A Chinese state-owned space and military technology group will investigate the feasibility of a magnetic levitation (maglev) rail system that would leave Elon Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop concept in the dust.
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), which develops space and missile technology, plans to research a "flying" train network that it says could eventually have a top speed of 4,000km/h.
China was a pioneer in maglev rail, completing a 30.5-km line from Shanghai Pudong International Airport to a suburban station at the end of 2003.
The maglev line has struggled to pay for itself, however, and China has since focussed on conventional high-speed rail.
Its bullet trains now have a top speed of 320km/h, but CASIC’s vehicles would be able to reach 1,000km/h, initially.
Acting as an alternative to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, the MagLev train would travel inside a similar vacuum tube. Hyperloop’s top speed is estimated to be 1,200km/h.
Mao Kai, chair of the project told the state run China News Service: “The vehicle's acceleration speed would be slower than a plane in taking off so passengers could be free of safety concerns.”
Mao said the train will work in all types of weather and won’t be reliant on fossil fuels.
Trains running between cities would have a top speed of 1,000km/h, while those linking China's megacity zones could reach 2,000km/h. International travel could top 4,000km/h.
If successful, the vehicles would allow traveling between Beijing to Wuhan to take half an hour.
One expert is skeptical. Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Transport University, said humans couldn’t physically handle the speed.
The human body “could only physiologically withstand acceleration to speeds of 4,000km/h for a very short amount of time,” he told The South China Morning Post. “In that case, are the passengers going to be astronauts only?”
There is currently no timeframe for the project.