Mag Lev trains for freight

Could mag lev trains be used for freight on the same types of systems as passenger mag lev trains?

When the advantages of maglev over wheeled trains are ever explained, past gee-whiz university experiment levels, they can be used to carry anything.

Sure they could. The important question is why would anybody want to do that.

Maglev is one of those things that seem to always be X-years away. It’s on a list of things I never expect to see even if I live to a 120 (2081).


Maglev is the Moller Air Car of the public transit world: so damn kewlllll to read about at the gosh-wow level but utterly impractical and useless when you actually look at it. Expending a huge amount of energy just to suspend the load is nonsensical in today’s world, no matter how potentially fast and smooth the transit is from there.

We already have trains based on much more sensible tech (it’s called “wheels”) that can travel 250-300 MPH; better tech than iron discs on iron rails is all that’s needed. The drag of a train can be minimized and rolling resistance brought down to an absurdly low level, meaning very fuel-efficient operation. The other issues of very high speed trains are the same whether it’s maglev or wheeled, and some of those (track obstruction, sabotage, etc.) are going to be a real bitch to solve in large-scale applications.

But starting with the equivalent of a Wankel engine, whose only purpose is to be Completely Different, solves nothing.

I wonder how big of a limitation standard railroad gauge is and rights-of-way are. I know for the Acela they had to significantly retrofit large chunks of the northeast corridor, and that thing doesn’t even go especially fast.

Would it be easier to build super-high-speed trains with a wider track gauge, and a different rail shape that allows better grip somehow? Obviously the tracks would not be compatible with existing rolling stock which would make things difficult.

Solid wheels at 300MPH are really pushing the envelope, maybe exceeding it for practicality. Drag & resistance increases dramatically with that kind of technology as speeds increase. An easy solution at low speeds becomes a difficult or critical solution at high ones. Maglev may have its problems – mostly because of a lack of experience with it – but rolling resistance and accelerated bearing wear are minimized.

Japan is starting construction on the Chuo Shinkansen next year that will eventually link Tokyo to Osaka. Tokyo and Nagoya section to be operational by 2027 and Tokyo Osaka by 2045.

Yeah, but for freight???

High speed applications tend to be for moving people.
Freight tends to be lower speed. There is little incentive to spend megabucks on high speed when there is so much lag time in other steps of the logistics chain.

Even for people it makes little sense to have ultra high speed unless you can minimise waiting times in ticketing and transit stations etc.

Putting this another way, I could build a rail gun to get a loaf of bread from the convenience store to my house in a few seconds. But there is really no need and never will be.

Time is money.

Why did Federal Express start and become so successful? Why overnight delivery? It’s only freight!

The wheel base little impact, however the right of way geometry makes a big different. In Europe, they have build new rails lines in dedicated right of ways between cities that facilitate 200+ mph speeds using traditional rail spacing. Within cities, they use existing rails and stations to connect to other modes.

In the Northeast Corridor, not as many adjustments needed to be made as you may think. In the early part of the 20th century, steam powered trains regularly made runs at 120 miles per hour through Connecticut. Today’s maximum speeds of 80 mph in the same area I think is due to congestion and maintenance rather than geometry. Pipe dreams involving significantly faster trains have always involved building a dedicated parallel right of way.

Yeah, I’m always puzzled when people talk about maglev as something that will never happen. It’s already happening. The only thing holding back development is the cost of building the tracks. The experimental track in Yamanashi has bridges, tunnels, inclines.

I’m also puzzled when people ask “why?” Tokyo - Osaka: 500km, 1 hour. That’s why. That’s a little more time than it would take you to get from the city to the airport, never mind going through security, waiting, boarding, etc.

Maglev won’t be really practical until we have room-temperature superconductors, and even then it’ll be expensive. There might be a few pieces of freight worth paying maglev prices for, but not enough: Remember, you need to compete not only with wheeled trains and with airplanes, but also with things like helicopters.

Interestingly, I recently read that some scientists found that tin in a single atom layer on a surface is a room temperature superconducter. It might not pan out. I gather that electricity is used in great quantities by maglevs? Wouldn’t that also be true of superconductors?

I rode the maglev into Shanghai from the airport. Can’t beat it. I’m told the regular stop-and-go subway ride would be close to an hour, versus 8 minutes for this. The train hit 413km/hr, almost 260 mph. It was so smooth, in the middle of a conversation I looked up to see that the whole world had tilted, I did not feel we had gone into a curve.

Maglev would probably be ideal for UPS/fedex type freight. Build a network of tracks that can zip your carriers all over the place, a limited number of urban depots as destinations, and so what if it takes 10 hours instead of 5 to cross the country? You can sort at the source, and send directly to the destination center, and a maglev carrier (train? floater?) costs a lot less than a 737 or 747 to the same place, especially if it’s a small load.

With computerized traffic control you can probably interleave human and cargo traffic. In fact, the network could benefit from the extra traffic - people in the daytime, cargo at night.

The point is… why? Some traffic needs overnight. But you are expending a lot of energy on an expensive track to float the carrier to provide comfort and speed. Cargo does not need comfort. Much of it does not really need speed. And much cargo weighs a LOT more than humans, so the cost and loading will be a lot higher.

So think of it as - if it goes by air, it could probably benefit by going by Maglev. if it goes by rail, that’s probably sufficient, it does not need maglev.

The trouble with maglev is the extreme cost. You need a decent distance to get up to a goodly speed, but you are basically building a dozens-of-miles long machine. That’s why nobody has made one hundreds of miles… yet.

And there’s the problem. At some non-zero cost per mile for maglev land vs. zero cost for the first, second and 100th mile of land for air transport, buying a 747 and building 2 airports (which may already be there) starts to look cheap.

Also depends upon what you call freight. I can’t ask Fedex to deliver 50000 tons of coal, 500 cars, 90 tankers of sulphuric acid, or most importantly a 40 foot container of random stuff. In the modern world freight means containers.

Maglev is mass constrained - that is why it works with people - a passenger train is mostly air - with very lightweight construction. Freight trains are mostly stuff, and are built strong, because they are heavy.

But if you have an existing Maglev - is there a role for high speed lightweight freight? Of course. It will compete with air freight, and there may be a niche market for very low latency high cost document and parcel delivery between cities. The big win trains have over air is the reduction in time needed to get to the airport. Train stations tend to be in the middle of cities, right next to the potential customers of “next hour” document delivery services. But you would be competing with electronic document transfers, and the ever decreasing need for physical documents to move. It may be a very small niche market.

This was my concern, from what I learned from Sid Myres Railroad Tycoon computer game is that passenger service does not vary much in weight between empty can full cars, but feight does. How would that effect Maglev? Just throughing out numbers out of someone’s a$$, if a full passenger car is 130% of the weight of a empty one, how does them compare to a full freight train that is 1000% of the weight of a empty one. Can maglev handle this degree of difference.

Also I winder how much it can handle the degrees of difference between cars, what about a fully loaded tanker car followed by a empty box car? I know railroads will place the cars in a preferred sequence, but does variation in weight effect maglev?

FedEx’s success has come, and gone.
The overnight delivery part of their business is dying – first wounded by fax machines, and now dying from internet & email. That’s why Fedex has moved heavily into the local package delivery field, buying up RPS and others. They are working hard to compete with UPS now.

And also why FedEx is moving into the fax, internet, and e-mail markets.