Riding the Maglev train
January 16, 2006 12:58 AM   Subscribe

Riding the Maglev: The japanese super-train has been undergoing tests for a number of years (previous MeFi-post). The Shanghai Maglev Train is already in service. What is now just a run on the test track could become the second maglev route in service and perhaps eventually replace the famous Shinkansen bullet train? 500 km/h: from Tokyo to Osaka in an hour?
posted by bering (37 comments total)
kick ass. Thanks.
posted by greasepig at 1:35 AM on January 16, 2006

Very interesting. I like the tijuana-vancouver idea. Somehow I can't ever see something like this catching on in the west.
posted by Acey at 1:45 AM on January 16, 2006

That bystander pass-by part of the video is sweet...so sweet it makes me think that surely this will never be built. Also looks like the view out the window at speed would induce vomiting but the passenger seem ok I guess.
posted by well_balanced at 1:50 AM on January 16, 2006

As an aside, OpenDemocracy has an editorial about a proposed Maglev link between Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland - I'm from the area, so I've blogged my feelings about it here with a little context on the Scottish brain drain.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:01 AM on January 16, 2006

Hot damn - that's somewhat faster than the rather pedestrian maglev that I remember being introduced at Birmingham International... :-o
posted by Chunder at 2:21 AM on January 16, 2006

I'm pretty psyched about these new trains not only because they'll be super fast but also because they're taking a different (and shorter) route from Tokyo to Osaka than the existing Shinkansens. They'll be going through more northern area's of central Honshu and then cross the existing Tokai Shinkansen to make a stop in Nara, which will make getting out of Tokyo and in to more interesting parts of Japan all that much easier.
The new maglev line in Japan is still going to be called Shinkansen (the Central Line) and the existing Shinkansen lines probably aren't going to be phased out any time soon.
posted by mexican at 2:44 AM on January 16, 2006

There's a Baltimore-Washington Maglev project under consideration, as part of a grander Eastern Seaboard Maglev plan, but I despair of it ever getting off the ground.
posted by brownpau at 2:47 AM on January 16, 2006

posted by mexican at 2:56 AM on January 16, 2006

Holy cow that's a fast train. Noisy, too. Though probably not as noisy, overall, as an American diesel-electric frieght.

Somehow, though, I doubt it has the same romance as an old shake and shimmy, glide and slide AmTrak line. Nonetheless, trains are sexy. One of these days I'll win the lottery, lease a tourist car and contract to have it towed all over the place and just live on it for a while. (Yeah, apparently you can still do that.)

Meanwhile, the German ICE (Inter-City Express) is already running plain old electric traction-motive trains at speeds of up to 300 km/h (186 mph), with experimental units exceeding 400 km/h (248 mph). Spain is planning it's AVE trains at 350 km/h (217 mph).

Makes me wonder if maglev is really worth it, cost-wise. Sure, it's neat technology, but is it really the best choice? Most efficient? Safest? I have no idea - I'm neither an engineer, nor an engineer.

All I know is I totally want to take another train ride before Congress kills off AmTrak - and before some private sector industry fills the gap.

That AmTrak Pacific Surfliner route is teh ubersexy. No, I don't want it to go 300 mph. I don't even want it to go 100 mph. 30-70 is plenty fast - it's a route to savor and enjoy. It wouldn't be the same in some hermetically sealed bullet train going way too fast to enjoy the scenery. I just wish they actually had a smoking-permitted lounge car with a real bar like they used to - but, hey, smoke breaks on the station platform get you outside for a few minutes for a quick stretch of the legs and a look around before continuing onward.
posted by loquacious at 3:02 AM on January 16, 2006

It's a fantastic use of advancing technology, but dear god! The seat covers!
posted by NinjaPirate at 4:30 AM on January 16, 2006

Pretty amazing, but something tells me Concorde-like uneconomic. And yes, the seatcovers!
posted by ParisParamus at 4:38 AM on January 16, 2006

There's *no* reason, other than government subsidy of the Trucking and Airline industries, that high speed intercity rail can't work in the US. The Midwest is almost perfect for TGV style trains. 125MPH on dedicated track means downtown St. Louis to downtown Chicago in less than three hours, 200MPH means well less than two hours. These times -- less than three for 125MPH, less than two for 200MPH, apply to a large number of city pairs in the US.

But it won't happen. Trains are the enemy of trucks and planes, who give lots of money to Congress. Indeed, I'm partly convinced the reason Amtrak isn't dead is that it is useful to the trucking and air lobbies as "proof" that trains aren't workable.
posted by eriko at 5:24 AM on January 16, 2006

What's wrong with the seat covers? I've caught the standard Shinkansen on numerous occasions (although the fastest one is only 270 kmh or so) and the inside of that maglev looks almost exactly like a standard modern Shinkansen carriage. The seats are actually quite nice.
posted by Meridian at 5:32 AM on January 16, 2006

A little more -- high speed trains don't work, economically, in the mountain west. The city pairs are too far apart. Dallas/KC/MSP is pretty much the western line.

The coastal West is borderline. San Diego to LA and Portland to Seattle are the obvious first tracks, then LA to San Francisco, then possibly the connection to make the West Coast Line one line -- but Portland to San Francisco is a long haul, it might be four hours between the two.

You might get a coast to coast line running along the southern tier -- LA to Phoenix and Las Vegas, both to Salt Lake City, SC to Phoenix and Tucson, Tucson to LA, but then it's a long stretch to San Antonio/Dallas. I don't think it would be workable.

The key factor here is time. If the rail link takes longer than a plane, it's probably not going to work, if it takes much longer, it won't. You wouldn't see many people going Minneapolis to Dallas, even with high speed rail. Yeah, it might be two hours to Chicago from Minneapolis (WIN!), but then it's two hours to St. Louis (Uh, workable), then two hours to Little Rock (err.) then two hours to Dallas (hmm.) Add in train changes and station stops, and you're pushing 11 hours. A plane will take two.

So, the Mountain west is a problem for passenger rail -- even at 200MPH, it's just too big. You have a sort-of-connected triangle of cities in the southern middle -- SLC/Denver/Albuquerque, but they're borderline range to each other. In the northern half, you have almost nothing of size between Minneapolis and Portland/Seattle. 200MPH trains are going to take all day to cross that, and I don't see the traffic to justify.

On the East Coast, it's a different world. Indeed, 200MPH may be unworkable in the Northeast, because they'd stop too much. It's no accident that the one train we have that you can even consider high speed runs here. But true high speed lets you bring in Pittsburgh, the "C" cities of Ohio, the Triad and Triangle of North Carolina, and Atlanta. Intercity Florida is another obvious place where they'd really work well.
posted by eriko at 5:41 AM on January 16, 2006

A terrorist attack of some kind on such a train travelling at top speed would be rather... spectacular, wot?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:58 AM on January 16, 2006

As a hobo, I find this problematic.
posted by hal9k at 6:06 AM on January 16, 2006

As a hobo, I find this problematic.

Love your work!
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:22 AM on January 16, 2006

I still haven't heard word 1 about how they solved the problem of two of these trains passing each other at a relative speed of 1,000 kph. The result was describe as a catastrophic accident after computer simulations at least 5 years ago. Also, when two trains entered a tunnel from opposite sides, the windows imploded.
posted by planetkyoto at 6:28 AM on January 16, 2006

Wait, aren't maglev trains supposed to be quiet, non-polluting and all that shit?

Uneconomical... oh yes, could be wrong, but I remember hearing somewhere that it costs less to take a taxi from Shanghai airport to city-center than it is to take a mag-lev. Will still take the mag-lev myself, though, just as I took the ICE in Germany for exactly 30 minutes between Essen and Dusseldorf Flughafen, before flying; high-speed trains are too sexy to resist!
posted by the cydonian at 6:55 AM on January 16, 2006

But true high speed lets you bring in Pittsburgh, the "C" cities of Ohio

I strongly agree that any sort of high-speed connection between Cincinnati-Columbus-Cleveland with possibilities west to Chicago or St. Louis or east to Pittsburgh, NYC or DC would really open up the area. I drive Cleveland-Cincinnati once a month and would love a quick train connection instead of the boring and slow I-71 route.

I recently took an Intercity route from Bucharest to Iasi (Eastern Romania). It was clean, comfortable, inexpensive and quick. You'd think that if Romania can upgrade some of their rail lines, the US would be more than capable.

It seems that it is a matter of competing interests and lobbies, as others have said above.
posted by vkxmai at 7:09 AM on January 16, 2006

As a hobo, I find this problematic.

Step one: Walk into the nearest town and roll some brat for their rollerskates.

Step two: Take your bindle apart, put all the loose stuff in your pockets, tie your roll to your bindlestick to make a crude sail.

Step three: Stand near the tracks and wait for a train. Catch the breeze in your sail and hang the fuck on. Before you know it you'll be in Toledo. If you didn't want to go to Toledo, turn around and wait for a train. Before you know it you'll be in Albuquerque. Keep an eye skint for the yard bulls, they're armed with pebbles.
posted by loquacious at 7:56 AM on January 16, 2006

I walked through a full-size mock-up in Japan last year, and then sat in a theatre and watched a 3D film, which was really cool. It has a retractable undercarriage - wheels until 200 kph or so and then they retract up.
posted by carter at 8:01 AM on January 16, 2006

Portland to San Francisco is a long haul, it might be four hours between the two.

That doesn't seem like a long train trip to me at all -- I take the Amtrak Acela between Boston and Philly all the time, at about 5 hours. Flying time would be only about 45 minutes, but time is not the only factor. Even with Amtrak's notorious unreliability, it's a far more civilized experience. There's stuff outside to look at, you can get up and walk around, sit next to only one person in seats designed for real people.

Not to mention that when you add in travel time to often-distant airports, pre-flight wait and security screenings, the time difference often nearly evaporates.
posted by nev at 8:04 AM on January 16, 2006

Yup - Eurostar for London-Paris competes on city centre to city centre convenience, overall time spent travelling, and price.
posted by carter at 8:15 AM on January 16, 2006

I'm so throwing mama from this.
posted by I Foody at 8:49 AM on January 16, 2006

I'd rather take a train that adds an hour on to a trip if I don't have to deal with airlines (the lost luggage, having to book a trip so far in advance, having to have such a strict schedule to stick to). Let business travelers take the planes and let the rest of enjoy the journey of the train. I'd love an Orient Express experience.

It'd only work in the US if they would make trips without stops, so I could take the NYC-KC train without having to hit the dozen or so cities along the way. It'd never work though, not enough of a lobby behind it.
posted by geoff. at 9:02 AM on January 16, 2006

Stuff like this *might* work on the west coast. At least Sacramento -> SF Bay Area -> LA. Problem is paying for it. Heck, we can't even get people to pay an extra $100 per year on property taxes to keep schools open, much less pay for trains. We can't even get BART into the South Bay Area. The cost keeps going up and up and up.

So, we'll just sit back and bitch about traffic while the rest of the planet builds cool stuff like this. :-\
posted by drstein at 10:18 AM on January 16, 2006

Anyone have a guestimate what this costs (say a 3 hour long track if u want to be specific)? Because a 15 mile long monorail was project to be around 1.7 billion, and it seemed alot for a glorified peoplemover in Seattle, and I wonder how it compares to the maglev.
posted by uni verse at 10:23 AM on January 16, 2006

typo: was (projected)
posted by uni verse at 10:24 AM on January 16, 2006

DrStein, we were thinking the same thing. I know it wouldn't work (American commuters don't expect efficient, clean, public transportation as birthright, damn the cost) but I am just curious.
posted by uni verse at 10:27 AM on January 16, 2006

But true high speed lets you bring in Pittsburgh, the "C" cities of Ohio

Train lovers of the world, unite and take over.
posted by well_balanced at 10:59 AM on January 16, 2006

Man, that is awesome. I wish they had one of these running between Dallas and Austin.

What does it cost to ride this thing?
posted by dios at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2006

ParisParamus writes "Pretty amazing, but something tells me Concorde-like uneconomic."

I don't know; if they can beat flight times between the target cities, it seems like it would have to work. While rails represent a bigger infrastructure investment, the ongoing operating costs for airplanes are crazy-high.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:12 AM on January 16, 2006

Shinkansen, biyatch.
posted by bardic at 12:37 PM on January 16, 2006

eriko see California High Speed Rail project. They've been talking about this one for years...
posted by marvin at 1:05 PM on January 16, 2006

Not sure if this is bad netiquette, but here's a direct link to a high speed train-related video:


If you wanna view it via the site, then go to http://www.skoopy.com/ and scroll down to the Some quality British humor video link.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:18 PM on January 16, 2006

They started working on this system in the 80's and it hasn't gotten that far in 20 years. They had a demo train on a 1/4 mile track at Expo '86 in Vancouver. (see pics part way down). They called it the HSST back then (High Speed Surface Transport).
posted by SSinVan at 12:41 AM on January 17, 2006

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