The most unique aspect of the transport scenery of Shanghai is the famous Maglev, providing service between Longyang Road, somewhere in Pudong, and the Shanghai-Pudong airport. Operating since 2003, it is a technological, if not economic, proof of concept that Maglev can function in revenue service. The ride is smooth, as can be seen on this video I shot looking out the side window. Because of the double paned glass and reflectivity, you can see some of me, and some of the iPhone camera reflected back, but you get the idea. The speeds steadily increase, and than decrease, with no passenger discomfort. It is not especially loud.
On a Sunday afternoon, the train was far from full. And though I did not get to ride at the highest speed offered (430 m/h) (which would have required taking an earlier train), it was plenty fast at 300 km/h. The fare was a reasonable 50 yuan ($AU 10), though taxi would have been cheaper, and probably faster door-to-door given the ticketing and waiting times. The station is in the middle of nowhere (i.e. in the middle of future redevelopment), across from a big box shopping center. It runs parallel to a conventional metro line, which is slower, with stops, but more frequent. It does land you conveniently in the middle of the airport, between the terminals, so is useful from that perspective.
The first adventure was taking the taxi from my hotel to the Maglev station. The taxi driver spoke no English, I spoke no Chinese, but he moved his arm really fast and said zoom-zoom, so he understood.
The second was actually finding where to be let out. This is not at all obvious, and we wound up spiralling into a place that sort of resembled a taxi drop-off point. I am not clear how passengers actually arrive, this could not have been it. I am guessing public transport, but the ‘landside’ layout of this airport was odd.
Otherwise, it was more like a small train station than an airport, except it required special ticketing. The ticketing vending machines had an English option, so that was straight-forward. The security was on par with the Metro, requiring a scan of bags you are carrying.
While undoubtedly there were a few transport tourists like myself, my sense is that some of the riders were regulars, finding it slightly more convenient than the alternative. Given that it was a slow time at the airport, the lack of demand on the MagLev may just reflect peaking patterns rather than avoidance.
All in all, a smooth convenient ride, akin to a monorail, which casual empiricism suggests will not be the technological path selected for fast surface transport. Even though it works, it has not been much replicated. If you are interested in transport, and in Shanghai, and it seems to be an option to go to or from the airport, you should try it. However in all likelihood, you will still need another mode of transport to get you to your destination or from your origin.