The experimental passenger train has the potential to bring urban centers within minutes of each other
On Nov. 13, Japanese rail enthusiasts barreled between the cities of Uenohara and Fuefuki at breakneck speeds. Part of a series of planned tests for riders and engineers alike, the next-generation locomotive journey demonstrated technology that could revolutionize cross-regional — and very possibly cross-country — transit methods.
Already famed for its existing bullet train system, the Central Japan Railway Co. recently unveiled an experimental Shinkansen passenger train with a top speed of over 300 mph (500 km/h), the Asahi Shimbun reported. One hundred people — the first of 2,400 test riders (chosen by lottery from the 118,000 who applied) — boarded the L0-series experimental train at JR Tokai’s Yamanashi Maglev Test Track on Nov. 13 to travel the 42.8 km route to Uenohara in mere minutes.
Unlike Shinkansen trains already in use (which have top speeds of around 200 mph), the new model employs magnetic levitation (maglev) technology to dramatically cut down on track resistance and travel time. Also, unlike smaller-scale trains, trams, and monorails that also use maglev systems, the new Shinkansen trains will be supported, stabilized and propelled by magnetic pressure from superconducting magnetic coils installed in the train, tracks, and tunnel sides.
With a planned completion date in 2027, the new “Chuo” Shinkansen Line will run from Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station to Nagoya, cutting the current travel time of 90 minutes down to 40. A 37-year-old passenger from Kochi, who rode the experimental train with his parents and young nephews earlier this month, admits that he’s been looking forward to the ultra-fast ride: “I applied for my nephew who is a big railway fan, but now I am more excited than he is.”
Despite its innovative qualities, the plan has drawn several points of criticism. As Quartz noted, Japan’s population of commuters and passengers has been falling in recent years alongside economic dips and general population shrinkage: by 2045, when the new maglev line is scheduled to have been linked to Osaka, “the number of potential passengers is expected to have fallen by a third.” Due to Japan’s mountainous terrain and the fact that maglev technology requires mostly straight, level track, the system would also need to be located primarily underground (its Tokyo station is being built 40m below the city); this subterranean track might make for, as the Guardian speculated, “a very long subway ride.” Nevertheless, the project is also being met with enthusiasm worldwide, as it could, for example, represent a commute from Washington, DC to New York City of under an hour, the Washington Post notes.
Through Dec. 8, the transit company will be running three tests per day along the route with packed trainfuls of the Japanese public. Footage of the opening ceremony is available below.
Central Japan Railway Co., Bloomberg