Quick question: what is the most iconic symbol of modern Japan?
If you guessed the shinkansen (??????) or bullet train, you’re sadly wrong!
Although for years these sleek and sexy high-speed trains have been smashing rail speed records, they’re only two decades or so away from being totally obsolete.
This week, the Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) announced that it plans to construct the world’s fastest train, a second-generation maglev train that will run from Tokyo to central Japan.
With an estimated cost of 5.1 trillion yen (44.7 billion dollars), the project is expected to be completed by the 2025 financial year.
According to a company spokesperson: “It will be the fastest train ever – if it beats the one in Shanghai – with a velocity of about 500 kilometers (310 miles) per hour, travelling a distance of 290 kilometers (180 miles).”
The Shanghai maglev train, which was launched in 2002, is currently the fastest train in the world. Running from Pudong airport to the financial district, Shanghai’s maglev train travels at 430 kilometers (267 miles) per hour over a distance of 30.5 kilometers (18 miles).
So what exactly are maglev trains you ask? Good question.
A maglev, or magnetically levitating train, is a form of rail transportation that suspends, guides and propels carts using electromagnetic force.
Compared to traditional wheeled mass transit systems, maglev trains in theory have the potential to reach speeds upwards of 900 kilometers (600 miles) per hour, which is equivalent to jet aircraft.
To date, the only commercial maglev train in operation is the Shanghai line, though the Japanese have been experimentally testing maglev trains for years.
In 2003, a maglev train operated by JR Central reached speeds of 581 kilometers (361 miles) per hour, which is a smidgen faster than the French TGV, which is the fastest conventional train in the world.
At the time of the press release, JR Central did not actually confirm the exact extent of the new maglev line, though it’s likely to run from Tokyo to Nagoya, and perhaps as far as Osaka.
Although the Japanese are keen on reclaiming rail speed records from the French and Chinese, the pressure is on, especially since a series of other maglev projects are being planned around the world.
In the southern state of Bavaria in Germany, the government recently announced that it intends to build a maglev train line by 2014 that will connect Munich with its airport.
And in China, the government recently announced that it intends to extend their Shanghai maglev train to the city of Hangzhou, which is 170 kilometers (105 miles) away.
And even in the United States, the government has been considering a number of commercial maglev services to alleviate traffic congestion, such as a line between Washington and Baltimore.
Given the severity of the energy crisis and the increasing unliklihood that our days of driving SUVs are going to last forever, the future of maglev trains is indeed a promising one.
** All images sourced from the Wikipedia Commons project **