Regular high-speed trains can travel at up to 180 miles per hour, but they generate enormous amounts of friction and heat as they screech down the rails, leading to mechanical wear and energy loss. By contrast, maglev trains reach speeds faster than 300 miles per hour while hovering a few inches above the rail. By eliminating friction, maglev trains use less energy and can significantly reduce costs. For example, while every high-speed rail passenger pays one dollar for each mile traveled, maglev passengers could pay as little as 5 cents per mile, says James Powell, director of the company Maglev 2000 and a co-inventor of superconducting maglev trains.
A handful of maglev trains already exist in Asia and Europe, and several new projects may be in the works. Japan’s MLX01 clocked in at 361 mph —the highest speed yet for a Maglev train—but China is reportedly developing a train that will double that speed. And by operating within airless tubes, maglev trains could potentially reach speeds of several thousand miles per hour. Speeds like that could make commuting effortless … that is, if the acceleration and deceleration don’t squash you first.