Departmental Papers (ESE)


High speed rail (HSR) systems have a proven record of efficient services in about a dozen countries. Recently, Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) technology for high speed ground transportation (HSGT) has been proposed for many intercity and regional lines in Germany, Japan, United States, and other countries. Maglev developers claim that their system can achieve higher speeds, have lower energy consumption and life cycle costs, attract more passengers, and produce less noise and vibration than high speed rail. This article presents a systematic comparison of the proposed Maglev system, specifically the German Transrapid, and high speed rail systems.

The analysis reaches the following conclusions on the three most important system characteristics. First, recent developments of HSR have reduced the advantage of Maglev in higher speeds, so that the differences in travel times on typical interstation spacings would be small. Second, high speed rail has a huge advantage over Maglev due to HSR’s compatibility with existing rail networks. Third, high speed rail involves a lower investment cost, while operating costs on Maglev are still uncertain. Energy consumption is estimated to be lower for high speed rail. All other features, like riding comfort, system image, grade climbing ability, noise, etc., are not significant enough to make one mode superior to the other. Thus the benefits of high speed rail strongly outweigh Maglev’s small travel time advantage. Based on this conclusion, the soundness and direction of US federal policy of investing in Maglev systems while neglecting high speed rail and Amtrak is questioned.

Document Type

Journal Article

Date of this Version


Publication Source

Transportation Quarterly





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Copyright/Permission Statement

Posted with permission from the Eno Foundation for Transportation.



Date Posted: 11 December 2017