Japan's MLX01-90 maglev train test vehicle
Magnetic-levitation trains are sort of like domestic robots or supersonic airliners --It's a technology that's often touted as a vision of the future, but it's a future which seems to take an awfully long time to get here. The basic principle behind mag-lev in pretty simple: Install heavy-duty magenets in the underside of a train to create an electromagnetic force strong enough to counteract gravity when the magnets come in contact with a steel railway. Instead of rolling across the rails, the train floats just above them, prividing smooth, fast, and friction-free travel.
That's the theory. In practice, only a few high-speed maglev trains have actually been built, and to date only one -- the shuttle from Pudong Airport to downtown Shanghai, China -- operates in regular service. But testing continues elsewhere in the world, most notably in Japan, where plans are afoot to launch maglev train service by 2025. The AP reports:
TOKYO - Magnetic trains zooming at a landscape-blurring 500 kilometers (310 miles) an hour will connect Tokyo and Nagoya by 2025, one of Japan's biggest railway operators said Friday.
The new magnetically levitated, or "maglev," trains would slash the 100-minute travel time down the country's busiest transportation corridor and are envisioned as a successor for Japan's iconic bullet trains, or shinkansen, first introduced to the world in 1964.
Currently, China is the only country running a commercial high-speed magnetic levitation train service, running from Shanghai's financial district to its main international airport.
The line will be operated by Central Japan Railway Co., known for its pointy-nosed white and blue shinkansen. Skimming over a guideway on powerful magnetic fields without touching the track, maglevs are among the world's fastest trains, and Japan's has clocked a world record speed of up to 581 kilometers (360 miles) per hour.
"The shinkansen is coming close to its limits in terms of technology and service," a spokeswoman from Central Japan Railway, also known as JR Tokai, said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.
The company is aiming to link the Tokyo and Nagoya regions in 2025, but details about the route and exact timing are still being decided, she said. Nagoya is Japan's fourth largest city, with about 2.1 million people.
The spokeswoman declined to give an estimate for the cost of linking the capital with the Nagoya area about 269 kilometers (168 miles) to the west. But Kyodo News agency said the whole project would cost about 9 trillion yen (US$76.3 billion) and be divided between the company and the central and local governments.