the speed difference between the two means of transportation, the Transrapid will win over the car (with its low average occupancy) in energy efficiency. This can be demonstrated by the following rough estimate. Assuming a consumption 5-10 liters of fuel per 100 km and an occupancy of 1 person (which is realistic for business travels), one gets a specific consumption of end energy of about 500-1000 Wh/passenger km. At 400 km/h the Transrapid consumes about 60 Wh/ seat – km. If an occupancy of 75% is assumed and an efficiency of the prechain of 25%, this corresponds to about 320 Wh/ passenger km.

  Other environmental impacts: ambivalent
    The overall environmental balance of the transrapid is difficult to establish and strongly depends on the type of transportation one compares the system with. There are many publications on this issue, most of them tend to be biased in one direction or the other. The Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment, Energy which is rather unsuspicious of a strong industrial bias has examined the environmental impact of the Transrapid technology based on a material flow analysis (MIPS concept). The study yielded an overall environmental advantage of the Transrapid over the ICE high speed train if the two systems were compared at equal speeds (Gers et al. 1997).
close main section Economic criteria
  close sub-section Vehicle - fix costs: high
    According to the feasibility study commissioned by the German Federal Government on the “Metrorapid” project for a transrapid from Düsseldorf to Dortmund (79 km), the total initial investement for the vehicles required for the operation of the Metrorapid will amount to 0,57 billion EUR.
  Vehicle - running costs: significant reduction

It is difficult to compare the running costs of a typical conventional rail system with those of the transrapid mainly because of lacking in-service experience with the latter.

There are some indications that the operation costs (not including the wirte-off of infrastructure and vehicle investment) will be lower:

  • The levitation technology reduces material wear and thus reduces maintenance of track and vehicles
  • For equal (high) speeds, the energy consumption of the transrapid will be lower than that of conventional high speed systems. For different speeds (e.g. 400 km/h for the Transrapid and 330 km/h for a high-speed rail system), the energy consumption of the transrapid will “only” be about 20% higher.
  • The Transrapid is well fitted for an automatic operation which would reduce personnel costs

According to the feasibility study commissioned by the German Federal Government on the “Metrorapid” project for a transrapid from Düsseldorf to Dortmund (79 km), the annual operation costs of the system will amount to about 51 million EUR. This includes costs for energy, personnel, maintenance, insurance, administration etc.

  Infrastructure - fix costs: high
    According to the feasibility study commissioned by the German Federal Government the “Metrorapid” project for a transrapid from Düsseldorf to Dortmund (79 km) will require an infrastructure investment of 2,56 billion EUR.
  Infrastructure - running costs: (no data)
    (no details available)
  Scale effects: high
    Being a new technology with a market that is just emerging, scale effects in vehicle technology are to be expected. Scale effects in infrastructure will be comparably small.
  Amortisation: not applicable
    (no details available)
no data available Application outside railway sector (this technology is railway specific)
close main section Overall rating
  close sub-section Overall potential: promising
  Time horizon: long-term
    The on-going discussion on the Transrapid technology is very controversial, especially in Germany. The principal technological feasibility has been demonstrated, but the financial hurdles are very high. An unbiased environmental assessment of maglev technology shows interesting potential in some areas. If compared to air travel, energy efficiency is clearly in favour of transrapid technology. The comparison with conventional high-speed rail transport is not as striking, but is likely to be still in favour of maglev technology at least if equal speeds are compared. From an energy efficiency point of view, the transrapid therefore deserves consideration. This does not say anything about the need and the economic feasibility of such a system. The biggest potential of the Transrapid is expected to lie in long national and international passenger transport where the time gain is significant compared to future high-speed railway systems achieving up to 330 km/h.
References / Links:  Murai, Tanaka 2000;  Gers et al. 1997;  Perl, Turrittin 1999;  Raschbichler 1999;  Fürst 1999;  Mnich (no year);  Leitgeb 1998;  Breimeier 2000
Related projects:
Contact persons:
 date created: 2002-10-09
© UIC - International Union of Railways 2003
 Your contribution
   add technology
 Views of this page
   show overview
   show evaluation
   show details
 Print options
   print data sheet
   print screen
   Evaluation briefing
   Technology list
    French - German