China has started testing the prototype of an advanced maglev train that would achieve near supersonic speeds inside a vacuum-based track.

Researchers at Southwest Jiaotong University have developed the country’s first-ever high-temperature superconducting loop wherein a miniaturized version of the so-called ‘super maglev’ is being tested.

Deng Zigang, the lead engineer involved in the project, told state broadcaster China Central Television that the ultra-fast train would bring maglev’s magnetic levitation capabilities inside the vacuum to tackle wheel and air friction, and cruise faster than commercial planes.

The idea is pretty much similar to hyperloop transit system which was first proposed by Elon Musk in 2013 and is currently being developed and improved by Virgin Hyperloop One and other American start-ups.

Jiaotong University’s prototype loop is about 45-meters long and can levitate the train an inch above the ground. The track has the smallest cross-section and also uses lesser magnets and materials than the tracks running conventional maglev trains around 400 kmph in China.

Initially, the prototype train — which can carry 300 to 1,000 kg of load — will run at speeds around 0-50kmph, but Zigang hopes to touch the 400kmph mark by the end of this year, ultimately moving toward the goal of 1,000 kmph. This would essentially mean going from New York to Washington, D.C. in about 20 minutes.  

Currently, the fastest train in the world is Japan’s SC Maglev which surpassed the 600 kmph mark in April 2015. Hyperloop pods, on the other hand, are also envisioned to travel at supersonic speeds but they are still at a nascent stage in development.

There is no word on when the full-scale model of the super maglev might come into action but a system like this could surely revolutionize rail-transport.

That said, the developers of the high-speed train will also have to consider major fail-safe systems to ensure the passengers sitting inside remain safe, no matter what. This would include integration of a highly-effective braking system and additional protection to keep the vacuum tube from breaking when the train is in operation at high speeds.

The report of this test comes just a few months after China’s top aerospace contractor CASIC made bold claims of working on near-ground ‘flying trains’ that would race at 4,000 kmph. This is thrice the speed of sound (1,225 kmph) and 10 times faster than most high-speed bullet trains.