Japanese Maglev Train Begins Full Speed Testing at 310 mph
September 1, 2013 8:39 PM
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Test track needed to be more than doubled in size to accommodate full speed runs
Japan Railway Comp. (JR Tokai) (
) (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.
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.
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.
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. (
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.
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
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)).
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 hig
h-speed rail, Japan has recently seen
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
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."
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RE: Good of the people
9/2/2013 6:50:51 PM
You're forgetting that this is a loss-leader for research into mag-lev technology. Right now the trains are powered by electric motors which means efficiency losses, exposed high voltage lines, and moving parts that wear out. Mag-lev would operate by switching electromagnets on and off - no moving parts. So it potentially could save a lot of money on maintenance and wear and tear in the future.
RE: Good of the people
9/2/2013 11:09:37 PM
It doesn't work by switching electromagnets on and off. Superconducting maglev works in two ways: the propulsion technology and the suspension technology.
The propulsion technology is a linear synchronous motor: current is fed in sequence to one segment of the guideway after another (not to the whole guideway unlike with standard electric rail catenaries) so that the current attracts and repels the on-board superconducting magnets in quick alternation, thereby driving the vehicle forward. The frequency at which the alternations take place determines the speed of forward motion: the speed is synchronous with the alternations of current in the section of guideway.
The suspension technology relies on the power of the superconducting magnets, once they move past the guideway loops at over 30 km/h: above that speed, the movement of the magnets past the loops induces current in the guidance loops, which creates an equal repulsive magnetic field. The configuration of the windings creates a "null flux" circuit, i.e. one that automatically seeks an equilibrium position for the passing superconducting magnets that reduces electrical flux in each winding circuit to zero: if the vehicle's magnets rise too high, that induces current in the upper side of the windings that automatically generates a repulsive magnetic field on that side, repelling the on-board superconducting magnets back downward. Similarly, if the superconducting magnets deviate downward from the equilibrium position, that side of the windings automatically generates an equal countervailing magnetic force that restores the magnets upward to the equilibrium position (nominally about 2 cm below a position absolutely centred on the figure-8 windings).
Lateral stability is provided by a third set of windings, again distinct from the electrically-powered propulsion windings and the unconnected figure-8 vertical stability windings. Simple rectangular loops on either wall generate a magnetic field when the superconducting magnets move past them, equal in strength to the SC magnets' field. When some force (wind, centrifugal force on turns, etc.) pushes the vehicle (and its magnets) away from equilibrium position toward one of the walls, that generates an equal repulsive magnetic field that restores the vehicle to equilibrium position between the two walls.
So, apart from the initial electrical charge that creates the SC magnets, the only electricity needed to power the system is the short bursts fed into sequential segments of the guideway.
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