Maglev Origins

Maglev research began in the United States in the late 1960s.  Two American researchers, James Powell and Gordon Danby, proposed a basic theory for a maglev transportation system using on-board superconducting magnets and a guideway with installed coils.  In 1969, they were granted a U.S. patent for a superconducting magnetic suspension and stabilization system—the first ever patent for a superconducting maglev train. Their initial research continued until 1975, when Federal funding for high-speed maglev research in the United States was suspended.

In Japan, Japanese National Railways (JNR) began research on a linear motor propulsion railway system in 1962, with the ultimate goal of developing the next generation of high-speed ground transportation capable of linking Tokyo and Osaka—two cities roughly the same distance apart as Washington and New York— with a journey time of one hour on a direct corridor through central Japan.

Japanese technical experts began their research with non-superconducting magnets. However, as Danby and Powell began publishing information on their concepts, JNR saw the tremendous potential of using superconducting magnets in their research.  In 1970, JNR officially announced development of the Superconducting Maglev (SCMAGLEV) system.  The first successful levitation run in Japan was demonstrated at a short track at the JNR’s Railway Technical Research Institute in 1972, and five years later a maglev test track was constructed in Miyazaki, where a world speed record of 321mph (517km/h) was achieved in 1979. 

Although fundamental tests on the basic performance of the SCMAGLEV were carried out in Miyazaki, the test track was not sufficient for further practicality tests.  In 1989, the decision was made to construct a longer and more comprehensive test facility in Yamanashi, Japan.  Additionally, JNR was privatized and broken up in 1987, and the development of the SCMAGLEV is now carried out by the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central).

Yamanashi Maglev Test Line & The Chuo Shinkansen

Construction of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line began with the groundbreaking ceremony in November 1990. The first test vehicles for the track were built in 1995, and the 11.4-mile (18.4 km) priority section of the track opened in April 1997. Speed tests and tests simulating the various functions required for revenue service operation were conducted on a regular basis, and the technology was deemed a viable ultra high-speed transportation system by the Japanese government in March 2000.

JR Central continued to develop the SCMAGLEV system in order to ensure the technology was ready to operate commercially. An upgraded test vehicle with improved aerodynamic characteristics was introduced in 2002, and in December 2003, the current world record for highest speed on a railway (361 mph / 581 km/h) was achieved.

By 2009, the Japanese government deemed the SCMAGLEV system ready for commercial operation and in 2011 instructed JR Central to construct the Chuo Shinkansen to connect Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka using SCMAGLEV technology.

JR Central is currently in the process of upgrading and extending the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line to 26.6 miles (42.8 km). Once completed, final test runs using new vehicles will begin, and completed test line will become a part of the Chuo Shinkansen when revenue service between Tokyo and Nagoya begins in 2027.

Click here to view detailed historic timeline.Timeline.html