Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Japan's Maglev Train

Japan has been working on a Maglev train system for several years. I love the idea of Maglev for many reasons including the higher rate of speed versus non-maglev and it's a good alternative to polluting jetliners for short to medium distances. For trains to compete against air travel in the United States, one of the factors that should be considered is speed. I think maglev is the best system to offer that.

I only wish California would realize that. They are proposing to build a non-maglev high speed train between San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2030 but it is proposed to have only a top speed of 220 miles per hour or about 350 km/hour. The Japanese maglev is expected to have top speeds over 500 km/hour or about 310 mph, almost 100 miles per hour faster then the proposed California system.

Here are some facts from Japan's Railway Technical Research Institute website (RTRI) about Japan's maglev train being tested in Yamanashi Prefecture:

Maglev, a combination of superconducting magnets and linear motor technology, realizes super high-speed running, safety, reliability, low environmental impact and minimum maintenance.

Research and development of Maglev has been underway at RTRI of JNR since 1970. After fundamental tests in the laboratory to verify the feasibility of high-speed running at 500 km/h, the construction work of a 7-km test track began in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1975. The manned two-car vehicle MLU001 registered a speed of 400.8 km/h in 1987. And the latest vehicle MLU002N, which debuted in 1993, was running on the Miyazaki Maglev Test Track.

A landmark for Maglev occurred in 1990 when it gained the status of a nationally-funded project. The Minister of Transport authorized construction of the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line, targeting the final confirmation of Maglev for practical use.

The new test line called the Yamanashi Maglev Test Line opened on April 3, 1997 and is now being used to perform running tests in Yamanashi Prefecture. In the same year, the Maglev vehicle MLX01 in a three-car train set achieved world speed records, attaining a maximum speed of 531 km/h in a manned vehicle run on December 12, and a maximum speed of 550 km/h in an unmanned vehicle run on December 24. On March 18, 1999, MLX01 in a five-car train set attained a maximum speed of 548 km/h. On April 14, 1999, this five-car train set surpassed the speed record of the three-car train set, attaining a maximum speed of 552 km/h in a manned vehicle run.

In March 2000, the Maglev Practical Technology Evaluation Committee of the Ministry of Transport of Japan concluded, "the JR-Maglev has the practicability for ultra high speed mass transportation system". The Committee also pointed out the necessity of further running tests for the following purposes: (1) Confirmation of long-term durability and reliability, (2) Cost reduction of its construction and operation, (3) Improvement of the aerodynamics of vehicles for environmental impacts. The technical development of the Maglev has been in the second phase since fiscal 2000. On December 2, 2003, this three-car train set attained a maximum speed of 581 km/h in a manned vehicle run.


A new Shinkansen Maglev line has already been proposed for several years to be completed in 2025. It is called the Chuo Shinkansen, bypassing the Tokaido Shinkansen, and will travel from Tokyo to the Chukyo region and Osaka.

As the cost of gas continues to rise and the the threats to the environment become more real, I home people in the United States (and elsewhere) come to realize the benefits of high speed rail versus airline travel.


  1. Very interesting post, thanks for finding this. I had no idea they were working on such trains. I bet the spin-off from the research also has provided many benefits to other train developments.

    Now if they could only make some of the slow, local trains run a little more smoothly ;)

  2. Thank you Martin. I would also hope the technology would spin over here to the States.

  3. The current shinkansen shakes a lot in Shizuoka sometimes. I hope that the mag-lev can handle the wind.

  4. My guess is it will be even smoother, even in the wind.

  5. slow local trains in Japan that run on time is way better than trains that is never on schedule.

    Interesting development. Would love to get the chance to board one in future.