Maglev trains gained popularity in the 1980s as a futuristic approach to the classic mode of transportation. Compared to the conventional electricity supplied or fuel-powered version, maglev trains are much quicker, quieter, and greener.
If you are fascinated by them just like we are, this is the perfect article for you!
In this article, we are going to be talking about the principles behind maglev trains, and a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a maglev train model at home!
What is a maglev train?
Maglev trains or magnetic levitation trains are a system of train transportation.
This floating train is supported by either electromagnetic attraction or repulsion. We call it floating because the vehicle does not make any contact with the ground.
The idea of maglev trains was first conceptualized by Robert Goddard, the American professor and inventor, and Emile Bachelet, the French-born American engineer.
The extensive commercial use of maglev trains began in 1984 and has been popular ever since.
Maglev trains are an extremely safe mode of transportation that can still transport people and cargo like normal steam or electric locomotive, but with some big benefits; the trains reduce friction significantly since it never touches the tracks. As such, maglev trains can move at higher speeds compared to conventional trains.
They can travel twice as fast as regular trains at an excess of 310 miles or 500 km per hour. The lack of direct emissions, noise and visual pollution from the vehicle makes it super eco-friendly.
However, maglev trains still have not been able to cope up with air resistance.
The air resistance makes it hard for the trains to generate power on their own. As a result, they are not as eco-friendly as you would like to think.
What are the principles of maglev trains?
Maglev trains operate using two principles: electromagnetic suspension (EMS) and electrodynamic suspension (EDS).
The EMS principle uses the force of attraction between the magnets on the train’s underside and side and on the guideway to lift the train. Transrapid, a variation on EMS has electromagnets to help levitate the train.
The magnets present on the underside and the iron rails of the guideway keep the trains levitating at about 1.3 cm or 0.5 inches above the magnets on the ground.
While EDS systems have a similar principle to that of EMS, the magnets present on the side, underside, and the guideway repel rather than attract them.
The magnets used have the ability to generate electricity even after the power has been cut.
They are super cooled and superconducting. As the magnet repels the charge, you will find that the trains levitate higher at 1-10 cm or 0.4-3.9 inches above the ground.
Also, EDS trains are slower to lift off compared to EMS systems. As such, they have wheels that have to be deployed below roughly 100 km or 62 miles per hour, so both have pros and cons to them.
How to make a maglev train model?
Now that you have a clearer idea about what maglev trains are and how they work, it’s time you start building a model maglev train of your own.
Making model maglev trains is actually super easy. All you need to do is follow the instructions below!
Tools you’ll need to make a model maglev train
- Cardboard or balsa wood – a 2 by 1 foot piece
- Block of wood – 2 by 4 inches
- 14 pieces of rectangular magnets – 2 by 1 inch
- Scissor, saw, or a utility knife
Instructions to make a maglev train model
- Start by taking balsa wood or cardboard to make a straight piece of track. A 2 by 1 foot piece should suffice.
- Cut the balsa wood or cardboard using a pair of scissors, saw, or a utility knife. The length of the track should be 2 feet and the width 3 inches
- Use the excess balsa wood or cardboard to make the walls of the track. For balsa wood, you will need to cut four strips that are one and a half inch wide to run along the track. As for walls made from cardboard, you will need to cut strips that are 2 feet by 3 inches tall.
- Glue the walls together made from balsa wood. For cardboard, simply fold the strips along the middle.
- Place the walls 2 ½ and 2 ¼ inches apart on the track.
- Use glue to secure the walls in place. Make sure that the walls stand perpendicular or 90 degrees from the track, so that the train will have something to keep it on the track. For this DIY experiment, you’re basically just setting up walls for your train to pumb into, kind of like those little fences you can activate to keep your ball on the bowling lane.
- Get 12 magnets, and glue them along the center of the track in a row. Before you glue them in place, make sure that the poles of all the magnets face the same direction. For instance, if one of the magnets has the south side facing the north side up, the rest of the magnets should be facing upwards as well! This step is super important!
- Leave the magnets on the track to dry overnight.
- Take a block of wood and glue two magnets onto the block. The poles pointing upward on the block should be the same as the poles pointing upward on the track. If the south side is facing upward on the track, the south side should face outward on the block of wood. While the north side is glued to the wood.
- Leave the magnets on the block to dry overnight.
- Place the block in the track. The wood block will act as your train. Alternatively if you have an old model train at home you no longer use, you can also glue the magnets to the bottom of it.
- You should find that the train is levitating over the magnets on the track guided by the rails .
- Push the train to have it move towards the end of the track .
Building your own maglev train can be an interesting task, and one you can even use as a science lesson to teach kids about magnetics. For a realistic touch, you can definitely use an old model train body you no longer use instead of a piece of wood as the train.
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.