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China rolls out its new 400-mph 'super bullet' magnetic levitation train

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Jan 17, 2021, 7:39 PM EST

Rolling into the next generation of high-speed, magnetic levitation passenger trains, China took the wrapper off the prototype for its shiny new "Super Bullet" choo-choo last week at the city of Chengdu in the Sichuan Province, and revealed its duck-billed design on a short piece of track to the applause of enthusiastic onlookers.

According to the South China Morning Post, Chinese researchers have engineered this speedy maglev train to reach speeds just short of 400 miles-per-hour to deliver rapid transit between major metropolitan cities. Their initial design uses superconductor technology to increase its top speed and efficiency as it zips down the rails carrying business and tourist travelers. 

Scientists at Southwest Jiaotong University presented the futuristic machine on Wednesday, claiming that once its final lightweight carbon fiber iteration is put into full operation sometime in the next six years, should be able to attain speeds maxing out at 497 miles-per-hour. 

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Currently, China holds the distinction of owning the world's fastest maglev rail service, Shanghai Transrapid, which tops out at 267 miles-per-hour and began carrying passengers back in 2002.

Chuo Shinkansen is a Japanese maglev train employing similar superconducting tech presently under construction that will zoom down the rails at 310 miles-per-hour. It's slated to start zipping between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, with plans for expansion to Osaka.

The floating magic of superconductivity occurs when electrical resistance nears a zero-state when chilled to extremely low temperatures.

Deng Zigang, a researcher at the State Key Laboratory of Traction Power at Southwest Jiaotong University explained that Japan's Chuo Shinkansen maglev line utilizes liquid helium to acquire the necessary temperature of minus 269 degrees Celsius (minus 452 Fahrenheit) for superconductivity to kick in.

“Liquid helium is very expensive. Here we achieve superconductivity at a slightly higher temperature by using liquid nitrogen – and that slash the cost to one-fiftieth,” Zigang said.

The price for all this high-speed sorcery isn't cheap, estimated to be roughly 250 million yuan ($38.65 million in US dollars) per kilometer of rail, a price that could drop considerably if the technology becomes popular and is developed on a broader scale.