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Because there is no mechanical contact between the Maglev vehicles and its guideway, friction and wear do not impose any limit on the speed of the vehicle. The only limits are air drag and the straightness of the guideway. At ground level, in the Earth's atmosphere, air drag constrains the maximum speed of a maglev vehicle to a practical limit of about 300 mph. Since air drag on a vehicle is proportional to the cube of the vehicle's speed, trying to go much faster simply consumes too much energy. Moreover, the aerodynamic noise generated at much higher speeds would be objectionable in populated areas. Japan has demonstrated satisfactory operation of Maglev vehicles at speeds up to 350 mph on its guideway in Yamanashi Prefecture (see Maglev in Japan).

If the Maglev vehicles operate in a low pressure tunnel, however, air drag is effectively zero and no longer a factor, so that vehicles can travel at speeds of thousands of miles per hour. There still is a small magnetic drag due to power losses in the normal metal loops on the guideway, but this does not impose any practical limit. The magnetic drag power, in fact, is constant with speed while the magnetic drag force decreases as (1/velocity). A typical 100 passenger, 40 ton Maglev vehicle, for example, would experience a magnetic drag force of only 0.001 g at 2000 mph.

As a result, the energy consumption for superspeed Maglev vehicles would be extremely small - only a few percent of that consumed by airplanes. A passenger could travel at 2000 mph from New York to Los Angeles, for example, and use the equivalent of only a gallon of gasoline.

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Maglev 2000