A Japanese company said its magnetic levitation train set a speed record this week, reaching 366 mph on a test track.
The Central Japan Railway Co., often called JR Central, said the test run involved a seven-car "maglev" train on a 26.6-mile track in Japan’s Yamanashi prefecture. The company said it hopes to best itself with another test run Tuesday.
Magnetic levitation, or “maglev,” train systems use magnets to lift and propel the train, promising a ride that’s smoother, quieter, and nearly twice as fast as traditional high-speed rail.
JR Central set the previous maglev train speed record of 361 mph on the same track in December 2003, according to the company and Guiness World Records.
Japanese officials plan to open a maglev line between Tokyo and the city of Nagoya in 2027, cutting the 90-minute travel time between the two on a traditional high-speed rail line by more than half. Because maglev trains require straight, even and predictable terrain to run smoothly, the majority of the journey will run through tunnels.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Los Angeles during a weeklong tour to the U.S. beginning April 26 and high-speed rail-related talks probably will be part of his itinerary. JR Central is promoting maglev technology in the U.S. for a line between Washington and Baltimore, which could reduce travel time between the cities to 15 minutes. Early last year Abe suggested to President Obama that Japan would foot half of the $10-billion bill.
California’s $68-billion high-speed rail project, which is slated to connect Los Angeles with San Francisco by 2029, broke ground in January.
“It’s good news obviously that the technology keeps advancing, and that countries are focusing on this,” Andy Kunz, president of the US High Speed Rail Assn., told the Los Angeles Times. “We consider high-speed rail the future, no question — from energy use, to being able to move large numbers of people quickly, to climate solutions.”
Yet Kunz said maglev trains have proved to be expensive, power-intensive, and potentially unsafe.
“The problem is if you have one tiny little settling of the earth — which happens all the time because of plate tectonics — that can create little movements in the maglev system, which can send trains crashing into stuff," he said. "It’s a very difficult system to make operational.”
Germany discontinued a high-profile maglev program after a fatal collision on a test course killed 23 people in 2006.
Kunz said that in 2007 French high-speed rail operators achieved a world speed record of about 357 mph using traditional “steel wheel on steel track" high-speed rail technology.
“We support advances in rail and technology,” he said, “but what we really support is technology that’s proven. We can talk about maglev and the Hyperloop, all these things that aren’t proven, then spend 20 years hoping they’ll get built.
"But meanwhile, we need good fast rail today.”