Japan is continuing its full-scale preparations toward the commercial operation of a superfast maglev train, which will be able to fly along at a maximum speed of 550 kilometers (342 miles) per hour while levitated by a magnetic force induced by superconducting electromagnets. Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), the Railway Technical Research Institute, and others are awaiting the completion of part of a test line under construction in Yamanashi Prefecture; trial runs of a prototype three-carriage maglev train are scheduled to begin on this line from the spring of 1997.
Start of Tests in 1997
The maglev train in question is designed to move while floating above a concrete guideway by utilizing the repelling and sucking forces of superconducting electromagnets. The test line will measure a total of 42.8 kilometers; the first part, measuring 18.4 kilometers, is under construction and scheduled for completion in 1996. If it is decided that the maglev system will be employed on the envisioned Chuo Shinkansen route, a superfast rail link between Tokyo and Osaka for the twenty- first century, then this test line is expected to go into actual service as part of the route.
Prototype Carriages Already Completed
The three prototype carriages, which have been built with the actual carriages in mind, have a total length of 77.6 meters.The front carriage is shaped like the beak of a water bird at one end and wedge-shaped at the other; this design means that air resistance is small, and the train makes little noise as it cuts through the air. Since the train has fully automatic driving, there is no driver's seat, only a window fitted with a television camera to keep an eye on the line ahead. The carriages have a width of 2.9 meters, which is 50 centimeters narrower than the present Shinkansen (Japan's "bullet train") carriages, and passenger windows are small, like those of an airplane. The carriage bodies, which are made of aluminum alloy, with some duralumin used, are much lighter than conventional carriages. For example, while the middle carriages of the "Nozomi," the very latest Shinkansen train, weigh about 40 tons each, the head carriage of the maglev train to be tested weighs about 30 tons and the middle carriage about 20 tons. In addition, the prototype maglev carriages have been reinforced so that they can withstand superfast speeds. The maglev train does not float while starting up or slowing down but uses tires in the same way as an airplane. When the train's speed exceeds about 100 kilometers per hour, the train rises and then travels at high speed about 10 centimeters above the guideway. It is hoped that the maglev train will give a much more comfortable ride than conventional trains that run on rails.
Protecting the Human Body
The design of the carriages also takes into account the need to minimize the physical impact on passengers of the strong magnetic field that will be required to levitate a longer train of several carriages. The superconducting coils, which can be described as the heart of the train, making it float and move, have been located in the connecting parts between carriages and at the front of the head carriage. Moreover, the passageway through the connecting parts has been enclosed in a sheet of metal about 2-3 millimeters thick, which forms a powerful shield against the magnetic force. As a result, the magnetic force has been kept down to less than 10 gauss at passenger seats and less than 20 gauss in connecting passageways. This is higher than the terrestrial magnetic force of about 0.5 gauss but much smaller than magnetic cards (several hundred gauss) and magnetic health goods (more than 1,000 gauss). Researchers say that there is no worry about the maglev train's impact on the human body. The upcoming tests in 1997 will study the performance and safety of the maglev train, environmental countermeasures, and the practicability of its actual operation, including its economic feasibility.
(The above article, edited by Japan Echo Inc., is based on domestic Japanese news sources. It is offered for reference purposes and does not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.)