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Japan Tests New Bullet Train 539

dmolavi writes " Japan's largest railway company began a test run for a new bullet train that it eventually aims to operate at a record-breaking 223 miles per hour -- faster than many propeller airplanes -- according to recent news reports. "
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Japan Tests New Bullet Train

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  • Just a test release (Score:5, Interesting)

    by FTL ( 112112 ) * <slashdot@neil.f r a s> on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:42PM (#12921618) Homepage
    One of the odd points about this train (other than the retractable cat ears []) is that it isn't symmetrical. One end is a completely different shape than the other. Apparently this is just for testing purposes. The US airforce calls it a "flyoff", where two designs are built and tested head to head. In this case it seems they are having trouble determining what the best nose shape is. Normally this is a fairly simple problem, but Japan has a lot of tunnels, and diving into a tunnel at 360kph is a rather difficult aerodynamic problem. Nothing like a full-scale model. For much more detailed information, see this press release []. (Japanese press releases have a habit of actually being informative, unlike their North American counterparts.)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      The US airforce calls it a "flyoff", where two designs are built and tested head to head.
      I think that might cause crashes.
    • by htrp ( 894193 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:47PM (#12921680)
      I would think that you would have a bit more of a problem with banking/turns, and possible elevation changes. But i guess they'll get around that by specially designed the track.

      Aero braking can be combined with mechanical braking, which should produce a decent deceleration rate. But that still leaves the problems of derailments.
    • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:57PM (#12921809) Homepage
      Amtrak is the inter-state railway system in the USA and is supposed to be equivalent to the inter-prefecture system in Japan. Yet, why does Amtrak refuse to use bullet trains? Amtrak uses the regular trains that travel 100 kph, at best. Typically, the speed is closer to 80 kph. The result is that traveling between states usually takes several days. Imagine trying to spend several days locked in a train.

      Given the fact that Amtrak is supposed to compete against airplanes and that Amtrak is covering great distances, it should be using bullet trains exclusively.

      Amtrak has been a money-losing operation since day #1. For some reason, the American politicians just cannot determine why Amtrak remains unprofitable. How can anyone be so ignorant that he cannot see the reason? No one wants to ride a train for 2 or 3 days when you can take an airplane for equivalent cost to the same destination in less than a day.

      Does any American politician even know the phrase, "Japanese bullet train"? The answer to Amtrak's problems is staring the American government in the face, and no one is adovating the right solution. I almost think that the lobbyists for the commercial aviation industry (i.e. Boeing & Airbus) want to ensure that Amtrak is not allowed to use bullet trains.

      • by Skater ( 41976 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:03PM (#12921879) Homepage Journal
        Bullet trains require something Amtrak will never have: lots of straight, well-built track to get up to that speed.

        Besides, where is Amtrak going to get that money? They're struggling to maintain what they already have... What you're talking about is a HUGE investment.

        The Acelas on the Northeast Corridor (one of the most important pieces of track Amtrak owns) were intended to provide higher-speed trains on conventional track by leaning into the turns. They generally do provide faster service when they're running, but of course the Acelas haven't been without their problems.
        • by robertjw ( 728654 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:30PM (#12922205) Homepage
          Besides, where is Amtrak going to get that money? They're struggling to maintain what they already have... What you're talking about is a HUGE investment.

          Same place we got the money for the war in Iraq. Why is it our government can invest in conquering another country half a world away, but when it comes to investing in some infrastructure here at home we just can't afford it?

          • Look, even if Amtrak did have the billions and billions of dollars of funding it would need to replace tens of thousands of miles of track across the country to create bullet train-ready routes, it would still be wasted money.

            The time it would take for a cross-country rail trip might decrease from 60 hours to 25 hours, but it still couldn't beat a 7-hour plane trip.

            High-speed rail service makes a lot of sense in a lot of places, but most of the United States is not such a place.
            • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @02:41PM (#12923065)
              Most trips aren't all the way across the country.

              Anyways, I feel the billion dollar bailouts [] repeatedly handed over to the airlines deserve some mention here.

            • A nation-wide bullet train system might be hard to achieve, but I definately think that high-speed rail service in some smaller regions could be a good thing. Trains certainly aren't perfect, but I would seriously consider a fast train over a plane or driving any day.

              I live on the West Coast, and could definately see people using high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, LA to San Francisco and/or Sacramento. SF to Portland & Seattle.

              I've ridden on some high-speed rail lines in Germany, Swizerland & Austria, and I would be thrilled if we could get some similar service here in the States. The whole experience was efficient and relaxing. I buy a first-class ticket for $150, walk onto the train, find my reserved seat. The seats are comforatable, I have a ton of room to stretch out, I can get up and walk around at any time, and I have a great view from the large window. The staff are polite, the train is quiet and smooth.

              For 8 Euros, I buy a beer, some delicious cooked pork and a candy bar for 8 Euros. My wife & I sit & relax for 5 hours on a trip from Vienna to Frankfurt. It takes less then 5 minutes to get off the train and get my luggage.

              I recently flew from Oakland to Seattle & back. The whole experience was a stress-filled nightmare. I had to wait in line for 45 minutes so I could get a ticket from a computer terminal (there were 3 people in front of us). Then we wait another hour in the security line. The flight itself is only 1 hour, but you spend another another 45 minutes strapped to your seat take-off and landing.

              I got a teeny bag of pretels & a small cup of orange juice. They sell Budweiser for $4. A can of "import beer" (Heineken) or a bottle wine costs $5.

              The seat in front of me is 8 inches from my nose. The fluorescent light above us flickers for the whole flight. The staff yell at the passengers.

              It takes 20 minutes to get off the plane, an an hour to get my luggage, all of which has been opened and inspected by Security.
          • by TheWickedKingJeremy ( 578077 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:47PM (#12922423) Homepage
            Exactly true -- it is all just a matter of priorities. By looking at our budget, you can easily see where are priorities are. Really too bad... What better way to spend taxpayer money than hi-tech infrastructure, research/dev on next-gen technology, etc. The days of the United States holding the world's best technology are coming to a close (if it's not already the case). Instead, we busy going after "evildoers" sitting on oil fields, or spending 60+ billion a year fighting "the war on drugs". Imagine if this money was instead invested in our future!
        • by arkanes ( 521690 ) <> on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:36PM (#12922272) Homepage
          It's actually a little more interesting than that. Amtrack owns (almost?) no track - they run pretty much entirely on track owned by the standard commercial railroads. Building new track is almost impossible, because of the right of way requirements (trains aren't sexy any more so you can't get the government to sieze it for you via emminent domain). The guys who actually own the right of way and the tracks are commercial railroads, who don't (and can't) provide passenger service and have no interest in laying out millions to upgrade track. Amtrack is legally prohibited from carrying signifigant freight, and doesn't have the passenger base to fund track improvements, even if the track owners were willing to upgrade (a lot of commercial rail guys hate Amtrack and would refuse to upgrade just on principle). Passenger rail in the US is pretty much screwed and has been since we made the decision to go with highways instead - it would take major Federal funding and interest to get it to any reasonable level, and theres just not the citizen-level demand for it.
          • Passenger rail in the US is pretty much screwed and has been since we made the decision to go with highways instead - it would take major Federal funding and interest to get it to any reasonable level, and theres just not the citizen-level demand for it.

            I think that depends on where you are. Out west, in Colorado, where I live there is a big interest in it. In 2003 voters approved a 4.7 Billion dollar initiative to extend the light-rail system well outside of the Denver area []. Unfortunately it's going
          • by suzerain ( 245705 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @03:40PM (#12923863) Homepage

            I was going to say this same thing, but noticed that you did first.

            t's actually a little more interesting than that. Amtrack owns (almost?) no track - they run pretty much entirely on track owned by the standard commercial railroads.

            I'm originally from Maine, though I now live primarily in New York City. Occasionally, I now take the train to Boston and then on the "Downeaster" route, but it took them years to run a train from Boston to Portland. There were a lot of reasons why this took a while, but I remember that one chief problem was that passenger trains needed to go a certain speed. Amtrak wanted the train to go over a hundred miles per hour, but it ended up going slower than that.

            Amtrak doesn't own the tracks from Boston through Maine (or, apparently, anywhere else). They're owned by a commercial shipping company. The freight companies have absolutely no interest in upgrading their track to handle higher speeds. You can see why it's not in their best don't want a million tons of coal going 200 miles per hour, after all.

            Anyway, I'm about as far from a socialist as you can get, but I think that internal transportation and communication networks are integral to the function of a country and ought to be publically owned, or that the government should step in and force the freight companies to upgrade track, or give up the track altogether. I'm one that would join in the chorus of not invading Iraq -- or not giving money and weapons to Israel -- and instead spending 30 billion dollars putting in mag-lev trains, starting on the West and East coasts, and working inward, much like we did in the 1800s.

            The prospect of going from New York to Boston in two hours, or New York to Chicago in...say...6 hours...would appeal to me as an alternative to flying, especially when I factor in that it takes me an hour to get to any of my local airports from Manhattan, that I have to show up ridiculously early to go through security checks, and when I get there it takes another hour to get into the city I'm traveling to, whereas trains just go from city center to city center, and there's no reason to show up early.

      • The U.S. rail network is huge, with tens of thousands of level crossings, and millions of miles of unfenced track. It simply isn't practical to run at more than about 130 kph on such lines.

        Years ago, the U.S. decided to pour infrastructure money into the interstate highway system, not rail lines. I'm ambivalent about whether or not that was the right choice. We all love to hate cars and trucks, and they are less efficient than trains, but building fenced lines with elevated crossings would be an astrono
        • Ambivalent about whether it was the right choice?

          You won't know until you've tried Nozomi - the current fastest bullet train in Japan... in a luxurious-2-feet-of-room-in-front-of-you seat in a noise-free air-conditioned cabin where you can read, eat lunch, enjoy the view AND sip your beer all the while you are being taken where you want to go. In under 3 hours for most destinations.

          Compare this to a 7-hour drive in peak bumper-to-bumper traffic on a 4th of July on interstate 91 going from DC to New York..
      • Most of Amtrak operates on shared tracks with freight trains.

        These tracks are not built to handle high-speed trains. Also, this shared use favors the freight trains; Amtrak trains have to move over if a freight train is coming. This means that if a freight train is leaving a station 1 hour ahead of the Amtrak's current position, and there's a pullover spot right there but no others for the rest of that 1 hour stretch, the Amtrak must get out of the way and wait for an hour at a dead stop, until the freig
      • The northeast corridor (DC to Boston) is one of Amtrak's few profitable routes. They did have a high speed Acela train that could go 100mph on good sections of track, but it was pulled from service after they found cracks in the brakes. It might be back in service by this summer.
      • by Mignon ( 34109 ) <> on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:22PM (#12922117)
        There's a 2-year old article [] on Amtrak at the Christian Science Monitor's site that discusses this question in depth.
      • by drwho ( 4190 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:37PM (#12922292) Homepage Journal
        The problem is population density. Japan is said to have half the population of the United States crammed into an area the size of California. Much of Europe is also densely populated, though not as much as Japan. High-speed rail lines are expensive, per km, to build and maintain. Pavement is less so. This is the same reason that subways serve the center of a city, streetcars the outlying areas, and buses the suburbs and some rural areas.

        The Acela train is Amtrak's grasping attempt at high-speed rail. The fare is still too expensive: For instance, I can get a bus ticket from Boston to New York for $12, but, last time I checked, Acela was $80. If someone else is paying (i.e. it's a business trip) then it's more sensible to fly. Acela is stuck in a difficult middle-market.

        Personally, I think that the problem with public transit in the US is that it interfaces poorly with the automotive system. Here in Boston, commuter lots at suburban train stations fill up quickly, and in many cases are quite expensive. They are also have security problems. Often, stations are in the middle of villages, where there is not the room for parking lot expansion and building a garage would adversly effect the character of the village. There needs to be more funding of vast garages built where high speed rail systems interface to the interstate highway system. The garages need to be inexpensive (no more than $5 a day), secure, 24 hour, and have sufficient bandwidth for rush hour. There should be a number of non-stop, high speed trains to/from the center of the city. These stations should also serve the interstate and local bus lines in the area, with shuttle buses to the outlying airports.

        Train fare for such purposes should be at least partially tax-deductible. One should merely have to submit the yearly report from a transit authority account which would list the passes of various types purchased, or retain a collection of receipts for fares bought anonymously.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:42PM (#12921623)

    Only in Japan would a train's noses look like manga characters!

  • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:43PM (#12921630)
    Trains like this are becoming more and more prevalent in mainland Europe. Indeed, they are smashing the national boundaries in ways that are almost unimaginable. I know people in Germany who are able to work in Italy, and only have a 45 minute train commute each way!

    When I visited the US I noticed that there were almost no passenger trains. Indeed, I wish there were, because I far prefer trains to planes and driving.
    • _Continental_ Europe (Score:4, Informative)

      by kahei ( 466208 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:47PM (#12921676) Homepage

      Try getting around the UK by train. It's about the equivalent of Sri Lanka in that respect, only not as cheerful.

      It's really France and Germany who are of just the right size for train travel and with lots of money to put into it (and, in Germany at least, an unwillingness to cover the entire country in tarmac as the UK is doing).

      • by madaxe42 ( 690151 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:54PM (#12921768) Homepage
        Don't be so daft. Trains in the UK are exemplary. I pay as little as £3000 a year to commute within london, and getting the train from bristol to london last night cost me as little as £115. And it only took 6 hours, I mean, it was 3 hours late, but that's pretty good, to be honest!

        Anyway, I think we should give tube drivers another raise. £60,000 just isn't enough to drive public transport 150 days a year. In fact, they need more holiday too. Won't somebody please think of their children? They only get two weeks off per month!
      • "and, in Germany at least, an unwillingness to cover the entire country in tarmac as the UK is doing"

        Back in reality-land, Germany has substantially more miles of road per capita than Britain: the UK's per-capita road density is about _HALF_ the EU average. They also have unlimited speed motorways in many places, unlike the crap 70mph motorways in the UK.

        Transport infrastructure in the UK is an utter disaster, and another four years of anti-car NuLab is only going to make it worse. We're a 'first-world' n
    • I live in Los Angeles, and the hard part with trains and such is that the city centers are so spread out that you can't be dropped clse enough to your final destination generally. You have to get off a train and get on a bus and then maybe transfer from one bus to another. Heck where I live I think the closest bus stop is over 2 miles away; there's just no incentive to use public transportation in many places.
    • two words sums up why there are not more bullet trains in america.

      OIL companies.

      Heaven forbid if the oil companies ( exxonmobile,shell,BP, ect..) lost any money to trains. that would be a ctastrophe. people would actualy have another way to commute to work and not have to pay the exhorbanent gas prices at the pump. my god what a revolution that would be. Though all this can be summed up by one phrase
      "capitalism good for the economy, bad for the person"
    • When I visited the US I noticed that there were almost no passenger trains. Indeed, I wish there were, because I far prefer trains to planes and driving.

      Depends on where you live.

      I live in NJ and trains cover a large portion of my area. On the Eastern coast of the US (particularly north east) there are a lot of rails you can take. Unfortunately I've rarely had to venture out West so I don't know much about that.

      Case-in-point, Amtrack covers a lot of New York and new Jersey, and I use it whenever I h

    • There are two problems with this in the US. Problem number 1, is that our passenger train system, Amtrak, does not own its own tracks. It is forced to "borrow" time on freight tracks, meaning it often sits and waits while freight trains go by. There is one train route that goes from LA to seattle, (i think there are actually 2-3 trains that run that route). Most of the tracks are through rural areas, just one track, not two. This means that train has to pull over on side spurs and let other trains by t
    • I've actually ridden on both the Shinkansen (bullet train) and the TGV and I'd take the Japanese variant any day. And this has nothing to do with me speaking Japanese but not speaking French.
    • The US economy is still too tied to the automobile and individuals still demand the convenience of private transportation.

      There are some places that have a practical passenger train system, mostly subways and light rail systems inside a few of the very large cities. I used to ride a train to work in Philadelphia. It was rather slow (an hour by train vs. 35 minutes by car). The only thing which made it practical was the cost ($100 a month by train vs. $400 by car, after you consider tolls, gas, and par
    • I know people in Germany who are able to work in Italy, and only have a 45 minute train commute each way!

      Pff, big deal. I know people in Buffalo, NY who are able to work in Canada and it's only a 10 minute bike ride each way!
  • by p3d0 ( 42270 )
    What's the advantage of super-fast trains over airplanes?
    • by DFJA ( 680282 )
      Er, they don't pollute the environment anything like as much? They take you from city centre to city centre, hence are much quicker over all?
    • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:46PM (#12921668)
      These trains create far less pollution than flying. But that is because they also you far less fuel, and the fuel they do use burns far more efficiently than jet fuel. The lower fuel consumtion leads to them being far cheaper, as well. In some areas of Japan you can get a unlimited-use monthly train pass for the equivalent of US$120. That's the cost of a one-way plane ticket between very close destinations.
    • What's the advantage of super-fast trains over airplanes?
      In many places in the world, the infrastructure for trains is already in place. Tracks are laid, stations are ready, power lines are set up, railway crossings are set up, and so on.

      OTOH airport facilities may not be available, and I'm guessing that in Japan the space required to construct new small-town airports would be fairly tough to find. This is probably why they prefer speeding up their trains. Air travel may not be easily possible at all.
    • Train stations tend to be in the center of cities whereas airports are built far outside to avoid noise etc. On trips up to let's say 400-500 miles, trains are faster since you don't have to commute to the airport, show up 3 hours before departure. Example : Total travel time with plane: 5 hours, train : 4 hours.

      When trains with speeds in the area of this new one is put into operation, you can easily extend that radius to 1000 miles and the train will win every time over a plane.
    • Much better energy efficiency per passenger*mile travelled.

      More flexible scheduling in peak hours and seasons.

      More security. France's TGV high speed train network has moved hundreds of millions of passengers since the early 80s and not a single person lost her life in an accident, even though trains went off track at full speed (180+ mph) on one or two occasions.

      More comfort. No more going to and from remote airports. No more stripping for the security. No more waiting for boarding or for checking in
    • What's the advantage of airplanes over super-fast trains?
    • Hopping on a train is FAR less complicated than hopping on a plane.
  • Can't wait for Terminal [].....
  • by sssmashy ( 612587 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:45PM (#12921656)

    Japan Tests New Bullet Train

    Meanwhile, in other news...

    North Korea Tests New Bullet

  • and has the added benefits of killing off all the various fauna that mill around under the elevated track.
  • by Chairboy ( 88841 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:47PM (#12921683) Homepage
    Saying that the 200+mph speed is 'faster then many propeller planes' is an awfully strange comparison. Most single engine general aviation aircraft (eg, Cessnas, Pipers, etc) typically cruise around 100-120mph, so that comparison applies to some of the existing bullet trains already.

    If, on the other hand, the submitter is comparing it to Turboprop commuter airplanes (to suggest that the train is faster then the plane you might otherwise use), then those typically have cruise speeds of 250-350mph, so...

    Finally, I'm guessing we can appreciate the cruise speed on its own merits. There's probably no need to give the unladen speed of the next flying whatchamacality in 'mpa' (many propeller airplanes). "Ah yes, the Rotamo air car flies at 1.5mpa!" It'll be the new LoC measurement for speed.
  • ....but the cost of builting these are just too high for the population density here.
    You don't get much chance to ride on the ground at that speed. The price of the ticket probably going to cost similar to a plane ticket, but I will definite try it when I go to Tokyo.
    The technical aspert certainly sound interesting too, I remember reading a japanese comic about a teenage who live in a neightbodhood that are ruinned by the noise of a bullet train. So from my understanding Japanese might not be too happy a
  • Train travel tends to be slightly cheaper than planes, but a whole lot safer and more convenient. For visitors, it is definitely your cheapest option to travel by train because you can buy an all-purpose train pass to travel on any lines run by Japan Rail which is basically a monopoly. Even a cross-country train can generally be caught every hour while airplane schedules in Japan are far less convenient for most locations.

    • While Japan Rail is indeed a ubiquitous state controlled company, the actual system is quite clever. Private enterprise is free to create rail lines on a route they think will be profitable, e.g. the toyoko-sen. Then, the government builds slow trains on the little routes that private enterprise doesn't want, to ensure that all areas are covered. Thus, everyone has rail service, and the most important routes are kept effective by competition. It also means that major factories and (in the past) stores c
  • Not that amazing (Score:2, Informative)

    by shadowKFC ( 873680 )
    The german ICE can do this speed since 2000 []
  • by ChrisF79 ( 829953 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:53PM (#12921747) Homepage
    I hate to be a skeptic, but this train seems pretty damn scary. The idea of going that fast on land just doesn't seem to be too safe. So while reading the article and looking for some clues to its safety, I stumble across a quote that the train "has cat ear-shaped air-brakes that pop up from the rooftops to help slow the train in an emergency." Is it just me, or in an emergency situation, wouldn't you like to have something a little more reassuring than cat ear-shaped air brakes?
    • by tekrat ( 242117 )
      Hey; they put cat-ears on their anime-girls all the time, why not on their bullet trains?

      And those anime-girls seem to have no problems surviving 300-mph crashes, so, those cat-ears must work!

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @12:56PM (#12921794)
    I commute into Chicago via train every day. Two and a half hours round trip. I love it. I no longer live in my car, I can sleep or read or listen to lectures on my iRiver. A train that went even 100 miles an hour would cut my travel time in half. But this is America, and people will always treat it as Public Transportation. They'll leave their McDonalds wrappers and pop cans on the floor, they'll clip their fingernails, they'll scream into their cell phones. The railroad won't take the time and effort and manpower to keep the tracks up to the task of handling a 100 MPH train, so they'll make it go slower. People in cars will still try to go around crossing gates, people on foot will run across the tracks as the trains approach; they'll be killed and it will be the engineers fault.

    Maybe the Japanese, with their famously polite society can make this kind of thing work, but it's doomed here in America.


  • I've always been impressed with their transit system. They seem to be the model of efficiency and effectiveness when it comes to their mass transit system. Certainly, NYC could learn a thing or two from the Japanese. We're getting a fare hike on top of booth reductions at the moment. Meanwhile things keep improving over in the land of the rising sun.

    Don't like the transit people pushing people into the train during rush-hour in Japan, though. Sure it's efficient, but it's also extremely uncomfortabl

  • by Malc ( 1751 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:02PM (#12921877)
    "The train is expected to make the 360 mile trip between Tokyo and Aomori --about the distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles -- within three hours, half of the amount of time it currently takes."

    A train that can do over 200 mph, and they're planning to run it just over 120 mph. Any ideas why? Are there lots of stops?
    • by tomstdenis ( 446163 ) <> on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:25PM (#12922144) Homepage
      Next you'll ask why planes fly at 55% thrust ...

      It's called efficiency. The engines or motors or whatever are probably only most efficient in certain lobes of speed [e.g. like a car at ~90km/h].

      You'd be surprised [hopefully not] but driving a normal car at 150km for 30 mins will burn more fuel then a car at 75km for 60 mins. [well not always but your mpg goes way down].

      The point is the train is probably rated to hit 200mph if they make it the least efficient thing in the world.

      See also: Diminishing returns.

    • A train that can do over 200 mph, and they're planning to run it just over 120 mph. Any ideas why? Are there lots of stops?

      That's certainly one reason. Depending on the number of stops and the rate of acceleration this beast can handle, you're going to take a bite out of your average speed.

      The big thing is whether or not the track can handle it. The train has to run much more slowly over curves, or else it crunches the passengers against the side of the coach...or just rolls sideways off the track.

  • faster than planes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RussRoss ( 74155 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:05PM (#12921915) Homepage
    High-speed trains are quite popular in Japan and Europe, and many Americans scratch their heads and ask why?, especially when they cost almost as much as flying.

    There are a few key reasons why they are so great:

    1. Central terminals: trains tend to depart and arrive near the center of cities, while airports tend to be located outside the city. When I take the Eurostar train from London to Paris, I knock off 1/2 hour travel time at each end just because of the location.

    2. No airports: flying in America (and to a lesser extent other places) is painful. You're asked to arrive a few hours early and treated like a criminal. I traveled in Japan on the bullet trains, and we had to arrive before the train left (they are famous for being on time) but that was it. No body cavity search, no x-rays, no checking in a few hours early. No only did I leave and arrive right in the middle of the respective cities (saving time) I did so according to the actual travel schedule, not according to some ridiculous security schedule.

    3. Comfort: trains are the most comfortable way to travel. They are quieter than planes, roomier, have bigger windows and nice views (when flying I sometimes get a nice view out the window, but usually just see clouds or the dude sitting next to me), the air is normal pressure, you can walk around at any time, etc. You also have your luggage right there in the car with you so you can get to it at any time. A recent train ride I took from London to Edinburgh took half the time driving takes, each seat had power outlets, and there was WiFi access available as well as a full meal car.

    4. Distances: when traveling in Europe and Japan, travel time isn't dominated as much by the distance. The end-to-end time is often better on trains when traveling between major cities (with good rail links). You arrive at the centrally located station a few minutes before the train leaves, enjoy a (relatively) comfortable ride, then step off at the other end with your bags (no waiting for baggage claim) and walk out into the center of your destination city. The timing may not work quite as well for New York to Los Angeles, but for London to Paris or Brussels, or for Los Angeles to San Francisco, a good train line makes a lot of sense.

    - Russ
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:08PM (#12921951)
    Superman is confused as hell. "I can't remember if I'm faster than a speeding train and more powerful than a bullet, or the other way around," the superhero said in an interview Monday. "I mean, I guess it's really both, but now that bullets ARE trains, I'm all confused."
  • Japanese mentality (Score:3, Interesting)

    by haggar ( 72771 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:20PM (#12922095) Homepage Journal
    Youmight have heard: Japanese are not afraid of technology - they embrace it and like it. I could see that in so many aspects, and am sure they will have the first commercial fusion plant. They might not develop the core tech, but they will use it, you can bet on that. (and I wouldn't the least be surprised if, once built, will be operated by bipedal robots).
  • last Autumn, there were several earthquakes in the Chuetsu [] area on the back-side of Honshu. The largest of these earthquakes caused a crash for the bullet train, which rocked off its tracks and scraped along for 2 kilometers. No one was seriously injured, but that is really out of blind luck-- the train happened to be on a raised track, with cement walls on either side-- other places the track has only chain-link fence separating it from other trains or open fields.

    In short, JR dodged a disaster. They don't want to press their luck. If a train could rapidly decelerate, then perhaps the risk of a crash could be reduced.

    Then again, maybe someone watched Totoro [] once too many times.
  • by Ranger ( 1783 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:23PM (#12922121) Homepage
    aims to operate at a record-breaking 223 miles per hour -- faster than many propeller airplanes

    The train only needs to be fast enough to outrun Godzilla the next time he decides to stomp Tokyo. Of course, they'd need some kind of shielding to protect against his breath [] which they can't outrun. I don't think those really cute Hello Kitty ears [] really help with aerodynamics.
  • by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @01:34PM (#12922246)
    First one ran in the late '60s for the Olympics.
    It's still online....

    I was on a platform, on the bullet line, one time, outside Tokyo, about 1/4 mile from a tunnel entrance/exit. The tracks leading to the station platform were canted so the train could bank into the turn. You could feel the ion change in the air that preceded the train as it exploded out of the tunnel and blasted past the platform...the locals had one hand on the newspaper and the other wrapped around the nearest pole to counter the terrific buffering as the 1,000 seat wonder blew past. Inside, there are LCDs showing live telemetry - it's very hard to tell how fast you're really moving, since the ride is so smooth and quiet.

    I saw a video on TV one time, showing how they run field tests of various segment showed a technician putting on an old leather flying helmet and goggles. He climbed a small ladder and slid open a hatch in the roof and stuck his head out...while the train was hurtling along at full speed in the dark of night.

    The trains shut down automatically if a quake threatens...they have to keep the lines a significant distance from buildings and roads, so when one of them goes down, it takes a portable bridge crew to get to them. They clean ice off the boggies with high-pressure steam cleaners mounted on bridges when the weather turns cold. Color cameras are mounted everywhere, so that the crew and central control can do visual checks at will.

    When the bullets pull into Tokyo Station, the stews inside are just like on a 747, with a replacement crew lined up along the platform, waiting for shift change. All neat as a pin. The 'pilots' are dressed just like commercial airline staff, and draw huge crowds, with autograph seekers and train groupies galore. I had my photo taken with one, and he even let me wear his hat :)

    They have a mini-shinkansen that goes up into the mountains for weekend ski trips that is the best looking...all smoked glass and dark gun-metal gray, with green pinstripes. The mega-shinkansen is a double-decker design, that looks a bit ungainly, yet it still manages speeds high enough to match domestic airline travel times.

    You have to ride on one of these beasts to appreciate them.
  • by TwoPumpChump ( 767573 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @03:09PM (#12923414)
    There is a MagLev test line under development in the Yamanashi perfecture, that can currently do 310 mph; it is quite a treat to watch, and if you get lucky you can get a chance to ride it. More information here in English, [] with some videos here. [] True, it's been around damn near ten years and they haven't started public service...
  • by teamonkey ( 553487 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @03:22PM (#12923602) Homepage
    ...can we have the old one if they're done with it?
  • Fast Steam Locos (Score:3, Interesting)

    by HermanAB ( 661181 ) on Monday June 27, 2005 @06:10PM (#12925886)
    Steam trains were pretty damn fast since Victorian times: [] Diesel electrics and pure electrics do not have the raw power required for high speed travel. Slow diesel trains is a major reason why air travel became popular.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern