Japan Unveils Prototype Of Faster Floating Train
November 26, 2012

Japan Unveils Prototype Of Faster Floating Train

Peter Suciu for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

The island nation of Japan features a vast network of high-speed rail lines to connect its cities together. The country´s famous bullet train system, which was developed in the early 1960s and is still regarded around the world as one of the best high-speed mass transit systems in the world, could soon see competition from even faster trains.

Last week the Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) unveiled a prototype of what promises to deliver even faster train service to Japan. The Series Lo prototype utilizes magnetic levitation (maglev) technology, which allows the train to float above the track and move forward via powerful magnets.

The first line would run from Tokyo to Nagoya and travel as fast as 500 kilometers per hour — or about 311mph. The Shinkansen “bullet train,” which is currently operated by the four Japan Railways Group companies, features a maximum speed of 149-186 mph.

Japan depends on the high-speed trains and the Tōkaidō Shinkansen is presently the world´s busiest high-speed rail line as it carries more than 150 million passengers per year. The line operates between Tokyo and Osaka, the nation´s two largest metropolises.

The maglev technology has the potential to greatly reduce travel time. At present it reportedly takes 90 minutes for the Shinkansen bullet train to travel from Tokyo to Nagoya, but the new technology could reduce the trip by more than half. The vehicle could also solve one of the bullet trains biggest criticisms, namely the noise it produces.

As the maglev has no wheels, it could provide a smoother and quieter ride at a faster speed. And because the system utilizes an electromagnetic pull the lines would not be affected by bad weather as greatly as the current bullet trains.

JR Tokai is currently running tests on the train, and recently announced plans to more than double the length of the track at its Tsuru development facility. This test track will be doubled to 26 miles as further tests are conducted.

“Through the test runs, we will make final checks to ensure that commercial services are comfortable,” said Yasukazu Endo, the head of the development center, to The Telegraph.

JR Tokai looks to expand the line to Osaka by 2045, with a cost of $103 billion (US), while the Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT)  is discussing routes for the line. JR Tokai looks to build a train that could seat nearly 1,000 passengers by 2027.

This ambitious plan would be the first of this scale in the world as Japan looks to be the first nation to build a large-scale maglev route. The developers are looking to not only provide domestic transportation to replace the aging bullet train, which will be 60 years old by 2025, but to bullet past any competition for next generation rail travel technologies. Once successful the Japanese look to export the technology.

The Japanese are of course not the only ones looking at the maglev technology, nor is the technology exactly new. The first relevant patent for the technology dates to 1905, and Britain operated a low-speed maglev shuttle in Birmingham from 1984 to 1995.

But at present only two commercial systems are now in service, including one that began operation in 2004 in Shanghai, China, while a Japanese system called Linimo was opened in 2005. The Linimo system however only runs at 60mph, a speed the future maglev trains could easily bullet past.