Difference Between Maglev Train and Bullet Train

Main Difference – Maglev Train vs Bullet Train

Time is a critical issue in our daily life. Therefore, people are always concerned about the time spent on traveling. Rail transport is considered to be an effective, comfortable and timely solution for transportation, and is widely used in developed countries such as Japan, Korea, Britain, France and Spain. Unlike other modes of transport, trains are easy to manage/ control. They can be easily managed through computerized controlling systems. Compared to other traditional modes of transport, rail transport is highly energy efficient and need low maintenance. They are safe even at very high-speeds. By taking all of these facts into consideration, relevant governmental and private institutions in the world have been developing high-speed trains with comfortable facilities and more energy efficiency.

Maglev train is a special class of high-speed trains. Bullet trains usually refer to both Shinkansen- high-speed trains and other high-speed trains which look like Japanese Shinkansen trains. Maglev trains do not need wheels as they run on elevated guideways whereas bullet trains may or may not have wheels. This is the main difference between Maglev Train and Bullet Train.

This article covers,

1. What is a Maglev Train? How does it work?

2. What is a Bullet Train? 

3. What is the difference between Maglev Train and Bullet Train?

Difference Between Maglev Train and Bullet Train - Comparison Summary

 What is a Maglev Train

Conventional wheeled trains are powered by diesel or electric locomotives. They run on rails at speeds lower than 200km/h. In conventional wheeled trains, a considerable amount of energy is wasted due to the friction between wheels and the rails. The friction also causes the wheels and rails to wear out. In addition, the friction between rails and the wheels limits the speed that the trains could achieve. Not only that, the noise produced by the wheeled trains is a critical issue especially in densely populated areas. Maglev technology is a high-speed train technology which tries to address these challenges with relatively less maintenance.

Maglev stands for magnetic levitation which is the technique used in maglev trains. It is a new version of bullet trains or high-speed trains. They are very different from conventional trains as well as high-speed wheeled trains. They are levitated, propelled and guided by using magnets. The friction, energy consumption, and the noise production are almost zero as they run on elevated guideways. Maglevs have already led to a highly energy efficient and comfortable version of high-speed trains. Unlike wheeled systems, maglevs do not need maintenance frequently because wheels and the rails do not wear out.

How Does Maglev Train Work

Currently, there are two main types of maglev technologies known as electrodynamic suspension and electromagnetic suspension.

In electrodynamic suspension, permanent magnets or superconducting magnets are used. A strong magnetic field is produced by both the train and the guide- way. The repulsive and attractive forces produced by the magnets levitate the train. The alternating current through the propulsion coils on the guide- way generates a continuously varying magnetic field. Basically, the poles of the magnets on the guide-way continuously change the rhythm of the alternating current through the coils. This changing magnetic field exerted by the guide-way guides the train and propels it forward. The speed of the train can be controlled by changing the frequency of the alternating current accordingly.Difference Between Maglev Train and Bullet Train - 3

In electromagnetic suspension, the magnets in the train exert a magnetic field. As a result, the train is attracted to the track.

Currently, maglev trains are used in Japan and China. In addition, a new maglev system is under construction in Tel Aviv, Israel. The success story of Maglevs in Japan and China has motivated other developed countries such as Germany, UK, Australia, Malaysia, and Taiwan. For now, the initial investment needed for a maglev system is the biggest challenge in implementing such projects.

Main Difference - Maglev Train vs Bullet Train

What is a Bullet Train

The nickname “bullet train”is commonly used to refer the Shinkansen trains as well as other high-speed trains which look like Japanese Shinkansen trains. Maglevs are also categorized under Shinkansen trains. Therefore, maglevs are also a version of bullet trains.

Usually, trains which can travel at speeds higher than 200 km/h are considered to be high-speed rails. Such trains are known as bullet trains (conventional bullet trains) if they look like Japanese Shinkansen trains. Shinkansen is a high-speed rail network in Japan. Usually, Shinkansen railway lines are designed with no sharp bends. The front cars of the bullet trains are tapered in order to mitigate the air resistance.

Shinkansen- like bullet trains are now being used in Eastern Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China) and Europe (Britain, Spain, France, Germany, etc.) They offer a comfortable and fast journey to passengers. Bullet train concept (except maglevs) has become a promising solution for the modern day world as it offers several benefits; high-speed, comfortable, high energy efficiency, safety, and low operational cost. However, the noise associated with bullet trains (except Maglevs) is a critical issue as the noise normally exceeds the environmental standards. Therefore, more research has to be done in order to mitigate the noise level of conventional bullet trains.

Difference Between Maglev Train and Bullet Train

Difference Between Maglev Train and Bullet Train


Maglev train: Wheels are not needed as they float on magnetically supported rail tracks.

Bullet train: Bullet trains (except Maglevs) run on wheels.


Maglev train: Noise is almost negligible.

Bullet train: Noise produced by bullet trains (except Maglevs) is a critical challenge.

Energy efficiency

Maglev train: Maglev train has the highest energy efficiency.

Bullet train: Most of the bullet trains are highly energy efficient.

Capital Cost per System

Maglev train: Capital cost per system is very high.

Bullet train: The capital cost needed for all types of bullet train systems is higher than that of the conventional systems. But the capital cost needed for maglev systems is higher than that of any other types of bullet trains.


Maglev train: Maglev train is currently available only in few countries.

Bullet train: Bullet trains are already available in most of the developed countries. It has already become a popular mode of transport, especially in Europe and Japan.

Speed and Passenger Comfort

Maglev train: Maglevs are the fastest trains in the world. They are very comfortable compared to any other types of trains.

Bullet train: Speed is higher than that of the conventional systems. Maglevs are the fastest type of bullet trains. Maglevs are also the most comfortable type of trains as they run smoothly on an elevated guide-way. However, the speed and the passenger comfort of conventional bullet trains cannot compete with maglev trains.   

Image Courtesy:

“Bullet-Train” By Shilpy Arora – Own work, (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia 

“A maglev train coming out, Pudong International Airport, Shanghai” By User Alex Needham  on en.wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia (Public Domain) Commons Wikimedia 



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