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Riding the World's Fastest Train @ 500 kph 588

angkor writes "Riding the world's fastest train @ 500 kph - some lucky people got a chance to ride on this experimental train. The Japan Times has the story." I like the part where the wheels retract as it starts picking up speed, with the train floating 10cm over the tracks. If only the California high-speed rail system was up and running.
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Riding the World's Fastest Train @ 500 kph

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  • ouch (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:38AM (#3684518) Homepage Journal
    this will make for some spectacular derailments if Amtrak gets their hands on it
    • Oh come on, Amtrak are mere amateurs at screwing up. For a real fuck-up you need to get Railtrack involved. They'll contract all the maintenance out to some other firm who'll get inexperienced people to look at it once in a blue moon, and announce massive profits just after a major train crash with several fatalities.

      Well, that's the way we do it in England...
  • Shame, really... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Perianwyr Stormcrow ( 157913 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:38AM (#3684521) Homepage
    It'll be forever before we have such a lovely thing in the US, with our collective allergy to mass transit...

    The rest of the world has the right of it, I think, sometimes.
    • by Baki ( 72515 )
      Huh, in what way is an aeroplane not mass transit?

      Such high speed trains are meant to replace aeroplanes up to middle distance (say up to 1000km).

      Much more economic (both moneywise and fuel consumption), faster because shorter check-in times, safer.
    • It'll be forever before we have such a lovely thing in the US, with our collective allergy to mass transit...

      We don't even carpool. I can't see how mass transit will ever take hold outside crowded urban areas. Offer tax incentives for mass transit and more people will do it. If a round-trip ticket to DC was $20, I might consider it.

    • Re:Shame, really... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by bjb ( 3050 )
      Collective allergy to mass transit?

      You obviously don't know (at least) New York City. Yes, there are thousands of cars on the streets, but we have a very good mass transit system in the tri-state area (NY, NJ and CT) that carries hundreds of thousands of commuters into the city every day. The NYC mass transit system alone registers nearly 2.3 billion riders a year (about 6.3 million a day).

      I will agree with your argument in other areas, however. I think that in many places in the country, they have nowhere near the mass transit system of other countries. Never really noticed much in Denver or Cleveland. Granted, things are little more spread out there.

  • I hate flying. The cramped seats. The claustrophobia. The ridiculous rules about standing and walking around...

    I'd much rather travel by train, but it's always been much too slow. Even though these new trains are still slower than flying, they make up the difference quite a bit.

    A smooth, relaxing train ride where all seats are Business class or better? Sign me up.
    • I would also love to see somethng like this in the states.But before that, I would love to have a U.S. non-local train system that would cost less than flyinganyhoo, regarding the time difference, you figure youre going to spend a good two extra hours at airports due to tightened security now anyways, for relatively short trips it probably wouldnt make that much difference. a 747 flies at what, like 550-600mph. this train is at about 325mph (not top speed). If you want to go from say, Baltimore to Denver (about 1500 miles), the time in the airport and on the plane, then waiting for luggage will probably be about the same as hopping on the crystal-meth train.wild, wild stuff. "I think Bigfoot is blurry...and thats extra scary to me"
    • In Europe (as in the USA from what I read in other comments) the railway system has had a lot of problems: not being on time, bad management, bad equipment, bad products, ...

      But in the last few years Railway operators have discovered the business market and are offering new (high speed) products towards that market.

      Thalys [] and Eurostar [] are two great examples. They interconnect a few major cities in differnt European countries. Especially THALYS (connecting Brussels (B), Amsterdam (NL) and Colone (D) amongst others) is a big success. It's not much faster or cheaper than flying, but it's much more luxurious and they drive you right to the city centre.
      Eurostar (connecting Brussels, Paris and London)is not yet very successful, but that's because can't yet benifit from high speeds on the English tracks.
      • European trains (Score:3, Informative)

        by lohen ( 122373 )
        Train quality varies across Europe. In the UK, it's pretty poor, with a recent increase in accidents linked to badly managed privatisation and a company called Railtrack who stopped investments in the basic maintenance required for a safe service. But then the trains here have been going downhill for a long time here generally, particularly in comparison to the rest of Europe.

        All across continental Europe, you'd be right to compliment the trains. France, Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia have perfectly good systems in my experience (sorry about the random selection - I don't normally travel by train and there's a lot of Europe I haven't been to anyway), although Romania is a bit ropey.

    • I'd much rather travel by train, but it's always been much too slow. Even though these new trains are still slower than flying, they make up the difference quite a bit.

      Actually, due to all the fun airport security, there are places where the train is faster now (i.e. Boston to New York, since Amtrak runs straight into Penn Station)

      'Cause I hate flying too. :) And the train has bigger seats, so when people fall asleep, they don't fall on me.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Talking about fast trains.
    One surprising effect on the TGV (the fast french train) is that you can feel positive and negative vertical Gs (or at least centiGs) as the train goes over hills.
  • by Alien Being ( 18488 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:44AM (#3684545)
    - Godzilla
  • by delphi125 ( 544730 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:45AM (#3684546)
    "The inauguration of the maglev will break Japan's stagnation, both politically and economically," he reckoned.

    Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?

    Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.

    Although 'Maglev' doesn't quite roll off the tongue as well as 'Monorail' :)

  • I'd love for this train to become reality, but can it be made safe against terrorists?

    This article in the The Journal of Homeland Security [] talks all about mass transit being used as a tool for mass terrorism, including the 1995 derailment of the Sunset Limited in the Arizona desert. That incident killed 1 and injured 65 and it was not traveling at 500kph.

    Right now, the idea of maglev trains and all that exposed track scares me.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:51AM (#3684568)
      but can it be made safe against terrorists?

      No. We should never do anything ever again, just in case someone decides to break it.
    • High speed trains weigh substantially less than conventional trains. Conventional trains have at least one huge diesel-electric engine in front and the cars themselves are heavy. High speed trains like the shinkansen are lightweight electric trains. Riding in them feels much like riding in an airplane, except without the noise.

      Because they are so much lighter than conventional trains, they should produce less damage if they crash, even though they are moving faster. Remember, kinetic energy = mass times velocity squared (E_k = mv^2, Newtonian physics). Which would you rather be hit by, a two-ton pickup truck travelling at 20 miles per hour, or a tennis ball travelling at 60 miles per hour?

      • Because they are so much lighter than conventional trains, they should produce less damage if they crash, even though they are moving faster. Remember, kinetic energy = mass times velocity squared (E_k = mv^2, Newtonian physics). Which would you rather be hit by, a two-ton pickup truck travelling at 20 miles per hour, or a tennis ball travelling at 60 miles per hour?

        Velocity makes a far greater contribution to kenetic energy than mass. Also whilst the trains themselves might be lighter this does not make the passengers and their luggage lighter.
    • Here's the thing: The terrorists would have all sorts of nice targets using roads because they're everywhere. Think about what travels on those roads: Chemicals, explosives, materials that can burn or contaminate the area. Heck, even nuclear waste will likely be going through your area some time soon to Nevada! (Can't use trains, not much track left due to how the US privatized rail to expand the west.) Sure the terrorists can target trains, but they can plant a bomb on The Golden Gate Bridge too.* :-(

      * I'm saying this as an example my dear NSA and FBI. I am not a terrorist, and you shouldn't paint me as one because I also believe in encryption for privacy.

  • So baby, wanna become a member of the 500km/hr club?
  • What the?? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Erik K. Veland ( 574016 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:57AM (#3684584) Homepage
    "Electric boards at the entrances to the seating areas flash when the train's speed hits 452 kph, usually setting off excited cries and picture-taking among the passengers."
    Can someone please explain this one?

    What happen? Main electric board turn on. We get signal.

    • 452CE is the year that Prince Wakanohana Akebono is alleged to have descended from Heaven and begun the Imperial dynasty.

      From that point on the Japanese Imperial line has remained unbroken.
  • Priceless (Score:4, Funny)

    by Mattygfunk ( 517948 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @03:59AM (#3684591) Homepage
    10 quick beers before you go: $40
    Ticket on the new train: $110
    Accepting a dare from your mates: Free
    Being the first person to do a 500 kph face-plant into a low bridge while train surfing: Priceless
  • by Raindeer ( 104129 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:14AM (#3684647) Homepage Journal
    Siemens has a test track for a maglev train in Germany, just across the border with the Netherlands. Though it is a very popular destination with groups of students, politicians and housewives, it hasn't convinced anyone (with enough money) yet that it is a good idea to build.

    There have been two cases for it in Germany and the Netherlands, Hamburg-Berlin and Amsterdam-Groningen, both times it failed on the excessive costs that are nescessary to build this track. The main problem of the system lies in the fact that at speeds above 300km/hr the magnetic system creates a drag of its own, so the drag of the wheels and track have been substituted. Furthermore the aerodynamic drag turns out to be a much more important factor than they first expected. So instead of being signifficantly more efficient at high speeds, it is only marginally more efficient at a much higher investment cost. That is why both the Dutch and German government decided not to build production tracks.
    • by root_42 ( 103434 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:24AM (#3684672) Homepage
      Currently there are two lines in planning with Maglev technology in Germany. It's called the "Metrorapid", and one line is planned in Northrine Westphalia and the other one in Bavaria. They want to have the tracks ready for the next soccer world cup in 2006. You can find more information here [] (in german) or try the google translation [].
    • Furthermore the aerodynamic drag turns out to be a much more important factor than they first expected.

      I don't see drag as a serious problem since the only thing cooler than a high-speed, levitating train is a high-speed, levitating train with golf-ball dimples.

      • I don't see drag as a serious problem since the only thing cooler than a high-speed, levitating train is a high-speed, levitating train with golf-ball dimples.
        Golf balls have dimples because they spin rapidly in flight. I sure wouldn't want to ride a train that spun that fast. You'd have an awful lot of vomiting passengers.

        Have you ever seen aircraft with these dimples?
    • The German train is called "Transrapid", you can read everything about it here [] (there's an english version also). It's actually quite old already. Siemens and Thyssen have been running a test track for it since 1984!!! It's been ready for "real life" use for years now.

      The original plan to build a track Berlin - Hamburg has been scrapped after years of planning in 2000 due to high costs. Now two alternative tracks are planned, one in Bavaria and one in Northrhine-Westfalia. The only case, in which Germany was successful in selling this train is China. There's a short track being build in Shanghai, with the hope to get an additional order for a long track between Shanghai and Beijing.

      By now the Transrapid is seen in Germany as an example where an advantage in technology is being lost due to not enough courage to take a risk (i.e. build a track). The story's been going on for years now, and the Chinese track is pretty much the last hope for the project. It's great technology, but it's also very expensive and makes only sense on real long tracks...

      btw: Siemens and Thyssen also founded a "Transrapid USA" company. They were trying to sell the train to several cities and states in the US, and several tracks were (are?) being evaluated by the government. Don't know what happened to that...

      • Siemens and Thyssen also founded a "Transrapid USA" company. They were trying to sell the train to several cities and states in the US, and several tracks were (are?) being evaluated by the government.

        Just an addition: As you could have guessed the URL for that is []. There's a map of the US with all proposed routes and other stuff. The German site [] is still more informative about the train itself, though.

    • The Amsterdam-Groningen track is still under consideration. No final decision has been made, but it looks like it will be built.
      • I differ with you on that. It seems like no one in the parliament is willing to invest in it. The northern provinces now use the project as leverage to receive money for other infrastructure projects, like the proposed zuiderzeelijn and High Speed Line to Hamburg. The reasoning more or less goes like this: "We didn't get the 4(?) billion for the maglev train, we need something in return to make up for the loss of the money we never had." Great tactic, always works with politicians.

  • American Maglev (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Overcoat ( 522810 )
    For the record, the Federal Railroad Administration has a Maglev page here []. looks like the page hasn't been updated too recently, which is either good news or bad news, depending on what side of the monorail you're on...
  • by jfbus ( 584847 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:18AM (#3684657) Homepage

    Well, in France most people use high speed train (TGV - 360kph, tested @ 515kph) rather than plane or conventional train...

    Reasons :

    • It's cheaper than plane (and about the same price as conventional train)
    • Trains (at last in France) are nearly always on time
    • It's quite always faster to take TGV than a plane (at last in France where distances are not that big)

    For a trip from Paris to Lyon (about 450km/280 mi) :

    • By train : house to station (30min) + train (2h) + station to house (30min) = 3hours
    • By plane : house to airport (1h) + check-in (30min) + delay (30min) + flight (1h) + airport to house (1h) = 4hours

    Why take a plane ?

    And those trains are quite safe : a handful of those trains derailed, but no-one was killed...

    • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) <rcs1000 AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @08:13AM (#3685146)
      The SNCF requires *massive* state subsidies to do this. If the US government paid Amtrak anything like what the French paid SNCF, then you wouldn't just have TGVs and Bullet trains, you'd have MagLev's running at 1000mph.
  • ...and in no time at all, we will see all these japanese nerds having fun with gint custom made rail guns [] utilizing the train track and it's magnetic field.
  • by forged ( 206127 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:25AM (#3684673) Homepage Journal
    This page [] has more details, and some pictures of the Japanese Shinkansen E2, and also of the French TGV (which holds the conventional train speed record with 515kph since 1990) and of the French/British Eurostar.

    The Times article is nice and gives a good feel of what new generations trains will feel for passengers in a distant future, however the technology and the various experimental versions of high speed levitating trains are not exactly new.

    Maglev research started in 1962, and by 1970 studies of electrodynamic levitation systems using superconducting magnets took shape. The first test run took place in 1979. In December 1986, a 3-car train registered 352.4 kph (220 mph). In December 1997, a manned MLX01 attained 531 kph (331 mph), and unmanned, attained 550 kph (344 mph). The following year, a test of two trains passing each other at a relative speed of 966 kph was run successfully. In March 1999, an unmanned five-car MLX01 reached 548 kph (342 mph). In April, the manned five-car MLX01 set a fabulously fast world speed record at 552 kph (345 mph).

    We can see that the Japanese aren't ready for commercial deployment yet, as the article reads on:

    • A Land, Infrastructure and Transport Ministry official said there are many problems to be resolved before the maglev can be put into practical use...

    Europeans daily experience high speed trains for the last decade, with the Eurostar and the TGV cruising commercially at over 300 kph (188 mph). The German have the ICE, which reaches 330 kph (206 mph). The Spanish Talgo is in the works and will do 350 kph (218 mph).

    • Nobody seems to have mentioned Amtrak's Acela Express [] trains yet. They're already up and running along several major routes. At just 150 mph this system hasn't got anything on the European high-speed rail, but it's nice to see the US at least taking some interest.
    • That's a hilarious characterization if you're talking about speed. The technology is that of the French TGV. In England, it takes over an hour to get to the tunnel (and then half an hour to cross the tunnel.) Once out on the other side, it gets on the high-speed TGV track, and does Calais-Paris in something like an hour and 15 minutes. Basically, London-Dover takes around as long as Calais-Paris. Check out those distances on the map. Apparently the British high-speed track will be up by 2008 or so. (They hope.)

      It's true that those high-speed tracks are tremendously expensive. Only a nationalized company like the SNCF can do it on such a large scale (eg, Paris-Marseille, over 800 km, 3 hours, track completed last year). I think the SNCF is a good example of why public services like railways are better not privatized...

  • High speed rail is great in dense Japan, but for California it's a waste. Rail's big cost is all that land and that fancy rail on it that, for any given piece of land, is only actively put to work a tiny fraction of the time.

    They always talk about how the train would be competitive in downtown to downtown. That's because they ignore the fact you could put the high speed train from the downtown to the airport for a fraction of the price, and check you in on the train to drop you off in the secured area.

    So run the high speed rail within the bay area and the L.A. basin where it makes sense, but seriously, are we going to see the desired traffic from Fresno to Modesto to justify the cost?

    And it's an even worse terrorist target than the planes, since you can't guard the whole track, and a slight problem can cause a catastrophe at that speed.
    • Have you thought about the real costs? Yes, tracks are expensive, but so are airports. I have no idea how much an average airport costs, but they are probably one of the most expensive community projects you can get. And they are expensive to maintain too. And then there is the cost of the airplanes. Aircraft are very expensive to build and maintain, much more than trains. The most expensive train in the world is the Eurostar at $40,000 a seat. Most aircraft by comparison are $200,000 per seat!
      And don't get me started about fuel efficency. Hurling few hundreds passengers in tonnes of metal up to 10km height!? Just think how much fuel that wastes.
      Airplanes have their uses, I doubt trains will ever replace airplanes on coast to coast routes, but they could work on something like the Boston-Wasington route.
      But I guess the airlines are quite good at lobbying, wasn't there a mag-lev project in Texas that was cancelled due to airline lobbying? Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  • technology (Score:2, Informative)

    For a more in-depth explanation of the Yamanashi Test Line Maglev trains' technology check out this link. [] Quite interesting stuff!
  • Technically, the world fastest train is at White Sands Missile Range [], where a top speed just shy of 10,000km/h (that's Mach 8!) was recorded in 1982. Unsurprisingly it was unmanned. It wasn't maglev, either, being a conventional wheels on track train (albeit a rocket powered one :-)
  • by LionKimbro ( 200000 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:40AM (#3684714) Homepage
    I believe they have, what; 1/2 of the population of the entire US in the space of California?

    In the US, we'd have to put tracks EVERYWHERE to get an equivelent connection to what Japan has.

    (Hm... Or, we could just move EVERYBODY to Washington, Oregon, and California, set the rest aside for public parks and farming, and THEN build our cool train system...)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @04:41AM (#3684715)
    "In the future, it will connect Tokyo and Osaka in one hour."
    Despite Tokyo and Osaka being geographically close, it still takes you at least 3 hours to get to one city from the other. Odd, eh? It took me a while to understand this, considering I can leave San Francisco, take the BART to Oakland Airport in 14 minutes, hop on a Southwest shuttle, and arrive at Los Angeles International in under a hour.

    Well, it turns out that the so-called "Tokyo's airports" aren't really close to Tokyo at all, and by the time you land in Shin-Osaka, you've spent over 2 hours getting there. Driving is out of the question, as traffic is horrible at all times, and you have to worry about expensive tolls on the not-so-freeway every 40 miles or so... ...not to mention the $5/gallon gas... So... what about bullet trains?

    The bullet trains that go as fast as 300kph would get there in under 2 hours, but because the express train (Hikari, means "light") shares most of the same rails as the every-station-stop train (Kodama, means "echo" - get it? :) ), it can't always go 300kph. Even though it doesn't stop at every station, the Hikari train still has to slow down to around 50% speed when it's whizzing by the folks waiting on the platform 5 feet away, which slows the entire trip to 3+ hours.

    "The inauguration of the maglev will break Japan's stagnation, both politically and economically," he reckoned.
    You know, this isn't too far-fetched an idea... The maglev will undoubtedly have its own rail, and if it makes only 3~4 stops along the way to Osaka, it'll definitely do the Tokyo-Osaka run in under an hour. The construction of the maglev would create more jobs, and the one-hour commute will encourage "business" to take place faster. Will the maglev railway will turn a profit by itself? Probably not... But will it become a catalyst for Japan's economy to get healthier? Possibly so...!

    I just hope they include the maglev for the week-long rail passes. :)

    - posting anonymously, seeing as how my karma can only go down...

    • What will make the trip from Tokyo to Osaka much shorter with the maglev, is not only the übercool new technology & speed, but mostly the fact that the tracks will be much shorter.

      If you take a look at the tracks map [] (the current Tokyo-Osaka tracks are in orange), you'll see that they don't go in a straight line at all:
      they follow the coast (through Shizuoka), and after Nagoya they still take a longer path to go through Kyoto instead of heading directly towards Osaka.

      The reason for this is that Japan is constituted mostly of mountains. And the straight line from Tokyo to Osaka has to cross many of them. As a result, the construction of the straight Tokyo-Osaka maglev line will cost billions

      - They need to develop the new maglev technology and stabilize it
      - They need to build hundreds of kilometers of tunnels and bridges
      - They need to build the maglev tracks

      Therefore, don't expect the maglev to be inaugurated before at least a decade.

      btw ac the fastest Shinkansen is not the hikari, but the nozomi. The Hikarii IIRC stops at least in Shizuoka, Nagoya, Kyoto, whereas some Nozomis don't make any stop between Tokyo and Osaka, and thus gain a few minutes.
  • It's a fake! (Score:2, Interesting)

    This picture [] actually shows Eurostars in London. I hope California didn't pay a lot for their virtual railway. (just kidding)
  • China's Maglev (Score:3, Informative)

    by anocow ( 259411 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @05:24AM (#3684807)
    i just like to remind everyone that Shanghai will have a running maglev from Pudong Airport to the city by the end of the year. you can read the details here []. the taxi driver i talked to said the train ride will take 5 minutes. 5 minutes for a maglev train!!! how silly is that?!?

    And also there are rumors that china will build a maglev connecting Beijing and Shanghai by 2008 (for the 2008 olympics). knowing how chinese love to show off, i wouldn't bet against this.

    i say we wait and see how china does with their maglev... they have enough people to spare (j/k)
  • by pwagland ( 472537 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @05:44AM (#3684835) Journal
    from Alcatel []
    When using a mobile while on the move, one frequently finds oneself changing from cell to cell. In order to ensure that the conversation is not cut off, GSM mobile phones detect the nearest antennae and automatically trigger the changeover from one to the next, according to what is known as a "hand-over" mechanism. This transfer uses up more energy than an ordinary call. If many such hand-overs are called for, because the caller is travelling at high speed, there is a risk that the battery will wear out quickly. Not only that, but the risk of being cut off increases with the number of hand-overs, of course. In addition to that, when travelling at over 300km/h, this mechanism is more complex than at 50 km/h. In order to overcome these problems and to ensure that cover is efficient in high speed transport, a specific version of the GSM standard has been created, called GSM-R (R for Railway). Most high speed rail links in Europe are already fitted with this system, which is in fact a network specific to the rail line in question and which is a complement to the network which covers the whole of the area through which the train runs.
    What this boils down to, is that as you install these things, you also need special GSM networks. This almost certainly holds true for GPRS, etc, as well...
  • by egghat ( 73643 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @06:40AM (#3684925) Homepage
    I'm quite astonished that noone seems to mention, that a German consortium is building a Maglev train in China (Shanghai Airport -- City) and that there will be two Transrapid routes in Germany, one in Munich (Airport -- City) and one in the Ruhrregion between Dortmund and Duesseldorf. Shanghai should be ready in less than a year and the two German routes should be ready for the Soccer World Championship in 2006.

    You can find more info on the website of Transrapid in English [] or German [].

    Bye egghat.
  • by ezs ( 444264 )
    Birmingham, UK had the worlds first commercial Maglev system linking Birmingham International Airport with the National Exhibition Centre and railway station.

    I remember travelling on this just after it opened in 1984 and was amazed by the sci-fi-ness of it all.

    Maglev was prone to unreliability and was recently scrapped and replaced [] with a traditional people mover

  • by Midnight Thunder ( 17205 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @07:45AM (#3685041) Homepage Journal
    Looks like California High Speed Rail [] have decided to use the same blue-prints for the trains as used by the Eurostar []. At least thats from looking at the photos.
  • some lucky people got a chance to ride on this experimental train

    Let's see....get a steel tube hurtling across the ground at ~500km/h, and oh! It's still in a stage being called "experimental"! These people are about as lucky as my one-eyed three-legged ringwormed dog bearing that name.

  • Southwest Chief (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @08:48AM (#3685297) Homepage Journal
    I took the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Kansas to LA over Christmas. Being able to stretch out (I'm 6'4") and having a sleeper to nap in, plus a 110V plug for my laptop was great.

    Damn well better be great, at $1100 round-trip.

    However, keep this in mind: When a plane lands at an airport, that is a minimum of 45 minutes from touchdown to takeoff, and usually more like an hour. The train stops are 5 minutes.

    Now, it takes 3 days to get from New York to LA via rail (and a day and a quarter from KS to LA). The fastest the train goes is about 75 MPH (about 125 kph). Most of the trip's legs are pretty long - a TGV would be able to run at top speed for more than 90% of the run. That would pull the time down to less than a day from NY to LA.

    Trains are FAR more efficent than planes at moving people, so the cost per seat can be far less. Also, making the train bigger or smaller depending upon load is easy - add cars. You really can't bolt a few extra seats on a plane. You also can make the seats larger on a train for comparitively less cost than a plane.

    So, why don't we have this in the US? First, there's the Teamsters - they would much rather see freight move by truck than train, as that employs more Teamsters. Second, when the government cherry-picked the passenger rail from Sante Fe et. al., they really screwed up. SF owns the rail beds, and SF sees no reason to improve the railbeds to allow for fast trains. Amtrak would like faster trains, but with the railbeds in the condition they are, 70MPH is the limit. Also, since Amtrak is forbidden to carry significant freight, they cannot use freight to subsidise passenger service.

    It's a shame, since if we had a decent rail service in this country, we would need fewer airports and aircraft (though, living in the Air Capitol of the World, that might be a bad thing) and we could reduce the numbers of trucks and cars on the highways (especially if Amtrak offered more AutoTrain service - I'd love to pull my car on a train in Newton, and pull off in Williams, then drive to the Grand Canyon).

    But as long as SF sees no reason for faster freight service, and Amtrak cannot upgrade the lines, we will be stuck with the CF we have now.
  • by bbc22405 ( 576022 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @09:46AM (#3685659)
    ...If only the California high-speed rail system was up and running.

    That comment was, of course, only the first scrap of a litany of "if only we had super-duper high-tech trains in the USA". (Yeah, it's News-for-Nerds, should I be surprised?) But sometimes a rather good, low-tech solution is also possible. It is less sexy, and less likely to have a corporate lobbyist selling it, but it is probably the best choice.

    Recently, some boosters were clamoring for high-speed rail between Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C, so that we could have a sexy train in time for some Olympics or somesuch. The projected cost ("projected" in this case is a euphemism for "wildly optimistic") was something like $4,000,000,000. There have also been proposals for high-speed from Washington, D.C to Richmond, Virginia, which would cost similar large piles of money.

    How about something simple, like adding the overhead wires and such so that electric engines can travel South and West from Washington, D.C? Currently, if you travel through Washington, from any big Northeast ciy, and try to continue South or West, you will learn that they stop for a half hour in D.C., while they unhitch the electric engine, take it away, bring a diesel engine, hitch it, test it, yadda yadda. During most of the half hour, the coaches are sitting there, unpowered, unventilated, unlit. It does not make a good impression, and it is not speedy.

  • Sabotage? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by edp ( 171151 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @09:51AM (#3685697) Homepage

    How susceptible is such a train to sabotage? Would a one-foot diameter rock tossed into the center of the tracks derail the train? It's difficult enough securing airplanes when you only need to check the departure point. How do you secure hundreds or thousands of miles of rails?

  • Some maglev history (Score:5, Informative)

    by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Wednesday June 12, 2002 @10:51AM (#3686159) Journal
    The maglev was conceived in 1962 by James Powell who got stuck in a Long Island traffic jam. He started daydreaming about how to float past the traffic. As it happened, Powell was a physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory and started discussing the idea with Gordon Danby. Danby was a particle accelerator designer and so the idea of using superconducting magnets came naturally to the two men. They patented the idea in the United States and Europe but not Japan, which at the time, wasn't considered a likely competitor. The Japanese jumped on the idea and have built several pilot tracks since, the Yamanashi track being the latest incarnation.

    The Japanese made a couple of mistakes however. First their track switching technology [] is cumbersome. They literally move concrete barriers around to shove the train onto another track. Secondly, they didn't design their magnets correctly and so have had problems maintaining them. Those problems aside, the Japanese have done a first rate implementation job.

    The Germans, in an attempt to circumvent the Powell and Danby patents and cut costs, chose a conventional electromagnet approach for their maglev solution. Powell and Danby had considered eletromagnets and rejected them due to inherent limitations. First, electromagnets aren't anywhere as strong as superconducting magnets so the gap between vehicle and track is much smaller. Secondly, a power loss would be catastrophic. Thirdly, the way the Germans have approached maglev using magnets to attract each other, requires active controls. The intra-magnet gap has to be maintained to very close tolerances otherwise the train gets pulled into the track or falls away from the track if it veers too far. The tolerance problem will be especially acute in seismically active locations like China and California where tracks will drift slightly on a daily basis.

    Powell and Danby have kept working at maglev despite paltry American support. Their website [] describes several design changes to their original idea. They've designed all electronic switching equipment that makes dynamic track switching feasible. That's advantagous on a heavily traveled track that's being shared by express and local trains. They've also re-arranged their track to a monorail cum flatbed design to support dynamic switching.

    Their website describes a variety of uses for maglev. Among them is a trans-continental vacuum tube that enables coast to coast travel in under an hour. The vacuum is necessary because as the train speed increases, the majority of power that's required to move the train is spent moving air out of the way. An evacuated tube makes it possible to move a train across the continent using the equivalent of 20 gallons of gas.

    One hundred and fifty years ago, Lincoln authorized the construction of a transcontinental railroad. At the time, it was considered technologically impossible given the chasms and mountains that had to be crossed. Lincoln initiated the transcontinental railroad in the middle of the civil war. Part of his motivation was to demonstrate that though engaged in war, the United States was great enough to concurrently tackle a monumental engineering task.

    Fifty years later, we built the Panama Canal, another technological impossibility. Finally 50 years ago, Eisenhower authorized the interstate highway system and the St. Lawrence Seaway.

    Fifty years have passed since this country last undertook a major infrastructure challenge. Whether our generation steps up to the plate and makes a significant contribution to the infrastructure as our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have done remains to be seen.

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire