(CNN) — A new floating bullet train capable of hitting speeds of 600 kilometers per hour (about 372 miles/hour) is one step closer to reality in China.
On Thursday, the body prototype for the country's latest high-speed magnetic-levitation (maglev) train project rolled off the assembly line in the eastern Chinese city of Qingdao.
Developed by the state-owned China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) -- the world's largest supplier of rail transit equipment -- the sleek-looking train is scheduled to go into commercial production in 2021 following extensive tests.
Those involved with the project are optimistic it will completely transform China's travel landscape, filling the gap between high-speed rail and air transportation.
"Take Beijing to Shanghai as an example -- counting preparation time for the journey, it takes about 4.5 hours by plane, about 5.5 hours by high-speed rail, and [would only take] about 3.5 hours with [the new] high-speed maglev," said CRRC deputy chief engineer Ding Sansan, head of the train's research and development team, in a statement.
While the cruising speed of an aircraft is 800-900 km/h, at present trains on the Beijing-Shanghai line have a maximum operating speed of 350 km/h.
Three years in development
China's new maglev prototype is set to go into commercial production in 2021.
Maglev trains use magnetic repulsion both to levitate the train up from the ground, which reduces friction, and to propel it forward.
After nearly three years of technical research, Ding said the team had developed a lightweight and high-strength train body that lays the technical foundation for the development of five sets of maglev engineering prototypes.
So what comes next? CRRC Qingdao Sifang -- a subsidiary of the CRRC -- is currently constructing an experimental center and a high-speed maglev trial production center, which are expected to begin operating the second half of this year.
Japan's maglev ambitions
China's new prototype won't be the first train to surpass the 600-kilometer mark when it hits the testing track.
Japan is now developing a new Chuo Shinkansen maglev line, with trains set to hit top speeds of about 500 kph.
The first phase of the project, connecting Tokyo and Nagoya, is scheduled to be completed in 2027 and is expected to cut traveling time between those cities by half.
China's first commercial maglev system, a 30-kilometer stretch between Shanghai Putong Airport and the city center, opened in 2002. It has hit speeds of 431 kilometers per hour and is the world's fastest commercial maglev system to date.
The project was co-created by Shanghai Maglev Transportation Development Co. Ltd., a German Consortium consisting of Siemens AG, Thyssen Transrapid GMBH and Transrapid International GMBH.
While the maglev technology has been developed and touted as the future of train transportation for decades, there are only a handful of countries operating maglev trains around the world: China, South Korea and Japan.