Me and Chairman Mao
  Faster than a speeding bullet!
No, it's not Superman, although you can be forgiven for thinking that, what with the whole "leap tall buildings" yada yada saying. However, I am actually speaking of the Shanghai MagLev (magnetic levitation) train, which I took for the first time yesterday. The huh-what, you say? The MagLev. Basically, it's a train that--you'll never guess--uses magnets. Yes, magnets: some are used to help lift the train up off the tracks, and others are used for the more standard train functions, things like propulsion and braking. In scientific terms, the reduction of friction--the train is floating, remember--allows the train to achieve speeds unattainable by conventional locomotives. In non-scientific terms, the train goes "hella fast."

How fast? Oh, a hair under 270 miles per hour, which means it covers the 30 km (19 mi.) from the MagLev station to the Shanghai Pudong airport in about 8 minutes, and the only reason it doesn't go faster is because the track just isn't that long. Well, not when you're going over 250 MPH, anyway. Not surprisingly, these speeds mean that the Shanghai MagLev is the fastest commercial high-speed railway in the world. It is also, as far as I know, the only commercial MagLev train in existence, although Japan may now have a slower one, and New Mombassa will get one--the Liwitoni MagLev--in about 500 years, apparently. (If you don't get it, just forget about it.)

Anyway, having been on it, I can confirm that it does in fact operate at "hella fast" speeds. Although when you're on the train, you don't really get a sense of how quickly you're moving. At least not until you pass by the other train, which is moving just as fast in the opposite direction and which appears and disappears so quickly that your brain barely has time to even process that the thing momentarily blocking your view was, in fact, the other train. (And actually, it might not be able to process that fact at all, if you didn't already know it was the other train.) It also flies by with a surprisingly loud thumping sound that you can feel as well as hear, something that has too much to do with physics and the properties of sound waves to think about but which is definitely noticeable. Very noticeable. Not that I almost jumped out of my seat in surprise the first time it happened or anything though--that would just be silly. I mean, I totally didn't ...

Whatever. Moving on here is the MagLev train as it pulls into the station, as well as some Chinese guy who apparently didn't want to be in my picture. The gall.

The train itself, now stopped. Easier to get on that way.

Every car had a display with both a clock and the current speed.

A few minutes later--I took the picture above before we started moving--and we're at 201 KPH (125 MPH). The most amazing thing at this point was how smooth the ride is: if you closed your eyes, you wouldn't know you were moving at all.

Fifty seconds later, and we're at 309 KPH (192 MPH). At this point, the ride got a little bumpy. Not as bumpy as a standard train, but still noticeable.

Here we are at 400 KPH (248 MPH) roughly 40 seconds later.

Just after that, we achieved maximum cruising speed: 431 KPH, or 268 MPH.

From there, we stayed at 431 for ten or twenty seconds, at which point we started decelerating so as to not ram through the station like ... wait for it ... a runaway train! Then we got on the train going the opposite direction and experienced the same thing again as we went back toward home. Naturally, I did not jump out of my seat again as we zipped past the other train ...
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