Daibutsu, Kamakura

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

310 mph Shinkansen

Below is an article from the Los Angeles Times about the future of high speed trains in Japan. I really wish the United States would build these types of trains, especially between crowded cities such as San Diego and Los Angeles. In California, they are proposing to build a high speed train line between LA and San Francisco. However, the "highspeed" train my not even top 200 mph, while Japan is already working on trains that will travel over 300 mph. If California wants to get people to use cleaner trains rather then dirty airliners, the trains need to be faster.

From the Los Angeles Times


Japan: Blurring the line between bullets and trains

It's not enough that trains run on time in Japan -- they've got to break land records. In 2025, the country plans to be traveling by rail at 310 mph.
By John M. Glionna

March 24, 2009

Reporting from Nagoya, Japan — This is a nation addicted to speed.

And to ride Japan's super Shinkansen, or bullet train, is to zip into the future at speeds reaching 186 miles per hour.

From Nagoya to Tokyo, the scenery whizzes past in a dizzying blur as the sleek engine with its bullet-like nose floats the cars along elevated tracks -- without the clickety-clack of the lumbering U.S. trains that make you feel as though you're chugging along like cattle to market.

These days, Californians dream of a future with high-speed elevated rails that would link Southern California and Las Vegas in less than two hours, or L.A. and San Francisco in just over 2 1/2 .

Japan, meanwhile, will soon have a class of train that could make the trips in less than half those times.

This is a nation where it's not nearly enough that the trains run on time -- they've got to break land records. And even that's not enough.

By 2025, a network of bullet trains connecting major cities is to feature magnetically levitated, or maglev, linear motor trains running at speeds of more than 310 mph.

Developed for use during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Shinkansen trains were the brainchild of Hideo Shima, a government engineer who died a decade ago at the age of 96. Over the years, the trains have signaled Japanese prosperity, a gauge of just how far this technology-crazed culture has come and where it's headed.

Designed to traverse Japan's mountainous terrain, the trains use tunnels and viaducts to go through and over obstacles rather than around them. They travel on elevated tracks without road crossings and apart from conventional rail. An automated control system eliminates the need for signals.

Officials boast that on average the trains are less than half a minute late each year, which includes delays caused by earthquakes, typhoons and snow. During the line's 45-year history and transport of 7 billion passengers, there have been no deaths from derailment or collisions.

An E-5 series of train scheduled to take to the rails in 2011 promises speeds of nearly 200 mph, improved suspensions and a car-tilting system to make the ride more comfortable on curves. Power-reclining shell seats in first class will provide what engineers call a "peaceful and soothing time during your travels."

Amtrak, eat your heart out.

But Japan isn't stopping there.

The trains planned for 2025 will reduce the travel time between Tokyo and Nagoya to 40 minutes from about 90 minutes. At that speed, commuters could go from L.A. to the Bay Area in just over an hour. Rail officials say as many as 200,000 passengers could use the line daily.

Still, the Shinkansen isn't perfect.

The trains often cause a rail version of a sonic boom as they emerge from tunnels. That's because they enter so fast that they create a bubble of air pressure that is pushed along until they emerge.

The trains remain in stations for only two minutes -- not a moment more or less -- before easing out and quickly gaining speed. By the time they reach top velocity, the world has begun to change. There's no tooth-jarring shudder as when jets lumber down the runway. This ride is smooth. The turns are gentle, peaceful, even serene, though every once in a while a passenger is awakened by the boom of a train passing by or exiting a tunnel.

For the most part, you don't realize you're traveling faster than almost any other man-made land vehicle until you look out the window and see the scenery passing by so fuzzily that you think you've lost your glasses.

For most of the ride you settle into your seat, buy a beer or coffee from the passing snack cart and realize once again that you're not in America anymore.



  1. The rails in the USA have been poorly managed and having AMTRAK run them hasn't been stellar. The main problem is the tracks used. The train legacy in the USA used shorter rails. Hence all the clacking. The rails in Europe and Asia are longer runs of steel that are welded together and can carry the high speed trains. With all the money being spent on infrastructure in the USA, it'd be nice to see high speed trains running from NYC to Chicago, LA to SF and Chicago to LA. I never drive to NYC from where I live, I take the train. While the train isn't high speed, I am spared the misery of commuting on NY state roads, which are among the worst in the nation.

  2. Most of the infrastructure money is spent on building or widening roads and highways. The fact is the government says it wants people to drive less and use less gas but they subsidize and encourage Americans to drive more by spending so much money on highway projects.

  3. I heartily agree. The USA needs mass transit and not just for the cities. Do you think people would drive to work if they could take a bus, trolley or train? I'd gladly take a mass transit system where I live if that were available.

  4. This is an interesting article.

    JR turns over billions of yen a year in just profits alone, so building such high speed trains is feasible. Most people in L.A.,however,commute to work by car whereas in Japan you don't even need a car, so it's also practical.

    There is simply not enough demand for highspeed rail lines in the U.S.

  5. Partly because Americans are addicted to their cars, partly because car travel has long been subsidized and encouraged through massive highway construction and extremely low gas taxes.

  6. Man, I'd love it if the US would upgrade its rail infrastructure. Back in Seattle where I am from, they were starting to do this with some light-rail services to/from Seattle and surrounding cities, but local govt. incompetence along with some resistance has slowed progress, and it's nowhere near what I've seen in Japan.

    In all fairness though, Japan is a highly centralized, dense population, while the US isn't, so there may be challenges we're not seeing.

    Still, might as well start now. Gas ain't really getting cheaper, or more plentiful, and I am not yet sold on biodiesel, given that it's consuming an already strained world food supply.

  7. It's true that Japan is more densely populated. But even in denser areas of Southern California, people would rather drive and when there are proposals to build rail in certain areas or more density, local neighborhood groups protest and it never gets done. So we all have to suffer in traffic with very few options for mass transit rail. Buses are not a good option because they have to sit in traffic as well so they take hours to get across town. The only real answer is rail and subway.

  8. There has been talk of a high-speed line connecting Chicago and St. Paul, Minnesota for years but it always gets killed.

  9. I love riding the Nozomi Shinkansen from Shin-Yokohama to Kyoto with only the one stop in Nagoya. The ride is so smooth, and on a clear day the view of Fuji is incredible (not during the summer, of course), and watching it come into view and fade away in a relatively short time is awesome.

  10. Sixmats, people prefer their cars in the States.

    Billywest, it would be pretty amazing to experience a high speed train like that going through California.

  11. Well, the high-speed train model can work outside Japan. I recently had occasion to make two business trips, Zurich-to-Paris and back. After taking the plane to Charles de Gaulle airport (Europe's worst airport in equal place with London Heathrow) on the first trip, I opted for the French train de grande vitesse (TGV) for the second. Takes longer than the plane, but infinitely more civilised .... I hope California too learns to love the train.

  12. I hope Cali comes around also. I only wish they would try for an even faster train and expand it to other areas like Phoenix.

  13. Some quality modern railways would be great and would help solve problems. Maybe if California takes the lead, the federal government will catch on.

  14. California often leads the nation in innovation so I hope they will here as well.

  15. Anonymous3:21 AM

    Oh well, no 20kg baggage weight limit on trains. That alone is a major advantage over planes.