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Japan's Maglev Train

Part 2

Japan's Unique Superconducting Magnets

The latest improved version of the train in test stages, close to a commercially viable model.

The latest improved version of the train in test stages, close to a commercially viable model. (C)CENTRAL JAPAN RAILWAY COMPANY

It takes an extremely strong magnet to lift a train into the air and move it forward at high speeds. Japan developed its own special superconducting magnets for this purpose. When you cool certain materials below a certain temperature, electrical resistance disappears. For the Linear High-Speed Train, a special kind of metal is cooled to -269ºC. This turns it into a superconductor. A superconductor is a material that produces no resistance when electricity flows through it. This superconductive metal is used in the coils of the new train, producing a strong magnetic force that continues as long as electricity flows through it. Using superconducting magnets boosts acceleration, enabling the train to reach speeds of 580 km/h within just 8.8 kilometers. Conventional magnets would barely be enough to lift a train even one centimeter off the ground, but the super-strong magnets used in the new train lift the superconducting linear train roughly ten centimeters in the air. Japan's Linear High-Speed Train is the only system in the world to lift a train so high. In most linear systems, the train is only lifted one centimeter or so off the ground. In others, only the motor power comes from magnets and the train itself does not lift off the ground but uses wheels like a normal train. Japan's system enables the train to run smoothly at high speeds, even over uneven ground. In the event of an earthquake, it also allows the train to operate safely until the train can be brought to a stop.

SCMaglev and Railway Park

The train carriage that recorded the maximum speed of 581km per hour, the world record for a manned vehicle, is installed in Nagoya's SCMaglev and Railway Park in Aichi Prefecture, scheduled to open in March. (C)CENTRAL JAPAN RAILWAY COMPANY

At the moment, a commercial version of the Linear Chuo Shinkansen (Central Shinkansen Line) equipped with a superconducting linear motor is in the planning stages. A commercially viable "L0" train using the new technology is expected to be ready by 2013. The goal is to achieve an operating speed of 500km/h. This would reduce the travel time between Tokyo and Nagoya—a journey of 366 kilometers—to just 40 minutes, from 95 minutes today. The 515-kilometer journey between Tokyo and Osaka would be reduced from 145 minutes to just 67 minutes.

(Updated in March 2011)