maglev train
© AFP 2019 / Toru YAMANAKA
China's state train maker recently unveiled the first prototype of a new maglev train Beijing boasts will top 600 kilometers per hour.

On Thursday, China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) unveiled the first prototype of a new maglev train it hopes will dramatically cut travel times between Shanghai and Beijing. The train can achieve incredible speeds of 600 kilometers per hour (372 mph) because it uses magnets to hover above the tracks, resulting in an essentially frictionless - and very smooth - trip.

The train was built by CRRC subsidiary Qingdao Sifang in the city of Qingdao, about halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. Ding Sansan, chief of the maglev team's research and development team and the company's deputy chief engineer, told China Daily on Thursday, "The prototype has already achieved static levitation and is in ideal condition," noting that engineers hope that after successful trials, they can put the five-car test train into operation in 2021.

China Daily noted that an advanced railway system is a key part of the Ministry of Science and Technology's 13th Five-Year Plan, which ends next year.

Maglev trains remain a largely futuristic technology, although a few maglev lines exist. China launched the world's first functional line in 2002 in Shanghai using tech bought from Germany; it can reach speeds of 430 km/h. Japan tested a maglev train in 2015 that can reach 603 km/h and hopes to have a maglev line in operation by 2027.

Ding noted that the goal of this new line is to largely replace air travel between the two metropolises. With a plane trip, including preparation time, taking about 4.5 hours and a trip on China's present high-speed rail line about 5.5 hours, Ding hopes the new maglev line will only take about 3.5 hours.

Clogged airways are a real concern for the Chinese capital, with a second international airport nearing completion later this year, dubbed Beijing Daxing.

Xinhua noted earlier this year that China boasts over 29,000 kilometers of high speed railways - two-thirds of the world's total.