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.
To announce the launch of a new rail line, the Kyushu Rail Company loaded one of its bullet trains with cameras and sent it speeding through Japan. Onlookers came out in droves to catch sight of the train, which linked Japan’s southernmost island to the mainland for the first time. They dressed in a rainbow of colors and waved, danced and smiled as the train went by (the Power Rangers even made an appearance; look for them in the video). The rail company had caught something special: an unscripted, bubbly video that showed varied landscape and happy people of Japan. But what the marketers at the rail company didn’t realize was that the commercial was set to air the very day of the horrific 2011 earthquake in Japan.
Kyushu immediately pulled the two-minute celebratory commercial from the air. But after a month or so of unbearable news about the nearly 16,000 fatalities and the 3,000 plus who still remained missing, the company decided to air the commercial. It immediately became an immediate phenomenon; viewers literally shed tears of joy when they saw the smiling faces across the island. The commercial shows the united power of the country, and most importantly made the grieving nation smile. Today, almost a year and a half after the earthquake, the video is still a morale booster.
Around 15 years after reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time, the moment I was waiting for arrived: the movie came out. If you missed it, there’s a good reason. Unlike big-budget flicks, this $10 million “effort” opened in only 299 theaters, with the prayer hope outside shot that word of mouth among the philosopher’snovelist’spropagandist’s writer’s followers would cause demand to surge and lead to the sort of financial success that would make Ayn Rand proud.
In a movie about trains, of course, there was a travel angle, as high-powered business folks zipped across the country to investigate the root of all evil and find ways to protect themselves from “looters” (i.e., government and people looking for handouts). And since the book ultimately points toward Colorado, as the rest of the movies in the planned trilogy will, the travel angle becomes even stronger.
Let’s look at five travel moments from the recently released film; some are good for a chuckle:
1. The airlines failed: okay, setting the movie in 2016 meant that there would be certain challenges, as rail transportation would have to be made a viable long-haul alternative to air transportation. Using an oil crisis based on Middle East instability was a clever way to go about this. To have a bit of fun, I’d have used poor service and operations as the driver for airline collapse. It’s at least as realistic as blaming an inconceivably severe spike in oil prices. And, the “Objectivists” working the flick could have taken pot shots at unions, bailouts and a paucity of ambition.
2. Dare to get lucky: if you can make a train go 250 miles per hour, you deserve a little “rail-high club” action. And if you built the bridge that made it possible, you’re first in line. It really is that simple. The sex scene that followed the train travel moment on the recently renamed John Galt Line shows that (a) some people are proud to reward personal achievement and (b) sex between two stiff and awkward people will be, well, stiff and awkward.
3. Road trips can be fun: of course, they really should have a purpose, such as dashing off to Wisconsin to look for a space-age engine. Nothing beats driving there from Wyoming to check out an abandoned factory, even if the time does pass faster on the big screen than it would in reality. When you get back to Wyoming, after the return trip, nothing tops a meal prepared by a former philosophy professor who has “dropped out.”
4. Remember you reading material: I’m still shocked that Dagny Taggart, the flick’s protagonist, stepped off a train and picked up a newspaper. I know, right? Are they still going to be around in 2016? I guess the prospect of finding a newspaper five years from now is about as realistic as doing so after a long train ride (though, in fairness, she only schlepped from New York to Philadelphia).
5. The best destination in the world: in half a decade, you’ll only want to go to Colorado, it seems. Well, you won’t want to go there if you’re lazy, stupid or more interested in political results than cash in the bank.
SPOILER: Atlantis is in Colorado, so leave your dive gear at home.
In a recent poll of global travelers by SilverRail Technologies, 90% of respondents said they would like to see rail options displayed alongside flights when searching for travel. Rail is suddenly a hot topic (again) as the Obama Administration has pledged $53 billion to create several new high speed rail corridors in the country.
High speed rail is a very realistic alternative in Europe and Asia, but in the US there are very few routes that can currently be replaced by rail transport. When asked whether they would pick rail over air when available:
79% would choose train over plane if high-speed rail options existed.
61% would choose rail over air if the cost was the same or better.
The hassles involved in air travel have also helped increase interest in rail alternatives:
86% of people would accept having the entire time from door-to-door be longer to avoid the process of checking in, security and boarding.
66% would willingly add an hour or more of total travel to their trips to avoid the hassles of long lines, airport security and baggage fees.
Just how bad is the packing situation? Some people actually pack underwear in their laptop bag to reduce the weight of their main bag:
89% of people take action to avoid paying bag fees, planning packing days in advance and stuffing carry-ons to maximum capacity to avoid checking bags.
19% of people surveyed say they pack underwear in a laptop bag to avoid checking bags.
61% are frustrated with extra costs added to airline ticket prices and wanted to be secure that the ticket price they paid is the total price.
And finally, when asked about how air travel has changed in recent years, 72% say waiting in the various lines is the #1 hassle:
Waiting in line is the #1 air travel hassle, according to 72% of people.
While waiting in line for a pat down, 47 % dream about the easy travel of yesteryear
36% wanted family and friends to be able to accompany them to the gate, an impossibility with air travel
Police Chief John O’Connor first thought the reports of the TSA checkpoint were a joke – but once he discovered that this “VIPR” (Visible Intermodal Protection and Response) team was performing a real search of all Amtrak passengers, he banned the TSA from all Amtrak property until a formal agreement is drawn up.
Of all the stupid things the TSA has done in the past (and there are a lot of them), stopping and forcing train passengers to undergo a forced checkpoint really is the worst.