Maglev is a high-speed railway in which traditional trackway was replaced with a system of electromagnets. The first project of a vehicle moved by electromagnetic force was patented as early as 1911 by B.P. Wainberg, a professor at the technical university in Tomsk. He designed a one-man vehicle shaped as a 25 × 9 m steel box. It was supposed to travel in a vacuum tube thanks to externally mounted electromagnets excited one by one.
New research into a magnetic levitation railway was undertaken after 1950. In the 1960s, Eric Laithwaite built a 0.99 mile-long (1.6 kilometre) test line. Regrettably, due to lack of funds, his experiments were discontinued in 1973. By the end of the 20th century different technologies were developed in Germany and Japan. The first Maglev accessible to the public was opened in 1984 in Birmingham. It reached a speed of 26 mph (42 km/h) over 600 metres. Finally, it was closed down in 1995 because of excessive failure rate. The world's second commercial line was the M-Bahn (Magnetbahn) in Berlin operating in 1989-1991.
In 2003 the world's longest magnetic levitation railway route was built by German company Transrapid Interna-tional in Shanghai. It is about 19 miles (30 kilometres) long and it takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete. The train reaches speeds up to 268 mph (431 km/h). Another existing magnetic levitation railway line is Linimo near Nagoya in Japan. The 5.5-mile (8.9-kilometre) route was mainly built for the needs of Expo 2005, and is now used by the local population.
Thanks to the magnetic field, the train has no contact with the surface of the track since it levitates above the rail. This task is carried out by means of superconducting electromagnets (in Japan) or conventional electromagnets (in Germany) and, in addition, trains made according to Japanese technology need wheels at low speeds since the force induced is too weak. The application of magnets eliminates the friction of wheels, which is a factor considerably reducing maximum travelling speed in traditional trains. However, this eliminates the problem of dynamics between the wheel and the rail where resonance is produced reducing the safe speed limit. Maglev's speed record was broken by a Japanese version of the train which on 2 December 2003 reached as much as 361 mph (581 km/h)!
Unfortunately, the biggest problem, which still remains unsolved, is posed by high costs related to electromagnets, and in particular to superconductors, and thus to the construction of magnetic levitation railways on a broader scale.