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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Planning for another trip to Hong Kong

It’s been three years since my last trip to Hong Kong, so it’s time for another visit.

Nighttime along Victoria Harbour

You’d think by now I would have run out of new things to see, but I’ve got quite a list places to visit in order to fill gaps on this website:

And finally – visit every tram depot and termini on the Hong Kong Tramways.

Will two weeks be enough – I surely hope so!


I’ve marked all of the above, plus a few other things to see on a Google Map:

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Battery powered trolleybuses in Beijing

Trolleybuses normally require a web of overhead wires in order to supply power to the electric vehicles that run beneath them – but in the streets of Beijing’s Wangfujing shopping district, they aren’t necessary.

Cars are allowed along the southern stretch of Wangfujing

The buses drop their trolleypoles.

Trolleybus running on battery power through the Wangfujing district of central Beijing

But keep moving.

Trolleybus running on battery power through the Wangfujing district of central Beijing

Having switched to battery power instead.

Trolleybus running on battery power through the Wangfujing district of central Beijing

Then put their trolleypoles back up elsewhere in the city.

Trolleybus and taxis on Jingshan Front Street

Trolleybus stuck in traffic on Jingshan Front Street

I found trolleybus routes 103 “Beijing Railway Station – Beijing Zoo” and route 104 “Beijing Railway Station – Wuluju” running through the Wanfujing pedestrian zone in battery mode – this list by Zhiyuan Jiang details Beijing’s other trolleybus routes, some of which also use battery mode in pedestrian areas.

Further reading

The Beijing Bus article at Wikipedia has more detail on the the history of Beijing’s trolleybuses.

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MTR Through Trains and the Express Rail Link

September 2018 saw first high-speed train service travel between between Hong Kong and Mainland China, following the opening of the the new Express Rail Link and the new West Kowloon Terminus. So what has happened to the locomotive hauled Intercity Through Trains and their terminus at Hung Hom?

Photo by Philip-Fong/AFP

My initial thought was that the Intercity Through Trains would be redirected to the new railway, removing the need for overtaking moves on the East Rail line, and freeing up track capacity for more MTR services.

In Mainland China conventional and high speed trains often share the same stations.

Looking down on platforms 12 and 13

The Wikipedia article on the West Kowloon Terminus suggested both long and short distance trains would use the new terminal:

West Kowloon Station features 9 long distance platforms and 6 short haul regional platforms, giving a total of 15 platforms.

  • Long distance trains will be 16-cars long and use platforms on the east side of the station: 9 tracks with 4 island platforms and 1 side platform.
  • Short distance trains will be 8-cars long and use platforms on the west side of the station: 6 tracks with 5 island platforms and 2 side platforms, with separate boarding and alighting platforms.

With the MTR’s Express Rail Link website listing the destinations served by the new railway.

Short-distance services

  • 4 trains per hour to Futian and Shenzhen North
  • 1 train per hour to Humen
  • 2 trains per hour to Guangzhou South

Long-haul services

  • 13 trains per day to 16 major Chinese cities, including Beijing West, Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou East, Wuhan, Changsha South and Shanghai Hongqiao.

The Mass Transit Railway also purchased nine 8-car high speed trains for use on the new line – named Vibrant Express (Chinese: 動感號) to the same design as the existing CRH CRH380A train.

But a few months after the new express rail link opened, and MTR Intercity Through Trains continue to run from Hung Hom station.

MTR electric locomotive TLS002 leads the southbound KTT service into the Hung Hom terminus

With no mention of service changes on the MTR website.

And train travel website The Man in Seat 61 listing three options to travel from Hong Kong to Beijing.

  • Option 1, by direct classic sleeper train. Arguably the nicest & cheapest way between Beijing and Hong Kong is the classic sleeper train. This takes 24 hours (an afternoon, a night and a morning) and runs every two days, with soft & hard sleepers & restaurant car.
  • Option 2, by direct high-speed train in just 8h58. The Guangzhou-Kowloon high-speed line opened on 23 September 2018, allowing direct high-speed trains to link Beijing and Hong Kong at up to 350 km/h (217 mph).
  • Option 3, by high-speed sleeper train. Take a high-speed Vibrant train to Guangzhou South, then a D-category high-speed sleeper to Beijing. This involves one simple same-station change of train, but it’s arguably the most practical and time-effective option of all.

So how long will locomotive hauled trains continue on the MTR East Rail line? The new Shatin to Central Link works at Hung Hom have left space for them, so who knows.

Another theory

Over on the HKiTalk forums I found another theory:

The design of the Hong Kong section is only suitable for the EMU. The loading gauge of the underground tunnels is too small for SS8 locomotives and 25T carriages, and their axle load is too high

True? I can’t be sure, but it sounds logical.

My readers weigh in

@tzk1810 on Twitter explains why the existing Through Trains can’t use the new line.

And a different track connection

In 2012 citizen media outlet InMediaHK mentioned a rail link called the ‘羅湖分岔綫’ (‘Lo Wu Bifurcation’).

Stub tunnels for this link were provided in the Express Rail Link mainline.

But the MTR states they have no plans to complete the link any time soon.

But the MTR Corporation said the plans were a ‘nominal provision’ to allow for the possibility of an extension in future on a line expected to operate for more than 100 years.

‘This does not mean that there is an actual plan for such extensions as there is no such need at present,’ an MTR spokesman said.

The MTR did study having the express rail services use the existing line to the mainland, which runs via Lo Wu, but there was no plan for a spur line, the spokesman said.

The Transport and Housing Bureau also said there was no plan for an extension, though a spokesman said it would ‘regularly review the long- term railway needs of Hong Kong and will consult the public when updating the long-term blueprint’.

Footnote – platforms at the West Kowloon Terminus

Here is a diagram of the track and platform layout, included in a 2012 ArchDaily article.

The Wikipedia article on the West Kowloon Terminus explains the track layout:

West Kowloon Station features 9 long distance platforms and 6 short haul regional platforms, giving a total of 15 platforms.

  • Long distance trains will be 16-cars long and use platforms on the east side of the station: 9 tracks with 4 island platforms and 1 side platform.
  • Short distance trains will be 8-cars long and use platforms on the west side of the station: 6 tracks with 5 island platforms and 2 side platforms, with separate boarding and alighting platforms.

And here it is overlayed on the surrounding neighbourhood.

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Mixing conventional and high speed trains in China

China’s high speed rail network is the biggest in the world, but not all of it is dedicated to high speed trains – on some routes conventional trains also share the tracks.

CRH380B high-speed train awaiting departure from Beijing South railway station

Combined traffic

Shanghai Railway Station was the first I came across. Once the main railway station for the city, today it mainly sees locomotive hauled long distance trains.

Electric locomotive SS7D 0016 departs Shanghai Railway Station with a rake of '25Z' class carriages

Along with a handful of CRH high-speed services – the fastest trains now use Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station to the west of the city.

China Railways CRH2 set arrives at Shanghai Railway Station

I found the same mix of trains at Beijing West Railway Station.

Looking down on platforms 12 and 13

My high speed train to Xian departing from one platform.

CRH380A train awaiting departure from Beijing West Railway Station

While passengers waited to board their locomotive hauled train on the opposite platform.

Food cart on the platform at Beijing West Railway Station

And separate

Between major cities, “passenger dedicated lines” (客运专线) have been built for high speed trains.

China Railways CRH2 high speed train arrives at Jinan West station

These new routes often run parallel to existing railway corridors.

Overtaking a HXD3C class hauled passenger train on the 'old' Shanghai-Beijing railway

Separating high speed trains from slower locomotive hauled trains.

Overtaking a red 'K' train on the 'old' railway alongside

As well as even slower freight trains.

Freight train heads out of Xian

Viaducts are often used to carry these new high speed rail routes.

Freight train passes below our high-speed train

Avoiding the need to acquire land at ground level.

Paralleling a CRH2 high speed train outside Shanghai Hongqiao

These new routes serve newly built stations on the outskirts of cities, avoiding the need for detours into built up areas.

CRH train stopped in the opposite platform at Huashan North Railway Station

Xi’an North railway station is one example – only high speed trains were to be seen.

CRH train departs Xian North Railway Station

With slower trains still using the original Xi’an railway station closer to town.

Forecourt of Xi'an Railway Station


Baidu has a Chinese language article on “passenger dedicated lines” (客运专线):

Passenger dedicated line refers to the railway system that only runs passenger trains and technical operation trains. There are many types of passenger dedicated lines, which are generally divided into railway trunk lines (铁路干线), inter-regional railways (区际铁路), inter-city rails (城际轨道交通) and suburban city ​​express (市域快铁) trains according to the railway administrative nature.

China’s passenger lines have two major classes:

Class 1: high-speed rail passengers (high-speed passenger line), the railway ranks on the high-speed rail. China stipulates that the high-speed railway is a high-speed (with a speed limit of 250 km/h) passenger line, which is its technical standard and functional positioning, while the passenger-vehicle dual-purpose railway with a speed of 250 km/h is a fast-speed railway.

Class 2: Fast-speed passenger-class (fast passenger line), which is a passenger dedicated line (the city ​​express train and some inter-city railways , such as the Dagang Express Railway and the Changsha-Zhuzhou-City Intercity Railway ) , which is lower than the 250 km/h speed bottom line standard of the high-speed railway.

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