Japan’s JR Central rail operator has recently unveiled its SCMaglev high-speed hover-train prototype, eventually destined to run from Tokyo to Osaka via Nagoya in a journey time of just 67 minutes. The company’s current high-speed Shinkansen service takes approximately 2 hours 30 minutes between the two cities.
A massive challenge for civil engineers will lie in the topography of the planned route. In order to be straight enough to allow top speeds of up to 500kph (311mph) when open to the public, the track will be required to run through approximately 250km of tunnels – many of them through the Japanese Alps – representing about 86% of the route.
In a nutshell, this is how the train uses “superconducting magnetic levitation”. According to a report in the UK’s Financial Times newspaper, it is “propelled by powerful supercooled magnets along a walled track known as a ‘guideway’. The train runs on rubber wheels until it reaches 100kph, at which point it floats to 10cm above the ground. The lack of friction allows it to reach its record-breaking speeds”. It is also said to be extremely difficult to derail.
On the subject of speed, a JR Central prototype has so far attained a blistering 580kph (360mph) in tests last September, the world record for a train. However, recognition for the world’s first fully operational Maglev train goes to China. Since 2004, the Shanghai Transrapid service has linked Shanghai Pudong International Airport and central Pudong. Its top speed is a comparatively sedate 431kph (268mph).
Although the first section of the proposed new tracks between Tokyo and Nagoya won’t be operational until 2027, not reaching Osaka until 2045, it is hoped that the Maglev will showcase Japan’s advanced engineering capabilities to the world in the nation’s run-up to the 2020 Olympics.
JR Central also hopes to interest other countries, such as the USA, in buying its Maglev train technology to help fund the project. The estimated cost currently stands at some Y9bn ($89bn), which JR Central will bear in its entirety.