World's fastest train: China unveils 620 km/h maglev prototype

China, already the world's largest operator of high-speed trains, has unveiled a new prototype that can travel at up to 620 kilometres per hour.

The train uses high-temperature superconducting (HTS) maglev technology and was unveiled on January 13 in Chengdu along with a 163-metre test track.

Maglev (a term derived from "magnetic levitation") trains use magnets on the tracks and vehicle to repel one another, creating a frictionless surface that makes them capable of extremely high speeds.

While the technology has existed since the 1960s, there are few operational maglevs around the world. Most were created for demonstration, rather than practical purposes.

HTS technology allows the train to float without the use of electricity and move so easily a person can push it with their hand.

"Although the theory sounds good, everyone saw it (HTS maglev technology) as a lab toy in the past, without tests in a real situation," Deng Zigang, deputy director for the Southwest Jiaotong University research project, told China's Xinhua news agency.

During the unveiling of the 21-metre-long, silver and black locomotive, a reporter was able to move the 12-tonne vehicle with one finger, Xinhua reported.

The developers believe the train could be put into use within three or four years.

The world's fastest operating maglev train is the Shanghai Maglev, which runs from the city's Pudong airport to the Longyang Road Station, outside the city centre. That train hits a top speed of 431 km/h on its 30-kilometre, seven minute journey.


See: 400 km/h and counting: On board the world's fastest train

China has become the world's leader in high-speed trains, with 37,900 kilometres of rail lines across the country. This includes the world's fastest long-haul train route, from Beijing to Shanghai. It covers the 1300-kilometre distance in about four and a half hours, travelling at 300 km/h.

Earlier this month, China unveiled another new high-speed train, this time designed to cope with extremely cold temperatures.

The CR400AF-G can travel at up to 350 km/h in temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius. The train, launched on January 6, connects Beijing to cities in the country's north, prone to freezing temperatures in winter. One destination is the city of Harbin, renowned for its annual ice festival and with an average temperature in January of minus 18 degrees.

See also: Top speed 360 km/h: Japan's fastest bullet train enters service

See also: Fast or slow, train travel will always beat flying (except in Australia)