Japan Tests New 311 MPH Maglev Train

Japanese Maglev Train
Dom Pates, Flickr

A new maglev train purported to reach speeds of 311 mph was tested for the first time on the Yamanashi test track in Japan this week. When put into service in 2027, the high-speed, magnetically levitated train will connect Tokyo with Nagoya, reducing the travel time from the current hour and a half down to only 40 minutes.

While China currently holds the speed title for in-service commercial trains with its airport-to-city maglev in Shanghai, Japan has long been the global leader in high-speed rail. Its famous Shinkansen bullet train network debuted way back in 1964.

With this new train, the L0, Japan will almost certainly reclaim the “world’s fastest” title. However, the Chinese have claimed they have a train in development that will zip along at over 600 mph.

In any case, the L0 will carry up to 1,000 passengers at a time. And in just over 30 years, Japan will have extended the line to Osaka, 300 miles from Tokyo. The government plans to eventually expand the network around the entire country.

Floating trains zipping around the country at almost half the speed of sound; we, or at least the Japanese, are living in the future.

Big in Japan: Japan’s maglev train will be the world’s fastest

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).”

Awesome.

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 **

Chinese Buffet – Part 17: Xi’an Excursion Day One

Chinese Buffet is a month-long series that chronicles the travels of an American woman who visited China for the first time in July 2007.

One of the places that my friend Beth really wanted to see before leaving China was the historic city of Xi’an, so she invited me to join her and Ryan on an overnight excursion to the home of the Terracotta Army.

We began our trip to this very ancient city by taking the super-modern Maglev train to the Pudong airport. This state-of-the-art magnetic levitation train transports passengers 20 miles in a mere seven minutes. For 50 RMB (one-way ticket), you can get to the airport in a flash, and experience the thrill of going from 0 to 427 km/h in just five minutes:



(It was my poor photography skills – and not the speed of the train – that prevented me from getting a smooth shot on this second picture. But you get the idea, right? It’s a FAST train.)

For travelers arriving in Shanghai via the airport, the Maglev may not be your best option, since it doesn’t run into the central part of the city. It goes only as far as the Longyang Road Station in Pudong, which is still quite a ways from downtown Shanghai. But you can get the metro from there and continue your journey into the city that way.

But getting back to the airport…

We got to Pudong International with plenty of time to catch our China Eastern Airlines flight to Xi’an. The flight was less than two hours, leaving me just enough time to read up a bit on our destination. We were headed to the capital of Shaanxi province, a city of more than five million, that at one time served at the imperial capital of China. We were making the trip, like so many others do, primarily to see the Terracotta Warriors. But we hoped to squeeze in a few other sights as well.

Thanks to our own personal tour guide, we were able to do just that. Bob, a private driver who contracts work through the Hyatt Hotel, picked us up at Xi’an’s airport (40 minutes away from the city) and right away offered us an optional sightseeing stop on the way to into town:

Bob suggested we visit Xianyang, the site of China’s very first dynasty, the Qin. Relics from the former palace of Qin Shi Huang have been gathered into a museum with two main sections. First, we visited a building which housed many of these relics, including a miniature terracotta army:

The uniforms and costumes that the figures had been dressed with are now long gone, leaving these poor little guys naked. (There were a few female figures discovered at this site as well.) The second section of the complex is an underground museum, where we could walk above and around the excavation site, wearing blue scrub slippers they provide:

This was the first of several archaeological dig sites we would visit over the next two days. Since Ryan’s a dinosaur fan, he especially enjoyed seeing these dirt pits full of bones. But no Tyrannosaurus Rex here…

A theme of old vs. new seemed to be running through our adventure. We took the modern Maglev to begin our journey to a historic ancient city full of relics from the past. Yet the city is far from old anymore.

The contrasts continued as Bob drove us through the hectic streets of this booming manufacturing hub:

We passed a Home Depot on the way to the Hyatt, and I marveled once again at the constant boom of construction that defines modern China. I wondered, what would those ancient warriors think of all this growth?

Xi’an’s famous city wall soon came into view. We had read that renovation had recently been completed to the wall so visitors could now walk or bike around the entire top. After a visit to the bell tower, we attempted to gain access to the wall, but were repeatedly unsuccessful. We walked the perimeter of one section where we had been told there was an entrance. But it was smack in the middle of a dangerous roundabout loaded with speeding cars, bikes and buses. Ryan was a trooper, following along during our futile attempt to get on the wall. Eventually, we sat for a drink and felt kinda like the guy at the table behind us:

So we gave up. Some walls are just not meant to be scaled…by us, anyway! We took it as a sign that we should be hunting out some good food instead of access to an ancient wall. Good warriors we’d make, huh?

We’ll be laughing about our adventure mishap for a really long time. And we started over dinner — yummy pizza and a round of darts at the Hyatt’s pub and pizzeria:

Bob was coming back at 8 am to take us to see the Terracotta Army, so we were soon off to bed. Part two of our Xi’an excursion will continue tomorrow…