While high-speed maglev infrastructure is relatively expensive to build, maglev trains are less expensive to operate and maintain than traditional high-speed trains or planes. At higher speeds, most of the power needed is used to overcome air drag.
Maglev systems can operate at very high speeds almost without deterioration and are therefore more economical to operate than wheel/rail rapid transit systems that require regular intensive maintenance and experience exponentially increasing erosion with increasing speed. The fundamental freedom from mechanical erosion is one of the main advantages of maglev high-speed systems.
Maglev is the only trackbound transport system that has practically no mechanical friction during operation. In maglev, all the weight, propulsion and lateral guidance forces of the vehicle are transferred contact-free to the guideway, including the braking forces. As a result, maintenance costs of some maglev systems are only a fraction of the costs of traditional wheel/rail systems.
In traditional wheel/rail operations, the wheels eventually wear out. In addition, the resultant grit on the running surface of the tracks causes abrasion of the railheads.
Example: Each InterCity Express (ICE) train wheel alone loses about 68 kg/150 lb of steel through friction from driving and braking before it is withdrawn from service, usually after two or three years (an entire ICE train loses about 8 metric tons/17,600 pounds). TGV and conventional Shinkansen trains are equally subject to wear and tear.
Data from the Shanghai Transrapid Maglev project indicates that operation and maintenance costs are covered even by the current relatively low volume of 8,000 passengers per day (due to the inconvenient location of the line in the suburbs of Shanghai that lacks attractvity for potential riders). Passenger volumes on the Pudong International Airport line are expected to rise dramatically if the line is extended from Longyang Road metro station all the way to downtown Shanghai. China aims to limit the cost of future construction extending the maglev line to approximately 200 million yuan (US$25 million) per kilometer.
The proposed Chūō Shinkansen MLX maglev in Japan is estimated to cost approximately US$82 billion to build, with a route blasting long tunnels through mountains. About 80% of the line is expected to run through tunnels - which explains the high investment costs in this case.
The first low-speed Japanese maglev "Linimo HSST" (100 km/h) which is currently operational, cost approximately US$ 50 million/km to build (no verified data available). Besides offering improved operation and maintenance costs over other transit systems, low-speed maglevs provide ultra-high levels of operational reliability and introduce little noise and zero air pollution into dense urban settings.
As maglev systems are deployed around the world, experts expect construction costs to drop as new construction methods are innovated along with economies of scale.