This Ride Makes Bullet Trains Look Slow

 

This Ride Makes Bullet Trains Look Slow
This Ride Makes Bullet Trains Look Slow

Apparently 175 mph isn’t fast enough for people in Japan, where rail companies are pouring money into a magnetic levitation train that will streak across the countryside at more than 310 mph.

 

Here in the U.S., the clickety-clack of Amtrak is the standard for rail and a proposed high-speed line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco would make the trip in about 2.5 hours. The system Japan is developing would cover that distance in an hour, which shows how far behind we are.

The maglev train isn’t expected to go into service until 2025, so in the meantime there’s a plan to roll out a faster, sleeker version of the wildly successful Shinkansen bullet train.

The new Shinkansen, called the E-5 Series and shown above, will hit the rails in 2011. It is based on the Fastech 360 prototype that JR East has been working on since 2002, and the company says it will do nearly 200 mph and offer greater comfort thanks to improved car-tilting and suspension mechanisms. Each E-5 will feature an 18 seat “Super Green Car” that JR East touts as something akin to a first class cabin on steroids.

But the E-5 is just the beginning.

JR Tokai, another Japanese rail operator, is moving forward with plans for a maglev train that will make the run from Tokyo to Nagoya at more than 310 miles per hour, cutting the travel time from 90 minutes to just 40. It’s huge news because it marks Japan’s first commercial deployment of high-speed maglev technology, which uses superconducting magnets to power and guide trains that “float” over the track. Maglev research has been ongoing for years and there are several demonstration and test systems around the world. but the only system in regular service is one that connects Shanghai and Pudong airport The Shanghai Maglev Train linking downtown Shanghai with Pudong airport opened in 2002. Japan launched the first urban maglev system three years later in Aichi; the system spans 5.5 miles and includes nine stations. It has a top speed of 62 mph.

The new train won’t come cheap – sources in Japan put the cost of building the 168 mile Tokyo-Nagoya maglev line at $76 billion. Some question whether it’s wise to spend that kind of money in a country where the rail network is already good, but as the Los Angeles Times points out, the Japanese don’t think it’s enough for the trains to run on time. They’ve got to set records doing it. Trains, the Times notes, are more than transportation in Japan; they’re a measure of the country’s prosperity and technological prowess.

Japan’s maglev will be fast, but it won’t be a record breaker, technically speaking. That distinction goes to France’s TGV (train à grande vitesse), which reached 357.2 mph during a 2007 speed trial, is the world’s fastest wheeled train, while a JR-Maglev test train running on a demonstration line in Yamanashi prefecture has done 367 mph. Still, 300 mph is nothing to complain about. If such a train were built in California, commuters could make the trip between San Francisco and LA in an hour.

For some of us, that’s less time than it takes to get to the airport.

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