Clean Transport

Published on June 15th, 2013 | by Important Media Cross-Post


Japan Debuts New Maglev Train

June 15th, 2013 by  

This article first appeared on
by Andrew Meggison


Central Japan Railway has tested the newest Maglev L0 Train, and the results are promising. The train is expected to carry 1,000 passengers and can travel up to 311 MPH, allowing the new train to travel over 200 miles from Tokyo to Nagoya in 40 minutes.

Maglev trains are basically trains held up by magnets. Maglev is derived from magnetic levitation with Maglev referring to the vehicle and the “track” system. The train does not sit on a track but rather hovers in the air and this cuts down on friction, wear and tear on the train, sound, and you get an increase in speed. Maglev trains are also referred to more commonly as bullet trains.

So why do we not have these space aged trains everywhere? Well, they require a lot of safety monitoring, the systems are expensive, and it turns out consumers get a little freaked out traveling on a floating platform at over 300 miles per hour.

Japan was the first country to introduce Maglev trains and use them as a tool of mass transportation. The Japan’s first use of this technology was during the 1964 Olympics and the train traveled at 130 miles per hour. China uses Maglev trains and currently the Chinese Maglev trainhas a top speed of 286 miles per hour. That means when the new Japanese system in up in running around 2027 it should be the fastest train in the world with a top speed of 311 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, America struggles to get trains to go over 100 mph. At this rate it will only take us another 50 years to catch up with Japan.

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  • Jakub

    The technology from Japan is not the best solution for US. If I compare it with German Transrapid, it has several disadvantages. Japan Maglev is using superconductivity, which, on one side, saves the energy, but it requires the coils to be freezed and that would be to complicated if the magnets would be along the whole vehicle. That’s why there are just electomagnets placed like the bogies (front and end of each car only) and they must be much stronger. It also uses rubber wheels for the speeds up to 80 km/h, wich lowers the advantage of non contact travel. If you look at the train, it is quite small and not much more comfortable than a plane. The track, on the contrary, is very large and requires great amount of space. The german Transrapid is different. It doesn’t use superconductivity, but the magnets are placed all along the vehicle, so they can be much smaller and the magnetic field is than not much stronger, than in regular wheel-on-rail engine. The wehicle is wider, than the guidway, which is wide as a bigger car or so, so the construction costs are much lower. The train has much bigger inner space. But it is designed for lower speed, because it is not so aerodynamicaly designed, as Japanese MLU.

  • JamesWimberley

    For reference, steel-rail high-speed trains generally run in Europe at 300 km/hr (186 mph). The newest French lines, like the LGV-Est, are designed for 350 km/hr (217 mph) and the next generation of rolling stock will run at that speed, but no faster. That was the track used for the showing-off speed record, with a special test train and repairs to the damaged track afterwards.
    For European distances, and no more than 150 km between stops, a lot of the time is slowing down for stations. The time saving end-to-end from maglev would not be great.

    The French rule of thumb is that passengers will switch en masse from air to rail if the time from city centre to city centre is less than 3 hours. The first instalment of the LGV Atlantique (Paris to Tours) was built to get the time from Paris to Bordeaux down to exactly 3 hours. In other words, the benefits from going below 3 hours are not that great.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I don’t know if maglev can be installed at at a reasonable cost, but if it could compete financially against long distance air travel I see its use as a long distance “express” rather than than the city to city service provided by European HSR.

      A line from the US East Coast to the West Coast. Very limited stops so that maximum speed can be maintained. Maybe no more than one stop every 500 miles. Or run coast to coast express runs with no stops and other trains doing ‘distant city’ non-stop runs. Reach max speed and stay there until reaching destination.

      Same sort of idea on other continents.

      • Otis11

        I see it being a loop – San Fransisco, San Jose, LA (or San Diego, but not both), Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Philidelphia (or NYC, not both) and Chicago.

        Then From LA you have a High Speed Rail (TGV equivalent) between LA-San Diego, Dallas-Houston-San Antonio-Austin, Philidelphia-NYC-Boston-DC-etc… (Not as familiar with all the local large cities)

        Then around the individual cities you have relatively rapid (60+ MPH) Transportation rail from metroplexes to major commerce areas, or along other major routes (really, any highway that needs to be more than 3 lanes each way could probably support a line)

        Cap it off by having Electric buses and bike-sharing programs at the ends stops.

        Also, for infrastructure purposes, the MagLev lines should stop at the city’s airport as we already have parking infrastructure, bus routes, etc. going to these locations. Plus, they could add to convenience by paring them with the TGV at these locations. Instead of catching connecting flights, you could take a larger (and therefore more efficient) flight to a major hub and then the TGV to your final destination. Use the local rail/buses to get around and bikes to get to your exact destination…

        All of this should be equipped with automated monitoring systems to minimize running and maintenance costs. Sure, it will have a large up front investment, but it will enable the next few centuries of sustainable, rapid, an economic mass transit.

        /end rant

        Edit: This is actually modeled off of the internet infrastructure. It works rather well from most objective metrics.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Something that I came to appreciate with Europe’s trains is that they generally stop right in town. I was often able to stay a short walk from the terminal.

          The airport is often a ways out of town, adding more travel time to both ends of a trip.

          We might need cheap long term parking and a quick shuttle for those who can’t get to the terminal by public transportation from their house. Or for large cities there might be a couple of stops before the train gets back up to speed. In-town and long term parking terminals.

          • Otis11

            Yeah, I was going more for the fast branch approach – Take a 300+MPH train between major transportation hubs, have those terminate at the airport. Use the 200+MPH TGV to get to neighboring major cities as well as the city center itself, then use local rail for major transportation routes in the city and buses/bikes for everything else…

            If you add many stops to the first two, the top speed doesn’t end up mattering because you spend all your time accelerating/decelerating. By minimizing those stops you make it more practical in terms of time. Then use local (can still be relatively fast, 60MPH minimum, 100MPH achievable) for the convenince factor you speak of…

  • arne-nl

    “Maglev trains are also referred to more commonly as bullet trains.”

    The conventional Shinkansen high speed train has been nicknamed ‘bullet train’ for as long as I can remember.

  • Others

    Among the 4 modes of transport, Railways is the only mode which can run easily on electricity with overhead catenary or 3rd line.

    What if more and more trains of all types are introduced to combat the pollution, reduce congestion and move people and freight faster. This will also need line doubling where ever single track is there. Next step would be to electrify the line.

    I guess the 1,200 km route between Shanghai and Beijing is covered in just few hours. China is investing on railways in a very large scale having known the trouble of America being addicted to Oil with road transport.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Most US infrastructure was built after cars and airplanes were in use. Much was built post WWII when the US was enjoying great economic conditions and is was relatively easy for people to afford a car.

      Lots of Europe and Asia surface routes pre-date the 20th century and just aren’t designed for cars. Both maintained larger amounts of mass transit, often because affording cars for most people was not an option.

      Going forward the US will develop more mass transportation, we already are. But at the same time the move to electric cars will mean that we will likely continue having high personal car ownership compared to many parts of the world. Oil will go away. The economics of electricity assure that happening.

  • Mohan Raj

    Conventional railways can carry both passenger and freight. Even the Mass and Light Transit can make use of these tracks. But for Maglev, both the track and the land should be allocated exclusively for those special trains.

    China built only a 30 km route from Airport to City and shelved any further development. Cost of construction will be very high.

    In fact Railways are making further progress in electrification by using capacitor, flywheel and battery in addition to catenery to capture braking energy. French AGV has motors in bogie in each car for further energy efficiency. Japanese can use all those money to electrify all lines and build more mass / light transit.

    • Bob_Wallace

      There’s no reason maglev couldn’t carry low mass freight. Let existing ‘slow rail’ keep hauling the big bulk loads, but the sort of freight than now travels by air could be moved on maglev, get there just about as fast, and cost less to ship.

      Yes, costs for maglev would be high. But the math needs to be done comparing it to continuing to fly from the East to West Coast over 20, 30, 50 years. Either the energy savings repay those costs or they don’t.

      And add in a likely carbon cost of some sort. My guess is that ten years from now we’re going to see a lot more demand to lower carbon outputs than we see today.

      • Mohan Raj

        The French hold the World Record for Fastest Train in Conventional Rails at 574 km/h. That’s just 26 km short of 1/2 the speed of sound.

        And the Chinese keep increasing the speed of their high speed trains and now they are already hitting 350 km/h. So why not we keep pushing the speed of trains faster and faster using conventional rails and also run other trains on it during off-peak hours and holidays.

        As for Japan’s electrification, still 1/3 of their cape gauge are not electrified as of 2005. May be much of it would have been converted because of high oil prices in the last 8 years.

        Another interesting topic on World’s gauges. The standard gauge dominates 60% of the World’s gauge followed by Russian Broad gauge @ 17 % and Cape gauge @ 9%.

        • Bob_Wallace

          ” So why not we keep pushing the speed of trains faster and faster using conventional rails and also run other trains on it during off-peak hours and holidays.”

          If we can get HSR fast enough to take traffic away from airplanes then that’s “good enough”.

          If maglev can go significantly faster and/or operate on significantly less energy then it might make sense to build some of that as well.

          Of course fastest doesn’t always win out. There was the Concord….

        • Ronald Brakels

          Thanks for that information, Others. I didn’t realize Japan had so much unelectrified rail, although I assume the vast majority of passenger miles are done on electrified track.

      • KrzysioMlynarz

        Second-generation superconducting maglev is designed to be able to carry heavy freight — any kind that currently travels by rail — as well as transport truck ferries or car ferries, at the full 500 km/h (300 mi/h) design speed, whether on raised monorail (most of the route) or flat, planar guideways (slower segments, usually off the main route) including along existing rail track.

        The business model is based on carrying freight, unlike other maglevs and HSR. Unlike passenger-and light freight-only maglev or HSR, heavy freight and truck ferries are projected to provide high revenue at even low carriage rates. They calculate that this would pay back initial capital costs on a typical route in around five years, and freight revenues would help underwrite the costs of passenger transport without subsidies — meaning tickets cheaper than otherwise possible.

    • Ronald Brakels

      I’m not aware of any railway lines in Japan that aren’t electrified. Well, of course there’s the Kurobe Senyo Railway built for industrial reasons which runs miniture battery powered trains, but that’s very much an exception.

    • KrzysioMlynarz

      Second generation superconducting maglev, which was developed by the same two American engineers/physicists who invented the superconducting maglev that Japan tested and developed, is designed so it can use existing railway track quite easily by laying down cheap guideway panels on either side of existing track. That way it doesn’t need special separate guideway structures everywhere: where it’s practical or desirable, it can travel along existing rail tracks or even roadways.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Thanks for that info.

        Can you give us some idea as to what these guideway panels are like?

        Sounds like we might be able to build HSR now, like the one starting up in CA this summer, and run superfast maglev on the same route.

  • JamesWimberley

    What is this news doing on a renewable energy blog? I don’t suppose maglevs use less electricity than steel-rail trains.

    The main objection to maglev. which killed the German project, is exclusive and incompatible track on the entire route. French TGVs run from Belle Epoque train termini in Paris to provincial cities like Perpignan and Biarritz far from a TGV line, running part of the time on electrified legacy track. The French can upgrade the network progressively. This may not apply to the US, where most track is not electrified and the network is run for slow freight. Spain has had to build more high-speed track than France as the legacy network was so poor and on a wider gauge.

    • Bob_Wallace

      If we wanted to replace air travel with rail travel over long land routes this is a potential route forward. They might use more electricity per mile than other HSR technologies, but if they can move significantly faster then they would be more acceptable for very long distances.

      A single route from the East to West Coasts in the US and Eastern and Western north/south routes could move people quickly.

      Imagine having a maglev that traveled from Philadelphia to Sacramento, a distance of about 2800 miles. On a commercial airliner traveling at 550 MPH that’s a 5 hour journey. On a 350 MPH maglev it would take 8 hours. Three hours more.

      But once you factor out the extra check in and loading time, the time often spent waiting to take off, the time often spent waiting to land, the extra time it takes to deplane, etc. that time difference shrinks.

      Add in the extra comfort of riding on a train as opposed to getting crammed into the typical airplane and few people would mind spending a extra hour or even two to cross the continent.

      And you could look out the window and see the country pass by. Or take a night train and sleep in a berth.

      It probably makes more sense to compare energy per passenger mile for maglev vs. air travel than with other rail travel. Those other high speed and slower speed rails would be feeder lines for the maglev hubs.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I don’t know how accurate this is, but if accurate is suggests that a maglev could be an efficient replacement for air travel.

      “Maglev is also a very cheap and efficient mode of transportation. Maglev operating costs will be only 3 cents per passenger mile and 7 cents per ton mile, compared to 15 cents per passenger mile for airplanes and 30 cents per ton mile for intercity trucks. [8] ”

      We are likely to find it difficult to run airplanes on battery power. And even if we do it looks like the lower energy requirement of maglevs would make them the best choice where usable.

      “Guideways can last for at least 50 years with a minimal maintenance because there is no mechanical contact and wear. [8]

      At 480 kilometers per hour, maglev consumes 0.4 megajoules per passenger mile compared to 4 megajoules per passenger mile of oil fuel for a 8.5-kilometers-per-liter (20 miles-per-gallon) auto that carries 1.8 people at 96 kilometers per hour. [8]”

      1.4 MJ/passenger-km or 2.24 megajoules per passenger mile in 1998 airliners. This has improved some. But using the numbers at hand 0.4 vs. 2.24 MJ per passenger mile is a very significant energy savings, over 5x.

      • Bob,
        Quit making sense. In a world where we have hundreds of bridges close to failing and water systems that are in poor shape and a general infrastructure in decline with little to nothing being done unless there is a disaster, to expect our “austerity minded” politicians to even consider a high speed maglev transportation system is akin to delusion. {don’t even talk about their resistance to building the alternative energy infrastructure that we NEED}

        Having said that I think that a maglev system that used vacuum tubes could provide speeds of over 1200 mph with a “crash quotient” far lower than air travel (possibly 0). My only question is: will I still get groped/fondled at the station?

        • Others

          If maglev is delusion then maglev system that used vacuum tubes could be super delusion.

          Railways compete with all 3 modes of transport and if by chance all cars were electric or if electric planes become reality, then the rail will lose on the cost front. Better to strengthen conventional rails with high and low speed, mass and light transit that puts the rails to maximum use.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Cars/trucks, airplanes and trains.

            How about explaining to us why you think it takes more energy per passenger/freight mile to fly or drive than to move by rail?

    • Ronald Brakels

      Maglev trains should use less electricty than a standard electric train as friction is reduced due to not having wheels in contact with the rails, but the main saving should be getting rid of the weight of the wheels and other stuff that’s not needed any more. But I’d have to look into it to see how they stack up in reality. Of course, if a maglev is run at a higher speed than a normal electric train it will require more energy to overcome increased air resistance.

      If Australia gets around to building high speed rail it could be maglev since enough time is likely to pass before we get started on it for other countries to bring the cost of the technology down.

    • KrzysioMlynarz

      Whether a maglev route requires separate track infrastructure all the way depends on the particular maglev technology. The German maglev used in Shanghai and the Japanese superconducting maglev are both completely incompatible with existing rail. However, the two American inventors of the Japanese system, James Powell and Gordon Danby, have developed a second generation of superconducting maglev that is able to switch seamlessly between raised narrow monorail track and low-cost guideway panels laid down on the outsides of existing rail. It can use ordinary rail track (with these panels on the outer edges) inside cities or wherever else it is practical or desirable to do so (permanently or temporarily) instead of raised guideways.

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