Say Wakanda to a moviegoer, and they immediately know what you mean: the fictitious land in Black Panther, the recently released Marvel blockbuster that is taking the world by storm.
But Wakanda also is a place where moviegoers cn see the future of high-speed travel.
In the movie, Wakanda’s technological advancement far outpaces the rest of the world due to the availability of vibranium.
Vibranium, a metal unlike any other, powers all of Wakanda, heals the injured and everything in between. Its utility is unlike any other metal, making it a highly coveted and sought-after resource.
And, vibranium is a key to the transportation advances featured throughout Black Panther.
To transport the vibranium throughout Wakanda, scientists developed a magnet powered train system to safely move the metal. In real life, trains like this are already racing across countries around the world, although not yet in the United States
The trains are known as Maglev—short for magnetic levitation. There are three in operation, in Japan, China and South Korea.
Maglev trains are powered by a magnetic field created by electrified coils. This system causes the train to hover at about four inches above the rails, eliminating any friction. This is how a test train in Japan broke a world record, traveling at 374 mph.
China currently operates the world’s fastest commercial maglev train. It travels up to 268 mph on a route near Shanghai.
The United States is yet to see a maglev train. The fastest train in operation in the states is Amtrak’s Acela Express, which can travel up to 150 mph, but typically travels at around half that.
Even at top speed, Acela is far slower than Japan’s bullet trains, whose maximum speed is 200 mph, similar to France’s TGV.
The maglev technology seems to be nearly infinite in its potential travel speeds; researchers at Southwest Jiaotong University have built a prototype track for a maglev train that could allow the train to reach speeds of 1,800 mph, according to Gizmodo. This would be possibly by building the track in a vacuum sealed tube, removing nearly all air resistance.
And recently, a Chinese company, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, released plans for a train that could eventually reach nearly 2,500 mph through maglev technology, according to the South China Morning Post.
In the United States, the most likely places for a maglev train to be built are between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and in the Northeast Corridor, or between Boston and Washington D.C. Nevertheless, the price tag for upgrading the Northeast Corridor system makes it seem like a pipedream; Amtrak estimates the project to cost upward of $150 billion.
For now, the most promising prospect of getting a high-speed train in the United States seems to be Elon Musk’s Hyperloop One, a maglev-powered high-speed train. Prototype testing is currently taking place in Nevada and plans are moving forwards around the country for the beginning of construction of the train, according to NBC.
Although Wakanda shows us with a world that seems far off, its maglev train system could be crisscrossing our world before we know it. And currently, this technology is the most promising in terms of making a trip of Washington D.C. to New York a mere 30 minutes.