Last Thursday, onlookers in Japan got to preview the future of global rail travel: a "floating" train designed to operate at speeds of more than 310 mph.
The Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) unveiled its Series L0 prototype in Tsuru, west of Tokyo, which levitates above its tracks and moves forward with the help of powerful magnets. The electromagnetic pull lifts the train above the tracks to eliminate friction and, thus, provide a smoother and quieter ride at a faster speed. The state-of-the-art train also features a streamlined nose similar to that of Japan’s high-speed bullet trains to reduce wind drag.
So far, Nippon Sharyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries have made five carriages for the maglev train, most of which can carry up to 68 passengers. A 16-car train would carry about 1,000 passengers and could begin service on one of Japan’s busiest routes by 2027, cutting the journey between Tokyo and Nagoya in half from 90 minutes on the conventional bullet train to just 40 minutes with the new technology. JR Tokai hopes to expand service from Tokyo beyond Nagoya to Osaka by 2045.
The railway company will begin testing its new maglev train early next year along its test rail in Tsuru.
“Through the test runs, we will make final checks to ensure that commercial services are comfortable,” Yasukazu Endo, head of JR Tokai’s development center, told local media. The cost of the train was put at about Y8.44 trillion ($103 billion).
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The idea of maglev-powered transportation is nothing new. In fact, it has been around for more than a century, with the first relevant patent issued in 1905. Yet, there are just two commercial systems in service today. One began operations in Shanghai in 2004, while another system called Linimo started services in Japan in 2005.
What’s new with JR Tokai’s train is the speed at which it can travel. It’s Japanese counterpart, Linimo, runs at just 60 mph, 20 percent of the 310 mph top speed JR Tokai predicts its maglev train will be capable of. By contrast, North America’s fastest train crawls along at a measly 150 mph.
As the developer of the bullet train system, Japan has consistently been at the forefront of new technology in the railroad industry. It is set to become the first nation to build a large-scale maglev route and has plans to export the system around the world once the technology has been perfected.