Japan Prepares to Go Beyond High Speed With Maglev Trains

maglevJapan has long been at the forefront of high speed rail development since they laid down the first tracks for the Shinkansen system back in the 1960s. Since then, the bullet trains in Japan have grown into the busiest high speed rail line in the world and serve as the example for what high speed rail can become in other countries. Now, with the bullet train technology getting up there in age, Japan is preparing to put plans into motion to adopt a magnetic levitation system within the next twenty years.

According to an announcement by the Central Japan Railway Company, there are currently plans in place to improve upon an existing 178 miles of track in order to allow the implementation of magnetic levitation trains. The tracks in question are already a part of the company’s popular Tokyo to Osaka line that has been ferrying passengers between the two cities on bullet trains for years. The new trains, which are capable of a top speed of 310 miles per hour, are expected to take only forty minutes to pass between the two cities, which is down from the previous ninety-five minutes with the bullet trains, creating a more desirable on-ground transportation service. The trains would be, like the current bullet trains, designed to operate solely off electric systems.

Though the plans may be nearing the point where they can be put into effect only now, Japan has been experimenting with maglev train technology since the late 1990s. The technology has been developed not only with the improvement of Japan’s rail system in mind but also with an eye on selling the technology overseas. Last year, the Central Japan Railway Company began to work closely with the United States transportation secretary and other officials to determine if Obama’s plans to support high speed rail development would provide a market for the Japanese company. With China quickly developing high speed rail technology themselves, Japan believes it is critical to stay ahead of the game and secure customers for their own maglev technology.

The current plan for the implementation of the maglev trains in Japan is to have them ready for operation by 2027. The project, which is expected to cost an estimated $64 billion, could be only the beginning of another plan to further expand the Japanese high speed rail lines to accommodate more trains and lines by 2047. With both Japan and China furiously working towards developing maglev technology, it should be interesting to see whether Japan, the veterans in the high speed rail game, will come out on top.

Photo Credit: Collin Grady

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