Geely and Chinese Aerospace Firm Sign Agreement to Develop ‘Supersonic’ Trains

The companies are studying technologies that could allow trains to travel at 4,485 miles per hour.

Geely, the Chinese automaker that owns Volvo and Lotus, recently confirmed it has inked an agreement with China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) to develop “supersonic” trains in China.

According to Reuters, the proposed high-speed train system appears to resemble the much-discussed Hyperloop concept envisioned by Elon Musk. Like the Hyperloop, trains would travel in sealed vacuum tubes to eliminate air resistance and increase speed, according to a Geely statement cited by Reuters.

Unlike conventional trains, the proposed system would use magnetic levitation. Also known as “mag lev,” this technology uses magnetic forces to repel a vehicle from a guide rail, allowing it to float inches above the surface, eliminating a major source of friction. Magnetic levitation has been discussed for decades, but has only been implemented on a small scale due to the added cost of building dedicated rights of way.

State-owned CASIC is one of China’s major space contractors, according to Reuters. The company previously said it was developing a system that could accelerate trains to 1,000 kilometers per hour (620 mph). That’s much faster than any current train, but falls short of the 768 mph (1,235 kph) needed to qualify as “supersonic.” However, CASIC also previously said it is studying technologies that could enable 4,000 kph (2,485 mph) speeds, according to Reuters.

A system like the one proposed by Geely and CASIC would face similar challenges to a Hyperloop, including the added cost of a dedicated right of way, the need to prove new technologies, and the need to address issues like evacuating passengers in the event of an emergency. It’s also unclear whether passengers will be able to tolerate the forces of acceleration and deceleration, given the speeds involved.

That hasn’t stopped multiple companies from working to develop their own Hyperloop systems, and it likely won’t stop Geely and CASIC. The two companies are among China’s largest industrial firms and the Chinese government has made developing a high-speed rail system a priority. The chance to gain leadership in an emerging technology will likely create an added incentive for the project.

Geely currently owns Volvo, Lotus, the company that makes London’s iconic Black Cabs, and also holds a stake in Daimler. But supersonic trains aren’t the only left-field technology Geely is involved in, as the automaker also owns flying-car company Terrafugia.