Changing tracks on the Shanghai Maglev

There has been plenty written about the Shanghai Maglev train and the magnetic levitation technology which allows to reach a maximum speed of 431 km/h on the journey from Pudong International Airport. But none of it covers the operational details of the line – how many trains, how they change tracks, and where there are maintained. So let’s go for a deep dive.

Maglev train awaiting departure from Longyang Road station

Some background

The Shanghai maglev train (Chinese: 上海磁浮示范运营线) is a magnetic levitation train that operates in Shanghai. The line is the third commercially operated magnetic levitation line in history, after the British Birmingham Maglev and the German M-Bahn, the first commercial high-speed maglev, and the fastest fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world.

Construction of the line began in March 1, 2001 and cost $1.2 billion to build, with public commercial service commenced on 1 January 2004. During a non-commercial test run on 12 November 2003 a maglev train achieved a Chinese record speed of 501 km/h.

Each train is 153 metres (502 ft) long, 3.7 metres (12 ft) wide and 4.2 metres (14 ft) tall, and has a three-class, 574-passenger configuration. The train set was built by a joint venture of Siemens and ThyssenKrupp from Kassel, Germany and based on years of tests and improvements of their Transrapid maglev monorail.

The double track guideway was built by local Chinese companies, the double line being 30.5 km (18.95 mi) long with a separate single track leading to a maintenance facility.

Going for a ride

For passengers arriving at Shanghai Pudong Airport there are three travel options – bus, maglev train, and metro train.

Three public transport options at Shanghai Pudong Airport - bus, maglev train, and metro train

The maglev train is the fastest, as well as the most expensive.

Passenger saloon of the Shanghai Maglev Train

Speeding past both trains on the parallel metro line, and buses on the freeway.

Maglev train speeds past Haitiansan Road Station at 300 km/h

But it also means the front of the train is quickly covered with splattered bugs!

Plenty of bugs splattered on the maglev train!

The advertised top speed is 430 km/h, but this is only achieved by trains running during peak times: 09:00 – 10:45 and 13:00 – 16:45.

For the rest of the day trains ‘only’ reach a top speed of 300 km/h.

Now at the maximum speed of 300 km/h

The slower speed is to save power, which makes sense given the massive amount of electricity needed to accelerate the train from a standing start for such a short journey.

Changing tracks

My first question was how the maglev trains change tracks. At the approach end to Longyang Road station I noticed a crossover, but I never saw it get used.

Crossovers in the maglev track outside Longyang Road station

The crossover is even more noticeable head on from the central platform.


Photo by Raki_Man, via Wikimedia Commons

As well as overhead via Google Maps.

But I finally got somewhere when I found this video by Luke Starkenburg, showing the crossover in use.

He also provided an explanation as to why I didn’t see it in use.

I shot these scenes back in 2006 when the Shanghai Maglev used the switches in daily operation, when two trains were providing the regular service, with a third spare train. The trains used to change tracks in a ‘pinched loop’ system.

Today, the maglev uses two trains running on their own dedicated track all day, with the switches not used in regular operation, except in the morning and evening to put the trains away in the depot.

Thanks Luke!

On to the maglev depot

On my maglev journey I noticed a single track veer away from the main alignment, just north of Pudong International Airport.

Single track heads off to the depot, with the Shanghai Metro line 2 tracks behind

It climbed above the parallel freeway, then headed back to ground level.

Depot track climbs above the freeway, before rejoining the main maglev line

Scrolling around on Baidu Maps I eventually found where the track connected back to the main line.


Photo via Baidu Maps

As well as how it crosses the freeway.


Photo via Baidu Maps

So where did it lead to? I found the answer via this track diagram on Wikipedia.

Track layout diagram from the Shanghai maglev train
Diagram via Wikimedia Commons

Turns out the track led to the maintenance facility, which looks like just another blue roofed shed from the air.


Photo via Baidu Maps

But the main entrance has a big “Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Co Ltd” sign over the top.


Photo via Baidu Maps

And a maglev track entering from the southern side.


Photo via Baidu Maps

The single track splits into three before entering the shed.


Photo via Google Maps

A better view of the facility appears in this 2002 article by Sina News showing the first test train.


Photo via Sina News

While the three-way junction can be seen in this uncredited photo of a 3-car long train outside the depot.


Uncredited photo, unknown author and origin

And a hidden crossover

Turns out there are more junctions than just the crossover at Longyang Road station, and on the single track branch to the depot – while following the maglev guideway on Google Earth, I found another crossover track, located on a turnback siding south of the Pudong International Airport terminus.


Photo via Google Earth

Hidden away in the middle of a freeway median strip, I had no luck finding a ground level photo of the turnback track.

Track diagram

With my virtual exploration of the network complete, here is a complete track layout diagram for the Shanghai maglev.

Note that the station at Pudong International Airport has conventional ‘side’ platforms, while Longyang Road has an extra island platform in the middle to separate arriving and departing passengers.

And a footnote on train length

This 2003 article by Sina News describes the delivery of the maglev trains to Shanghai.

Yesterday two maglev trains carried by China Shipping Group aboard the ship “Taigu” docked at the Port of Shanghai, and will wait for assembly and commissioning. At this point, the number of maglev trains in Shanghai has increased to seven.

After the maglev train is officially put into operation, a total of three trains are required, running back and forth on the double track. Each train consists of 5 cars and can carry more than 400 people.

A pair of five-car trains can also be seen in this undated photo, but on my 2013 visit I only saw four-car trains.

Maglev train speeds past Haitiansan Road Station at 300 km/h

While this undated photo includes a three-car train.

So this just raises more questions – maybe the first test trains were only three cars long, then extended to five cars, until the 2006 fire resulted in the scrapping of some carriages, and the remarshalling of the remaining fleet into three shorter trains?

Some more footage

Luke Starkenburg also has fantastic lineside views of the Shanghai maglev on his YouTube channel – from January 2014.

And September 2018.

More photos

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2 Responses to Changing tracks on the Shanghai Maglev

  1. Hi and Thank you ! The mentioned 2003 shipping arrival report now confirms for me that the Shanghai maglev trains actually have been built still “back at home” in Germany by ThyssenKrupp for the chinese SMT company as their customer. Where all the previous “Transrapid” trains for the Emsland test track have been constructed and built as well. This information already was brought to me but without any kind of other confirmation, I only have one press photo which was shot “before their delivery to china”. And these trains seen therein had already the SMT livery on them. And yes, there were three trains finally. Two 5-carriage and one 3-carriage unit (which was the evaluation unit which had been delivered already some time before the other second shipping while the maglev track was still under construction and only part of it was operational to test-drive one train).

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