Trends in Japan

Trials to Begin on New Test Track From Spring 1997

JANUARY 9, 1997

The maglev train currently being tested in Yamanashi. (Photo: Railway Technical Research Institute)

Practicability to Be Decided in Fiscal 1999
The first section of a test track in Yamanashi Prefecture for the magnetically levitated train currently under development was recently completed, and trials are scheduled to begin from April 1997 to determine the new system's practicability. This means that the superfast maglev, which has been dubbed the "dream transport system of the twenty-first century," is about to enter the final stage of its development plan. Development of the train, called the "linear motor car" in Japanese, was begun 34 years ago by the then state-run Japanese National Railways. It is hoped that eventually the maglev will link Tokyo and Osaka in just one hour, racing along at a speed of 500 kilometers per hour.

In the case of conventional trains, which run on wheels, friction between the wheels and the rails means that their speed is limited to 350 kilometers per hour. If they were to go faster, the rails would suffer severe wear, and the noise would be too much. In contrast, the maglev train rises off the tracks at a speed of about 120 kilometers per hour, so its speed is not hampered by concerns about strain on the rails, noise, and vibration, because these are greatly reduced. Moreover, the maglev train does not rely on friction, so it can glide easily up slopes.

Development of the maglev train was begun in 1962 by a technical research institute of JNR. After JNR was privatized and split up in 1987, the maglev project was taken over by the new JR Group's Railway Technical Research Institute and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai). In trials so far on a test track in Miyazaki Prefecture in Kyushu, the maglev has reached an unmanned speed of 517 kilometers per hour and a manned speed of 411 kilometers per hour. That test track is short, however, covering only a total length of 7 kilometers, so in 1990 work began on a new test track in Yamanashi Prefecture that will cover a total length of 42.8 kilometers. The first section of this new test track, covering 18.4 kilometers, was completed in the summer of 1996.

The new test track has a double-track line, a tunnel, and other features that make it resemble the actual track that the maglev would use in commercial operation. The new prototype will have three carriages, each of which will be 28 meters long--slightly smaller than a Shinkansen (bullet train) carriage. Passenger cars will have two rows of seats and small windows, measuring 40 centimeters high and 30 centimeters across, so they will look rather like the inside of an airplane.

General adjustment trials on the maglev train using this first section of the new test track began in December 1996. The aim of these trials is to check such things as the performance of the magnets as the train travels slowly above the guideway and the system for verifying the position of the carriages in preparation for the full-scale magnetic levitation tests that are scheduled to begin in April 1997. Repeated tests will be carried out over three years of the maglev traveling at a maximum speed of 550 kilometers per hour and of the effect of two maglev trains passing each other, as well as other tests, and a decision on the system's practicability is scheduled to be made in fiscal 1999.

Trends in Japan

Economy || Science || Sports || International Affairs
Information Society || Lifestyle || Society || Environment