Urban Transport

All aboard: Japan's maglev train hits 500 km/h

All aboard: Japan's maglev tra...
The experimental Shinkansen maglev train topped 500 km/h (311 mph) with passengers onboard (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)
The experimental Shinkansen maglev train topped 500 km/h (311 mph) with passengers onboard (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)
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The experimental Shinkansen maglev train topped 500 km/h (311 mph) with passengers onboard (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)
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The experimental Shinkansen maglev train topped 500 km/h (311 mph) with passengers onboard (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)
Testing began on Japan's new maglev train last year, after a prototype was revealed in November 2012 (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)
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Testing began on Japan's new maglev train last year, after a prototype was revealed in November 2012 (Photo: Central Japan Railway Company)

The Central Japan Railway Company has whisked passengers along a section of track at up to 500 km/h (311 mph) during testing of the Shinkansen maglev train. The BBC reports that one hundred wide-eyed train enthusiasts were onboard the train's first manned voyage, with trials to continue over eight days.

Japan's famed bullet trains travel at speeds of around 320 kmh 200 (mph). But these may soon be left in the wake of the record-breaking levitating Shinkansen, which uses the force of electromagnets for propulsion and to hover above the track.

The benefits of these super fast, friction-free train systems have been explored for several years. China's state-owned press agency reported in 2012 that the China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited, the country's largest rail vehicle maker, built a train inspired by an ancient Chinese sword capable of hitting 500 km/h (311 mph). But China's vision for ultra fast transport systems stretch back further than this, with Shanghai's Transrapid maglev train hitting the 500 km/h mark during testing in 2003.

On a more speculative note, earlier this year Chinese scientists built a super-maglev train that could theoretically hit speeds of 1,800 mph. This would be achieved, according to those involved, by running the train through a vacuum, eliminating the issue of air resistance. Then there's also Elon Musk's proposed (non-maglev) Hyperloop, which would aim to transport passengers from San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 30 minutes.

Testing began on Japan's new maglev train last year, after a prototype was revealed in November 2012. Unmanned journey's took place over an 18 km (11 mi) piece of track. The train is now the first to carry passengers at such speeds. The Daily Mail reports that 2,400 in total were selected by lottery to ride the train during its test period, drawn from a pool of almost 300,000. The system is due for completion in 2027 and is expected to halve travel time between Tokyo's Shinagawa Station and the city of Nagoya, a trip that takes around 80 minutes at present. The thrill experienced by the train's first passengers can be seen on this BBC video.

Sources: BBC, Central Japan Railway Company

15 comments
colnagoboy
Japanese Maglev is equipped with superconductor for its levitation, whereas German Transrapid levitates with electromagnetic technology.
Slowburn
If I am going that fast I want wings.
Mel Tisdale
@colnagoboy Superconducting and electromagnetic technologies are not mutually exclusive.
Grunt
Presumably powerful magnetic fields are involved and, presumably, train and contents sit in these powerful magnetic fields throughout the journey. So, a couple or so questions spring to mind... 1. What, if any, is the effect on people with heart monitors and other implanted electronic gizmos? 2. Are all the passengers' credit cards going to be "wiped" out" before they get to their destination? 3. Are any hard drives amongst passengers' belongings going to be wiped? 4. Has anybody conducted long term tests on humans immersed in powerful magnetic fields for several hours at a time? One assumes that all electronic components built into the train are screened, but that is hardly going to be the case for passengers and their possessions. No doubt there are many other questions that will need satisfactory answers before we all climb aboard.
Robert Walther
This guy 'Grunt' has nailed it! If only these mega-projects would do testing before releasing their unsafe devices. His 'four' concerns were all first tested prior to WWII at the latest. Since then the amount of continuing testing for his 'questions' has covered every conceivable realistic variation and an equally large number of fantastically unlikely scenarios.
Expanded Viewpoint
Yes, what indeed ARE the downsides to riding in a pulsating magnetic field of unknown strength and frequency? Each time a coil is transitioned, there will be some kind of wave produced, be it sine, square or saw tooth, will it affect our body in any way? What about pregnant/nursing women or infants? It seems like the electronic recording devices survived the short trip according to the video, but what about long term exposures? Randy
Pat Pending
Slowburn; your wings are electro-magnets providing lift. Really very safe. Speaking as a pilot though I completely agree with you, I've often said if you want to exceed 100 MPH you should be airborne :-}
Robert Fallin
Five hundred kpm? Big deal. Maglev capsules in a vacuum could do 6500 kpm. Unfortunately the powers that be and media such as GIZMAG ignores the technology.
Cyndysub
Sorry no gold stars yet. We can do much better than that. Build a tube for the train and put a vacuum on the sealed tube and have an express route only on this system and the speeds would within reason be virtuously limitless. Zero friction in a vacuum.
Freyr Gunnar
Although technically interesting, are maglev trains the new Concord? Besides, how can Japan spend so much money while 1) it already has fast enough train, 2) the country is so deep into debt, and 3) its population declining?