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Test track needed to be more than doubled in size to accommodate full speed runs

Japan Railway Comp. (JR Tokai) (TYO:9022) (aka. "The Central Japan Railway Comp.)  is responsible for ferrying close to 400,000 passengers a day between some of the largest cities in central Japan.  While its fastest bullet trains can cut the transit time from Tokyo to Osaka from about 6 hours by car to about 2 hours and 20 minutes by bullet train, JR Tokai is dreaming of a next generation maglev system that could go even faster, completing the 500+ kilometer (310+ mile) journey in under an hour.

I. Meet the Chuo Shinkansen Maglev, a $90B USD Project

To do that it's been creating a superconducting magnetically levitated (SCMaglev) train design (a type of electrodynamic suspension Maglev), which travels along a U-shaped track at speeds of up 505 km/hr (311 mph).

To achieve that goal much work had to be done.  While the fundamental idea behind a magnetically levitated vehicle was first devised and patented in the U.S. in 1905.  Magnetic levitation is appealing in some ways -- with no moving parts, it has low maintenance costs, and some kinds of Maglev designs (such as JR Tokai's) self-stabilizing reducing the chance of the kind of crashes that plague high-speed rail-based trains.

Chuo Shinkansen route
Chuo Shinkansen route
Views of the proposed Chuo Shinkansen test route. [Image Source: TRIC/TAS]

But the cost of building a track is high -- very high.  JR Tokai estimates that it will costs ¥5T ($50.9B USD) to build the line from Tokyo to Nagoya alone, and as much as ¥9T ($91.7B USD) to complete a full line from Osaka to Tokyo, linking Japan's four largest cities (Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Tokyo).

II. Four Decades of Development is Finally Paying Off

By the 1970s -- when JR Tokai first began to toy with Maglev designs -- one crucial variable had fallen into place: cheap, reliable electricity.  But it need to perfect the physics of its travel mechanism to reach speeds high enough to make it worth building the expensive track, particularly when bullet trains were already on the table.
JR Maglev
The JR Maglev design gets its power from the wound wire in the track.  Superconducting magnets in the train induce magnetic fields in the wound wires, propelling the train at speeds of up to 311 mph.

By 1979 it had completed an unmanned test platform, capable of reach speeds of 517 km/hr (321 mph).  But it took a decade to develop sufficient safety controls and aerodynamics to start construction on a test track.  Construction of the The Yamanashi Maglev Test Line began in 1990 in the town of Aichi, near the city of Nagoya.  The track using wound coils along the track which are powered by local substations.  The train is equipped with superconducting magnets, which induced a magnetic field in the powered coils.  

Maglev development
The Chuo Shinkansen project has been in the works for decades.

This magnetic field drives the trains along the track at high speeds.  Since this is an SVMaglev style line, trains must first reach a certain speed using retractable wheels before the magnetic forces become powerful enough to drive the train once the train reaches around 30 km/h (19 mph).  The retractable wheel launching and landing process thus bear some similarities to an airplane takeoff/landing.

Between 1990 and 2008 the 18.4 km (11.4 mi) track saw test runs by MLU002N and MLX01 test engines.  To test the designs JR Tokai gave away free rides on the track.  An estimated 200,000 passengers were carried on these free rides.

III. Longer Test Track Allows Tests With More Cars

In June of this year the extension of the test track was completed.  The track is now more than twice as long as before, reaching a length of 42.8 km (26.6 mi) and also incorporates new features that are commonly necessary in Japan's mountainous landscape, such as tunnels.  The test track is at last ready for expanded testing of the Series L0 prototype, a front car co-designed by JR Tokai and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (TYO:7011).  

Completed in 2008 the Series L0 prototype features a 28 m (92 ft) front car capable of hauling multiple 25 m (82 ft) passenger cars, dubbed "L0 cars".  Each L0 car carries up to 68 passengers, with a stubby rear car carrying only 24 passengers.

Series L0 train
The Series L0 Front Car [Image Source: JR Tokai]
Tests on the 42.8 km track began on Thursday in Japan, with five L0 cars coupled to the front engine, for an entire train legnth of 153 m (502 ft).  The train succesfully reached a top speed of 505 kilometers per hour (311 miles per hour).

Japan's transportation minister Akihiro Ota was among the passengers to test the new track.  He remarks:

I experienced the ride at 505 kph.  My body felt the sense of speed, but it was not at all uncomfortable and conversation was possible as usual. There was not much vibrating.

This [success] provides pride and hope as a technology power, and it will also be important in dealing with natural disasters. We want to provide support for the realization of this technology.

The next step will be to complete an environmental impact study to ensure there's no glaring issues with the track, which is expected to pass through both densely populated regions and the Japanese alps.  If that goes well the test track will be further extended and 9 new L0 cars will be built, allowing for test runs with up to 12 total L0 cars (for a total train length of 228 m (748 ft)).

L0 in action
The L0 with a three car test on Thursday [Image Source: Jun Kaneko]

The finished design will feature 14 L0 cars, plus the front car and rear car, a design capable of hauling 908 passengers.

IV. JR Tokai Wants to Bring Maglev to the U.S.

JR Tokai is hoping to have the entire multi-billion dollar Osaka-Tokyo line complete about a decade later, in 2027.  The full line will be dubbed "Chuo Shinkansen".  While the Japanese government funded much of the early research and development in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, JR Tokai is fulling paying for the commercial line deployment itself.

Long a leader in high-speed rail, Japan has recently seen fierce competition from its rival, China.  China currently owns the only other active commercial maglev system in the world, a line in Shanghai.  China is moving aggressively forward with its high speed rail expansion plans, despite the embarassing setback of having to scale back its line speeds from record paces due to allegations of contractor corruption leading to shoddy construction.

The U.S. is currently pondering a maglev system of its own, but such plans remain in their early infancy, with few large commercial backers. U.S. maglev supporters should be cheering the Yamanashi line, as one of the most hopeful efforts in the U.S. -- The Northeast Maglev (TNEM) -- is backed by JR Tokai.  The TNEM is planned to connect Washington D.C. and New York City with a high speed maglev, passing through Baltimore, and Philadelphia along the way.

JR Tokai is helping with TNEM, a proposed U.S. line connecting New York and Washington, D.C.

JR Tokai chairman Yoshiyuki Kasai promises, "We want to export technology completed in Japan to the United States so that it becomes the international standard."

Source: AJW

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RE: Good of the people
By Paj on 9/2/2013 8:33:35 AM , Rating: 2
Yeah, railway genrally isn't well developed in the US. France and Germany have excellent public railways though - extremely fast, reliable, modern and cheap. They are also run as public concerns, with some private partnership in some cases. A good model to follow.

RE: Good of the people
By Solandri on 9/2/2013 6:42:34 PM , Rating: 3
The US invested in freeways instead of railways. Given how distributed the US is compared to Europe, it was probably the right choice. The number of possible trade transport routes in France is tiny compared to the U.S. because there are so many possible destinations here. The number of possible routes increases as a factorial of the number of points. Above a certain number of points you're wasting too much time waiting to switch trains, whereas with a car you simply take the next exit to get on a different highway.

That doesn't mean a freeway is always the best choice in the US. The major cities on both coasts pretty much fall in a line, and should (and are) connected by railroads. The problems are (1) they're competing on cost with subsidized highways, and (2) the top speed of trains here is about the same as a car. Consequently Amtrak quit trying to compete based on convenience, and instead began charging more (in some cases a train ticket is even more expensive than airfare between the same cities) and billed itself as a "scenic" or "relaxing" way to travel. Taking the train here is more akin to a cruise on an ocean liner, rather than a "get it over with as fast as I can" airplane, or "what's the cheapest way to get there" car.

RE: Good of the people
By ShieTar on 9/3/2013 3:24:44 AM , Rating: 4
The German Autobahn system isn't exactly a set of farm tracks when compared to the US freeway system. The overall use of trains corresponds to about 10% of the use of roads (each in Passenger-Km) in both France and Germany. It's not a replacement-option, but an add-on.

The correct comparison to the train is the plane, I think. Take the route Munich-Paris for a random example.

The ICE & TGV take you there in just 6 hours, and if you plan a little the ticket costs you 190€, or less with special offers and customer discount cards. And there is an update planned of the TGV route which will cut off another half hour. Both train stations are right in the middle of the city. And you spend the time sitting in a rather comfortable chair, and you usually have a table for your laptop or board game or newspaper. Oh, and the food from the bistro is usually slightly better than what you get on a plane.

Of course, a plane trip itself only takes 1:40. Of course you are asked to get to the airport about 2 hours before arrival, and need easily half an hour to get out of the plane and the airport. Even now that there are no passport controls within the Schengen area anymore. And then you need another half hour on each side to travel between the airport and the city. So you safe about 1 hour vs the train. On the other hand, you spend a lot of time just waiting and standing in lines, and the seats are much less comfortable. Also, for this specific route, there is no cheap Ryan Air etc. option, so you pay 500€ to Air France.

All three options are well established in Germany and France, and used according to preference and situation. Cars are used if you need to go cheap with a group of people, i.e. cram 8 students into an VW bus and drive 24 hours to the Spanish coast. Trains are the preferred option for people traveling on their own, or business people not wanting to have to drive after already working for 10 hours. Or just people who don't own a car, which was unheard of 20 years ago, but is getting much more common these days. Planes are used for the obvious reasons, e.g. its 2000 miles away, or its an island.

Development costs for the railway are in reality not much of a problem. I think the economical value of the goods transported on the rail alone makes it an intelligent investment for the government. It certainly provides for half of the 40 billion € revenue of the Deutsche Bahn, and the overall company continues to produce a healthy profit (1.5 billion last year) for the nation.

RE: Good of the people
By Paj on 9/3/2013 8:32:06 AM , Rating: 2
The number of possible trade transport routes in France is tiny compared to the U.S. because there are so many possible destinations here.

Within France, you're probably right. However, many national train networks in Europe now integrate with one another, meaning that its possible to board a high speed train in London and end up in France or Belgium, and vice versa, with minimal border controls. This has similar ramifications for freight. The German, Belgian and French high speed networks are all integrated, which means freight can be moved around much faster compared to roads.

High speed rail would be ideal for the eastern/western seaboards in the US, which has a massive population density.
(as Musk's proposed Hyperloop system claims to cover in California).

There's less of a case to be made for an East-West line, where the number of more sparsely populated cities poses problems for coverage as you mention.

"So if you want to save the planet, feel free to drive your Hummer. Just avoid the drive thru line at McDonalds." -- Michael Asher

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