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Maglev Train vs. Bullet Train: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 7, 2023
A maglev train uses magnetic levitation for propulsion, whereas a bullet train relies on conventional wheels and tracks and is characterized by its speed.

Key Differences

The maglev train and the bullet train represent advancements in railway technology, each distinguished by its design and function. Maglev, short for "magnetic levitation," uses powerful magnets to levitate the train above the tracks, eliminating friction. This means that the maglev train can achieve incredible speeds while providing a smooth ride, as it doesn't physically touch the tracks.
Bullet trains, on the other hand, are a type of high-speed rail, using traditional tracks and wheels. Originating in Japan and known there as "Shinkansen," bullet trains are famed for their streamlined design and high speeds. They use advanced engineering to reduce air resistance and have a specialized track design to handle high velocities.
The underlying technology defines the primary difference between maglev trains and bullet trains. While maglevs exploit magnetic forces to both levitate and propel the train, bullet trains utilize conventional engines but have optimized designs for high-speed rail travel.
It's worth noting that while both maglev and bullet trains boast high speeds, maglevs generally can achieve faster top speeds due to the absence of friction. However, bullet trains have a longer history and are more widespread in their use around the world.

Comparison Chart


Uses magnetic levitation.
Uses conventional wheels and tracks.


Developed in multiple countries, first commercial use in China.
Originated in Japan as the Shinkansen.


Generally faster due to lack of friction.
Very fast, but typically slower than maglevs.

Track Interaction

Levitates above the track without touching it.
Runs on tracks with wheels.

Global Presence

Fewer in operation globally.
More widespread, especially in countries like Japan and France.

Maglev Train and Bullet Train Definitions

Maglev Train

A railway transport that eliminates wheel-track friction.
Maglev trains offer smoother rides due to the lack of direct track contact.

Bullet Train

A train designed to reduce air resistance for high-speed travel.
The bullet train's design is both functional and aesthetic.

Maglev Train

High-speed rail technology using magnetic forces.
Many countries are researching maglev train technology for future transport.

Bullet Train

Rapid transit rail with a history dating back to the 1960s.
The introduction of the bullet train revolutionized travel in Japan.

Maglev Train

An advanced rail system distinct from conventional railways.
Cities are considering maglev train systems for efficient transit.

Bullet Train

The Shinkansen railway system originating in Japan.
The bullet train is an icon of Japanese engineering.

Maglev Train

A train system using magnets for levitation and propulsion.
The maglev train in Shanghai reaches incredible speeds.

Bullet Train

A high-speed train with a streamlined design.
The bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka cuts travel time significantly.

Maglev Train

A train design that levitates above its track.
Passengers often marvel at the maglev train's levitation abilities.

Bullet Train

A type of rail transport known for rapid speeds.
Travelers prefer the bullet train for its swift journeys.


Where was the bullet train first introduced?

The bullet train, or Shinkansen, was first introduced in Japan.

Do maglev trains have wheels?

No, maglev trains levitate above the track and don't have wheels.

Which is faster, a maglev train or a bullet train?

Maglev trains generally have faster top speeds than bullet trains.

How fast can a bullet train go?

Bullet trains can exceed speeds of 186 mph (300 km/h), with some models going even faster.

Where are maglev trains currently operational?

Maglev trains are operational in places like China, Japan, and South Korea.

Is "Shinkansen" another term for maglev?

No, "Shinkansen" refers specifically to the bullet train system in Japan.

Why don't maglev trains experience friction?

Maglev trains levitate above the track, eliminating wheel-to-track friction.

Are maglev trains safe?

Yes, maglev trains are designed with multiple safety measures and have a strong safety record.

Are maglev trains expensive to build?

Yes, maglev train systems tend to be more expensive than conventional rail systems.

How long have bullet trains been in operation?

Bullet trains have been in operation since 1964.

What powers a maglev train?

Maglev trains are powered by magnetic fields created by superconducting magnets.

Do bullet trains operate outside of Japan?

Yes, the technology and concept of bullet trains have been adopted in other countries, although they might not use the term "bullet train."

How does the bullet train reduce air resistance?

The bullet train's streamlined design minimizes air resistance.

Can maglev trains operate in any weather?

Maglev trains can operate in various weather conditions, but extreme conditions might impact operations.

Is the bullet train the same as high-speed rail?

While all bullet trains are high-speed rails, not all high-speed rails are bullet trains.

How do maglev trains stop?

Maglev trains use electromagnetic forces to decelerate and stop.

How do maglev trains turn or change directions?

Maglev tracks are built with curves, allowing the train to change directions, much like traditional rail.

Are bullet trains electric or diesel?

Bullet trains are electric and run on electrified tracks.

Why is it called a "bullet" train?

The name "bullet train" is derived from its sleek, aerodynamic appearance, reminiscent of a bullet.

What's the passenger capacity of a bullet train?

It varies, but some bullet trains can carry over 1,000 passengers.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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