In the fifth of a new six-part television series on the ‘Yesterday’ Channel on Tuesday 23rd June, the ‘Impossible Engineering’ of Japan’s Shanghai Maglev, the fastest passenger train in operation on the planet, was explored in brilliant detail.
Once upon a time, the idea of floating trains was the stuff of science but pioneering research into electromagnetism in the mid-20th Century has made magnetic levitation or ‘maglev’ trains a reality. And a vital part of that process is the discovery of high temperature ceramic superconductors which have changed superconductivity from an interesting curiosity into a useable technology, especially in the medical and transportation fields.
As there are no wheels involved, the resulting lack of friction means incredible speeds can be reached. Japan’s Shanghai Maglev is the world’s fastest passenger train which can reach eye-watering speeds of 268 mph – certainly a far cry from the very first commercial maglev, a slow-moving train that serviced Birmingham Airport in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
It’s fitting that the UK had the first maglev since the technology was created by British engineer Eric Laithwaite – the man who designed the linear induction motor which in turn led to maglevs.
While Laithwaite never realised his dream of a proper, maglev-based passenger rail service in the UK, the Birmingham Airport maglev was still a great moment in the history of transport technology. And yet, many years after it was decommissioned, one of its carriages was sold on eBay for a paltry £100.
This fifth Impossible Engineering episode explores the history of locomotives. Experts analyse the work of engineers including Sir Nigel Gresley who engineered the world’s fastest steam train in 1938 and Eric Laithwaite, whose linear motor made frictionless travel a real possibility. These audacious innovators of the past influenced the engineering of The Shanghai Maglev, the fastest passenger train in operation on the planet. Held in place by a series of electromagnets, it levitates on an air gap of just ten millimetres and is able to reach a phenomenal top speed of 431 kilometres per hour. Built to cut through a busy metropolis in one of the world’s most active seismic zones, the Shanghai Maglev was an ambitious project that broke engineering boundaries.
It has to be said that the highly specialist ceramics used in MagLev transportation are a far cry from the technical ceramics which form the backbone of the Precision Ceramics business. Just the same, their application is equally important which can be clearly seen from the ever-widening field of applications in which they find particular use.