Japan prepares to build 500km/h maglev line

11 November 2013
By Lorna Sharpe
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JR Central's L0 maglev train makes a test run in September 2013

JR Central's L0 maglev train makes a test run in September 2013

Japan is pressing ahead with a new ultra-high-speed railway line using superconducting maglev technology, with trains running at 500km/h (311mph).

Following successful trials on a test track earlier this year, Central Japan Railway Company has decided to press ahead with the Chuo Shinkansen line between Tokyo and Nagoya, almost 50 years after the first ‘bullet train’ came into service in 1964. It will finance the project itself.

That first line, the Tokaido Shinkansen, ran along the coastal plain between Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, halving the time for the full 515km (320 mile) journey to three hours ten minutes and making it possible to complete a return business trip in one day. Such was its success that the construction costs were repaid within eight years and further high-speed lines were built across the country, inspiring other nations to follow suit.

Now JR Central is planning a new line eventually serving the same three cities but taking an inland route passing (literally) through much more mountainous terrain. Indeed, the company recently announced that 86 per cent of the Tokyo-Nagoya section will run underground. The line is scheduled to open in 2027, with an extension to Osaka by 2045.

In preparation, the company is extending its Yamanashi maglev test line from 18.4km to 42.8km. This line already incorporates tunnels and steep gradients, with twin track sections for high-speed passing tests.

New Series L0 rolling stock is also in production, incorporating innovative superconducting magnets that can create very large magnetic fields. When current is passed through propulsion coils on the ground the train is propelled forward. Greater acceleration and higher speeds are possible than with standard maglev technology. The first of these new trains was unveiled in June 2013.

Between them the three metropolitan areas of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka account for 90 per cent of Japan’s rail passengers.

Details of the Chuo Shinkansen project were revealed at a seminar in London to mark the long history of railway cooperation between Japan and the UK. It was part of a series of events celebrating the 150th anniversary of the arrival in Britain of the so-called ‘Choshu Five’ – a group of young Japanese men who studied at University College London and all subsequently contributed in various ways to the modernisation of their country.

All members of the Choshu clan from western Japan, they secretly left the country in 1863 during a period of political turbulence and arrived in Britain that November with the intention of learning about the western world. In later years two became Japan’s first Prime Minister and Foreign Minister. A third, Masaru Inoue, studied civil and engineering and mining while he was in London. Returning home in 1868 he went on to work for the government and was instrumental in the planning and construction of Japan’s railway system. Later he founded the country’s first locomotive manufacturing company.

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