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Magnetic Levitating Trains Get Go-Ahead In Japan 425

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the futureworld-is-now dept.
An anonymous reader writes "They've been on the drawing board for 40 years but the politicos have finally approved routes for the 500kph maglev trains to replace bullet trains." I wonder if they'll let me test out maglev rollerblades on the track.
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Magnetic Levitating Trains Get Go-Ahead In Japan

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  • by liquidpele (663430) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:32AM (#25469163) Journal
    Anyone else read that as "Magic Levitating Trains" ?
  • leave it to the japanese to set the bar.
    500kmh eh? wouldn't that be more useful in places with HUGE distances to trek, like, canada or usa, or the russian frontier? haha.
    i'm sure we westerners will steal the technology when it become cheap enough to implement. it's gonna be a looong while.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      i'm sure we westerners will steal the technology

      Umm, look up "Eric Laithwaite".

      • Yep - 1974 was the best set of Royal Instiution Christmas lectures ever.

        It's time they repeated that series - I was only 10 at the time, but was spellbound, especially by the air-powered gyroscope.

        Lest we forget, Laithwaite also helped build the Manchester Mark 1 computer - the first stored-program computer, so we have more than just fancy trains to thank him for.

      • Eric came up with the idea made it work at all ...no one was interested

        The Japanese liked the idea (fast trains with very little noise) and have spent years doing the research to make it actually buildable .. they also have several systems already up and running, this will be just the first to be an actual commuter system that is fast ...

        They have a demonstration system that runs at 581km/h and a working urban transit system that runs at 100 km/h

    • by Trails (629752) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:41AM (#25469343)
      Meh just buy it now on credit. I'm sure the japanese will lend us the money. It's foolproof!!
    • by butterflysrage (1066514) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:50AM (#25469491)

      except being far apart you have the problem of getting the track actually built. While I don't know much of the Russian frontier, or much of rural US... I know there is a whole LOT of empty land in Canada, rocky, swampy, forest covered nothing. Plowing a train route through the Canadian Shield is not just difficult, in many places it's pretty damn impossible. The hardest rocks in the world cover most of eastern Canada, and despite not being a steep as the Japanese Alps, the sheer hardness of the rocks would make blasting/tunneling prohibitively expensive. On the flip side of that, one would need MASSIVE bridges to cover many of the dips and rivers in Quebec and Ontario.... It is just all around cheaper to fly over it all.

      The Tokyo/Nagoya run was likely picked as a first attempt as it is fairly flat and there is an absurd amount of travel between the two centers. At about 20 million people in the greater Tokyo area, and over 8 in the area around Nagoya, these are two of the thee largest cities centers in the country... add the two together and you have almost as many people as there are in ALL of Canada.

      They have the demand, money, and geology for it.

      • There are lots of flat spaces in Canada. Think of a link between TO and Montreal. Or Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina, and Winnepeg.

        Calgary to Vancouver would be a bitch, but I like driving the route anyway, or taking a slow train; such lovely scenery.

        And by the time one considers the Air Canada subsidy taxes, you could finance mag levs from Halifax to Prince George.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by inca34 (954872)
        Wouldn't it be awesome if Canada had an awesome rail system with stunning scenery, decent trip times and fairs, and with good train stops? Oh wait, they do, and it's world class:

        http://www.viarail.ca/en_index.html?wt.ad=english_link_view&wt.ac=click_English_link
      • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:42AM (#25470331) Journal
        It is just all around cheaper to fly over it all.

        Now, perhaps, but until when? Oil spiked to almost $150 a barrel this year. If it goes up to $150 and STAYS THERE, the airline industry as we know it will simply disappear.

        you had damn well better have a VERY effective train system installed BEFORE that happens.

        RS

      • by $criptah (467422) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @12:47PM (#25471241) Homepage

        Have you traveled around the United States? In many places we have geology for that too. Unfortunately, many of these cutting edge ideas won't get off the ground because of the current deficits and millions of Joe Plumbers who will fight for every cent spent outside their pocket. I will not be surprised to hear that things like high speed trains and ability to use cell phones for purchases will be linked to socialism and "'em Asians." While the whole world is trying to march forward this country seems to be taking one step back at a time.

        But let's focus on geology for now. There are many valleys and flat places around the U.S. that scream "give me a train!" You can put a train between San Francisco and Los Angeles without fighting the terrain too much. Will Californians do it? Does not look like it because nobody wants to give money. Mid-west and Eastern U.S. are prime candidates for more rails as well. Hell, even if somebody put a high speed train between Silicon Valley and some place in low Sierra I would love to commute on that every day. If I can spend one hour on a train and live 250 miles away from my place of work, that would be awesome. We don't have to focus on extremely long distances. Why not build trains to connect places that can be connected? Fewer cars on the road, shorter lines in airports. It is not about building socialism or taking away your car. It is all about leverage. If we ground our aircraft for some reason or if there is a problem with a major highway it will only make sense to take a train. Currently we put all our eggs in one basket and when oil shoots past $140pbl everybody goes ape shit because we are simply forced to pay the price. We can't avoid it. We can't say "Gee dear, I will be taking a train today since there is no need to stop by for groceries after work."

        But yeah, leave it to Japan and other socialist countries to leave the world. Let's focus on 9/11, terrorism and THAT ONE with his ties to Arabs and Muslims.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by inviolet (797804)

          But yeah, leave it to Japan and other socialist countries to leave the world. Let's focus on 9/11, terrorism and THAT ONE with his ties to Arabs and Muslims.

          You're spinning this maglev project as socialism, and equating our resistance to it as ignorant xenophobia?

          What if ultra-expensive trains, requiring (due to their speed) very smooth runs of rail, are justified by market and geographic conditions in Japan which do not exist in America? Japan's decision to proceed and America's decision to refrain are b

        • by el_munkie (145510) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @08:00PM (#25477093)

          Your post is nothing but a succession of bad logic, typos, and off-topic strawmen.

          Have you traveled around the United States? In many places we have geology for that too.

          Geology is irrelevant. We have highways that go straight through mountains. If we wanted to, we could do the same thing with trains. The problem is that our population distribution is so spread out.

          Unfortunately, many of these cutting edge ideas won't get off the ground because of the current deficits and millions of Joe Plumbers who will fight for every cent spent outside their pocket.

          Governmental bodies in the U.S. consistently piss away taxpayer money in obscene ways. I don't make much more than my expenses, yet the government takes 30% of my paycheck. And where does it go? A Social Security program that will be insolvent long before I retire. Bridges to nowhere. Bailouts. Pointless wars. And both major party candidates whole-heartedly support these and want more of the same.

          will not be surprised to hear that things like high speed trains and ability to use cell phones for purchases will be linked to socialism and "'em Asians."

          That's a really weak attempt to inject racism into it. How often do you hear rednecks bashing Asians for having excellent cell-phone service and fast trains?

          You can put a train between San Francisco and Los Angeles without fighting the terrain too much. Will Californians do it? Does not look like it because nobody wants to give money.

          I don't blame them. California is completely incapable [signonsandiego.com] of managing money. Your solution is to give them more and to hope that they manage it responsibly? By the way, I just mailed in my ballot, and it has a very dark square next to the "No" option for Prop 1A.

          Hell, even if somebody put a high speed train between Silicon Valley and some place in low Sierra I would love to commute on that every day. If I can spend one hour on a train and live 250 miles away from my place of work, that would be awesome.

          You want taxpayers to lay you a high-speed rail directly from an exurb to the place you work? I guess you'll want another track going from your neighbor's house to L.A., and another to Sacramento? This is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. Move closer to where you work.

          You make a semi-coherent point after that: High-speed rail would be a viable replacement for airline travel. But it would be better if we waited until the technology is more mature. Let the smaller, denser countries work out the bugs and we can implement it when it works well.

          But yeah, leave it to Japan and other socialist countries to leave the world. Let's focus on 9/11, terrorism and THAT ONE with his ties to Arabs and Muslims.

          That's an absolutely pathetic attempt to inject U.S. Presidential politics into the discussion. Go back to Digg.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by zoney_ie (740061)

            High speed rail *is* mature, certainly for the fairly tame speeds required to compete with air travel over short/medium distances. There's no excuse for the US not having some high speed rail lines to reduce the use of inefficient, costly and overcrowded airline services and highways.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ChrisA90278 (905188)

      "wouldn't that be more useful in places with HUGE distances to trek"

      Not really. Airplanes work best over long distances. The reason is the cost of the track.

      Trains work best for medium distances. Airplanes don't work well for 200 mile runs because you have to wait so long to board the plane that you might as well drive a car but a train can make stops and then zip back up to high speed and only take five minutes at each stop.

  • Population Density (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Daryen (1138567) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:36AM (#25469247)

    This sort of project makes a lot of sense in a place like Japan where there are a few places with very dense population separated by rural areas.

    America is one of very few places in the world with sprawling suburbs that make transportation projects like this unfeasible. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it will be exponentially more difficult than for us than for a country like Japan, or even most Eastern European countries.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:48AM (#25469457)

      Most, if not 95%+ of all rail traffic in the US is in small, highly populated corridors - think BosWash or through Californian cities. If this was a viable alternative to air travel, I think most folk would hop on it in an instant to avoid the hassles of modern air travel.

      • by Qzukk (229616) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:01AM (#25469669) Journal

        If this was a viable alternative to air travel

        The airliners have nothing to fear. Since the trains levitate, the TSA will simply declare that they have authority over security for them, and they'll make sure its just as much of a hassle as flying.

      • by Cheeko (165493) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:42AM (#25470327) Homepage Journal

        Exactly, but so long as AMTRAK is in charge of managing this it will never happen. Acela had the potential to steal massive amounts of travel from the airlines. If you could do Boston to NYC in 2 hours by train it would be faster/cheaper than flying.

        Its the politics and half-assed shortcuts that are preventing it. Would it take financial capital to start up? Sure. But if done RIGHT it would return on its investment pretty quickly. However Amtrak is constantly doing it wrong. They need a dedicated line, with maybe 2 inter city stops. The train needs to run full out the entire time its not stopped. I'm not 100% certain of the route Acela uses, but if it stopped once in RI and once in CT you could be doing 150mph the entire time in between. Even at $100 per ticket thats far better than flying. How many Boston to NY flights are their daily?

        In general the US just has a broken view of how train infrastructures should work. The best model for a place like the US is a hub system. You designate major metros that have inter city traffic as hubs (NYC, Boston, DC, Philly) You run limited highspeed inter city trains between them. Dedicated lines for the majority/all of the trip. Once a person gets to the city they can use conventional rail to travel to surrounding areas if they so choose. Having intercity trains slowed waiting on local traffic or making local stops is just a terrible idea.

        I ran an itinerary of a Boston to LA train trip on Amtrak and the number of stops was just silly. Amtrak just needs to realize its cheaper to ignore some areas and improve travel times and they will be able to be competitive with airlines. If I could do Boston or NYC to Chicago with say 4-5 stops Same thing for Boston->NYC->DC, and be able to do it at 150mph on average, then $100/ticket 1 way would be more than reasonable, considering you'd be looking at double that for a plan ticket.

        As mentioned in one of the above posts, the key is flight time + airport time + 20% > train time between 2 cities. The 20% makes up for the fact that people will consider slightly longer for a significant savings in cost.

    • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:03AM (#25469701)

      America is one of very few places in the world with sprawling suburbs that make transportation projects like this unfeasible.

      Not necissarily true. I think the important thing is to get people thinking of a maglev more the way they think of airplanes than the way they think of trains. Americans in general are very resistant to rail travel for some reason, mostly because the only experience they have with it is a friend of a friend who rode Amtrak once. Why not have non-stop routs between the major cities of each region (LA, Chicago, Houston, Miami, New York). Put the Maglev terminals at the airport and consider them another part of the air transportation network.

      Alternatively, put maglev lines between airports that are close together but still see lots of traffic. I'm thinking something like Mineapolis to Chicago since that is what I am familiar with. Generally, if you want to fly into or out of Minneapolis, it is cheaper to go through Chicago. It would save a lot of time, money, and polution if you could ride the maglev between them. If it worked out and was profitable, it would also be a powerful proof of concept for longer lines in the future.

      • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:24AM (#25470021)

        actually, in the last amtrak bill that passed, their was money in there to extend the high speed rail between chicago and milwaukee (one of the most reliable and most profitable routes for amtrak, airport to airport). They are going to extend it to Madison, then up to St. Paul Not Maglev, but 100+mph trains, with limited stops. Even without Maglev, the diesel electric trains are the most efficient and environmentally friendly way to move cargo or people around.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MightyYar (622222)

        I'll tell you why we are resistant to rail: it's expensive and slow.

        NYC to Philly (or the other way) by car is about 2 hours. If you are traveling ALONE in the car, it will cost you about $20 in gas, $15 in tolls. Throw in $30 for parking.

        Rail options are about $60 for Amtrak, $100 for the Express. Already your as expensive as car travel, and double the cost if you are traveling with someone else. Time is about the same when you consider that your final destination is very unlikely to be Penn Center or 30th

    • by Dripdry (1062282)

      Right, but if it could be built, perhaps it could begin to change the entire mentality around surburban sprawl.

      If business-people could get from Chicago to Minneapolis, or Denver, or St Louis, at a fraction of the cost they do now, do you think businesses just might decide that an office building downtown would be a good idea? People might just decide they are willing to travel more (I know a fair number of people who are too scared too fly).

      Just some thoughts, sort of "build it and they will come" mentalit

    • by porpnorber (851345) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:42AM (#25470323)

      Two thoughts on this. First, yeah, why do you guys do that? What is it about Americans that they want their towns to be so mindbogglingly inconvenient? I don't know about you, but I like to be able to, I don't know, pop out for some milk and fresh tomatoes, stroll down to the fountain where the pretty girls walk by, go for a coffee or a beer or an ice cream, perhaps even walk to work! This is supposed to be a democracy—why build such misery for yourselves?

      Second, HSTs, like aircraft, connect hubs, not suburbs. Starting and stopping works better than with a plane, but it still puts a hell of a dent in your average speed, which is your selling point. The population density of the US is more than a quarter of that of the EU; that means that the distance between hubs is on average only doubled—and the fact that there's nothing much happening in the midwest only argues in favour of trains by pushing up the density on the sides. Indeed, if we take the (sadly American) argument that we cannot take any risks and we can only deploy technology where we are sure it is justified, well, France has HSTs. If you need a population distribution like that of France to do this thing, then—if I read these maps right—there ought to be HSTs (and I mean like TGV, not Acela) from Boston to DC, from New York to Chicago, and within the states of California and Florida.

      Of course, what's really going on is that America just doesn't do infrastructure, because the country is hung up on a psychological model of 'winning' against the 'competition' by holding back your neighbours. That's why businesses talk all the time about 'market share' and in times of difficulty fire R&D and boost marketing. If you built a train system, other people could use it! Perhaps even—OMG—poor people! Then how would I know I was better than them?

      (And I'm not making this up. I'm living in San Jose and hearing what the people around me are saying about the light rail, the BART extension, the HST project.)

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by snspdaarf (1314399)

        (And I'm not making this up. I'm living in San Jose and hearing what the people around me are saying about the light rail, the BART extension, the HST project.)

        So you are not actually in America after all.

      • by Thelasko (1196535) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @12:43PM (#25471197) Journal

        I don't know about you, but I like to be able to, I don't know, pop out for some milk and fresh tomatoes, stroll down to the fountain where the pretty girls walk by, go for a coffee or a beer or an ice cream, perhaps even walk to work! This is supposed to be a democracyâ"why build such misery for yourselves?

        I like those things also. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees. There are a number of factors that drive urban sprawl in the US:
        1) Housing is expensive in the city and land is much cheaper away from the city.
        2) People enjoy the freedom of an automobile (something they have to give up living in the city)
        3) There is a belief that the city is dangerous and not suitable for raising children.
        4) There is a belief that children need a backyard (I honestly never understood this one at all, what good is a backyard when your friends live 10 miles away?)
        5) There is a belief that the city is unhealthy so they move away for the "fresh air"
        In the end I think it has to do with an American desire to live in 1950s small town America, but all of the jobs are in major cities. I've noticed that there has been a recent shift toward moving into the city among recent college graduates. I think well planned colleges have made people aware of the fact that they don't have to rely on a car to go everywhere, and services like Zipcar have made people realize that a car is available if they need it.

      • by Hell O'World (88678) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @01:13PM (#25471709)

        I always thought that the American destruction of the cities in lieu of building sprawl was stupid, but then I realized that there really was one good reason for doing it that way. The suburbs were built in the cold war, and suburbs are much harder to nuke.
        Luckily, suburbs are widely being shown to be a failure. You mention checking out the pretty girls by the fountain, how about having any incidental contact with anyone ever? Suburbs are a nightmare of tinted windshields and road rage, hour long commutes and no pride of place.
        In the misguided attempt at "safety" we have given away our humanity. Now there's a nice eulogy for America.

      • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @02:03PM (#25472473)

        High speed rail could work well but here in the US we have a very good interstate highway system. Yes gas is expensive. But guess what? even at the highest price point this summer it was still cheaper to drive on the highway then to take a train. And you know what? driving is faster. Faster AND cheaper. People will move ro trains when they are 20% or so LESS expensive than cars. The car has the great advantage of gong from door to door.

        Within a city cars can move slowly but outside on the highway it is easy to go 65 or 70MPH If the car gets 30 miles to the galon it costs less then $10 an hour to operate. No train tickets are o cheap as $10 per hour on travel time.

        One more thing. Carpools. I can but my entire family in the car travel but if I took a train I'd have to buy a ticket for each person. Trains work only if traveling solo. Carpool give a 2X to 4X advantage to cars.

        What is really needed are zero emission cars that are fully automatic and self driving Once we have those we don't need trains

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by porpnorber (851345)

          Cars faster than trains? Even the pathetic trains they have in England do 125MPH. In France that's 200MPH. China? 270MPH. Cars cheaper than trains? Only, I suspect, because your wonderful highway system is state-subsidised, but the government is in bed with the automotive companies and will do nothing similar for rail. Wake up, America! There's a whole world out there, and you're not within sight of the leading edge when it comes to anything infrastructural.

          Oh, and you're right. Train tickets aren't as che

      • by hador_nyc (903322) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @03:01PM (#25473375) Homepage
        You're right about defining the problem, but wrong as to why. 60 years ago, HST, if they had existed, would have worked very well in the US. That was before the suburb culture started here, just at the beginning of the car culture, and a time when the US was laid out much like Europe; big dense cities, small dense towns, and not much (farms or forrests) in between. When president Eisenhower, Europeans might remember him as the Supreme Allied Commander for the Allies during WWII, decided to build the interstate highways; copying Germany; to ease troop movements around our country and to help speed moving consumer products around our country, everything changed.

        (As an aside ALL US military bases, expect the "secret ones cough cough Area 51" are near Interstate highways. They built the highways that way on purpose.)

        Anyway, you had cheap cars, a population with the money to buy them and a "big house and a yard" (the suburban dream which I grew up in), and now highways which made it easy to live there and move to the cities. Before those highways, we had trains that connected most, if not all of our towns. The one I grew up in, like so many towns in the US, was centered at the time around the train station that, in Monroe NY's case, linked it with NYC. By the time my parents moved there, and I came into the picture, in the 70s, the town center was shifting towards the land nearer the highways. The local train system had collasped, and Amtrak was created out of many collasped commercial passenger train lines. They were all killed by the highways; and cheap gas. That process was replicated in small towns throughout the US. (That train line is now a bike/walking path that extends throughout the whole county; rather pretty actually.)

        It's not that we hate trains, hate poor people, or infrastructure in general, it's that air fare was cheap at the same time cars, and living in the suburbs was cheap. The government continues to pour billions, collected in 48cents per gallon gasoline taxes, into those high ways.

        My point being that the highways killed the trains with help from the Boeing 707/747(yes I know other aircraft from other manufactures helped, but I'm just making a point). The problem is that no one realized how much of a mistake we all made until the gasoline crisis of the 70s, which was quickly forgotten when gas got cheap again in the 80s.

        If you want to see, and use, the best mass transit system in the US, come to NYC. The commuter rail is complained about, because it doesn't have enough trains/cars/lines. Here, people love it, and everyone uses it. Subway, Metro-north(east side of the Hudson River and into CT), Long Island Railroad, and New Jersey Transit. We have a new Air Train monorail that connects two of those commuter rail lines to two of our 3 airports, we are building a new subway line (#2 finally after a 40 year wait) in parallel to the heavily overcrowded #6 aka Lexington ave line.

        Yes, some parts of the us know the value of rail, NYC in particular, but the rest will likely be taught the value in the coming years as gas, in spite of the recent drop, will rise again.
    • by Rakshasa Taisab (244699) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @12:29PM (#25470951) Homepage

      This sort of project makes a lot of sense in a place like Japan where there are a few places with very dense population separated by rural areas.

      No... NO IT DOESN'T!!!

      It makes sense only in the minds of people who only know the image Japan wants to project to the world.

      They don't need _even faster_ trains using Ãbertech, they already got the shinkansen. Shaving off 30 minutes of the ride from Tokyo to Osaka isn't worth it, when the effort should really be spent on making what they have _affordable_.

      Wasting enormous sums of money (that they don't have, most of it is funneled out of the postal savings and pension funds... Which, btw forced the previous prime minister to resign cause they 'lost' all the records of how much people had deposited) on unneeded construction projects is the _LAST_ thing Japan needs.

      They should try to bury all the cables hanging around everywhere... Seriously, only place in the country where they bury cables are Shinjuku and Harajuku; as a pilot program. It's so ugly that after a while you just learn to ignore it, yet still it lingers in the back of your head.

      Or they could build people real houses, instead of these un-isolated plastic... things. Winter here isn't _that_ warm.

    • We shouldn't try (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @12:37PM (#25471079) Journal

      America is one of very few places in the world with sprawling suburbs that make transportation projects like this unfeasible. That doesn't mean we shouldn't try, but it will be exponentially more difficult than for us than for a country like Japan, or even most Eastern European countries.

      The 'exponentially more difficult' part is why we shouldn't try to use rail to solve transportation problems. We're just too spread out. Rail only connects a very narrow corridor of people, and moreover, fixes their location indefinitely. If cities re-configure, the rail can't be reconfigured without lots of money.

      If, on the other hand, we reconfigured cars so that they were capable of forming dynamic trains, we could get a lot of the benefit of trains without the drawbacks. For instance, trains move lots of vehicles more cheaply than a single vehicle because the locomotive bears the cost of pushing air out of the way. That not inconsiderable expense rises exponentially with speed. In a train, it's spread out over the vehicles following the locomotive but in a car, the single car bears the entire expense.

        If cars drafted behind each other, they could share that savings that trains have. For that to work, it would require the cars to be able to communicate between themselves to sort out common destinations and speeds.

      In practice, you'd jump on the highway per normal and your car would start querying other cars how far down the road they're going. When it found another car that was headed the same way for more than a mile or so, they'd sort out who would be lead car and who would draft and arrange themselves accordingly. The person in the lead car would continue to drive, but all the cars trailing him would be tucked in within an inch or two of each other. Their car's computers would be telegraphing to each other what the lead car was doing in terms of accelerating/decelerating so that they would do the same at the same time. When someone's destination exit arrived, the car would telegraph to the following cars that it was peeling off and the other cars would momentarily disconnect while the car pulled out of the train and then the remaining cars would re-connect. In the case of the leader, second car up would become the leader. Tail car peeling off wouldn't affect the train at all.

      For a car to be allowed to join a train, it would have to carry a digitally signed certificate saying when the last time it was checked out for safety so members of the train would be confident that one of the cars wouldn't fall apart while they're within inches of it and that it was able to stop itself within a standard distance. If you didn't want to join a train, or you joined a train that made you uncomfortable for some reason, you'd turn off the feature and just drive yourself. But if you're a commuter, letting someone else drive the same route day after day, has a lot of appeal. A common commute of 20 miles would give you 20 minutes to yourself to do whatever while someone else drove.

      With reaction times removed and cars bunched up within inches of each other, highways can carry more cars at higher speeds. Currently, we slow down when the highways get congested because we have to account for reaction times to propagate down the road. With the cars handling reaction time issues, they can speed up quite a bit.

      Add a little intelligence to our cars and suddenly our highways become much greener.

  • Efficiency (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ILikeRed (141848) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:36AM (#25469249) Journal
    Anyone know how the energy usage per passenger compares with a large jet?
    • Re:Efficiency (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Daimanta (1140543) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:43AM (#25469355) Journal

      You need to remember that you don't have that costly climb to 10 km. It will probably be a lot cleaner.

      • Re:Efficiency (Score:5, Insightful)

        by interiot (50685) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:48AM (#25469451) Homepage
        2) You don't have to carry an entire trip's worth of fuel with you.
      • by ILikeRed (141848)
        "Clean" is a whole different issue. I just wonder about it's efficiency. I would like to have fast trains between major cities in either case, but the engineering interests me.
      • Re:Efficiency (Score:4, Insightful)

        by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:52AM (#25469519)

        Also you don't need a portable energy source (like fossil fuel) You can use normal infrastructure energy including the more clean types. The problem with Cars and Airplains is that they need to carry their energy with them and convert it in real time, So fossil fuel is good at that, A lot of energy in a small package that is controllable, and affordable.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        You need to remember that you don't have that costly climb to 10 km.

        You realize you also get to come down from 10 km for free...

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          HA. Yeah, that would be usefully true if jetliners had a decent glide ratio. as it is, once the engines cut out, they fall out of the skies like stones. So, sure, you get to "come down for free" but nose down at 800 mph...

          HW

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by evanbd (210358)

            Check your math. The glide ratio impacts the efficiency the whole way, uniformly. (Technically the L/D ratio, but they're nearly the same thing; I'll treat them as such here.) Assume your glide ratio is a conservative 10:1; the Gimli Glider [wikipedia.org] demonstrated 12:1 with a 767-200. Climbing to 10 km at a slope of 1/5 uses 3x the cruising fuel for the first 50 km (3x the fuel per km travelled, but mostly done at lower speed; it's not a 3x change in throttle setting). The glide down then uses no fuel for the las

    • Re:Efficiency (Score:5, Informative)

      by bdenton42 (1313735) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:58AM (#25469617)
      From http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/transportation/4232548.html?page=2 [popularmechanics.com] they appear to be saying maglev is about 36% the energy cost of airplanes and about 43% of conventional trains.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I would imagine the train wins hands down. Electrical generation is more efficient than jet engine thrust, being a more closed system vs the jet engine. Even early maglev systems (Disney) had been shown to be fairly energy efficient with computerized control of power distribution.

      Don't forget to account for the share of costs of the ATC system of radars, centers and towers to track and route the jet. This would significantly outweigh the cost of similar systems for a maglev train.

      I won't go into airport

  • by AnEducatedNegro (1372687) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:36AM (#25469253)
    Our university [odu.edu] has had this technology [slashdot.org] on our campus for almost 10 years now. If you're wondering how it works check out Dr Lawrence Weinstein's page on maglevs [odu.edu]. Our current problem is vibration which makes riding at any speed intolerable. AEN
    • by coppice (546158) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:15AM (#25469873)
      The one from Pu Dong airport in Shanghai has no vibration problems. In fact its super smooth at 430km/h. However, they have used an enormously thick concrete structure to be stiff enough to achieve that.
    • by jmichaelg (148257) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:40AM (#25470305) Journal

      The Japanese have solved the vibration problem along with a host of others. There have been a few other problems that crept up like quenching and the not insignificant problem of cost.

      Quenching appears in magnets when they're jiggled enough that the atoms lose their orientation and the material stops being magnetic. According to their blog, that happened to them at least once a few years back (around 2001-2002). At the time, one of the American inventors, Jim Powell, told me that his partner and co-inventor of superconducting maglev, Gordon Danby, thought that the Japanese had not used pure enough aluminum. Using purer aluminum, of course, drives up the already high cost of the technology.

      Contrary to what you might think, the roadbed is not magnetic as that would have made the cost far too high. Instead, they line the roadbed with aluminum plates that become magnetic in the presence of a moving magnetic field. The magnetic field is provided by superconductors on the train. When the train is moving slowly, it runs on rubber tires as the roadbed can't generate enough lift to support the train.

      Cost has been the key factor that his stalled this technology. I've seen cost estimates as high as almost $1 billion/mile. The Tokyo-Osaka link was estimated at $200 billion. This proposal coming in at $50 billion for the short route from Tokyo to Nagoya of 160 miles is saying they can build it at .3 $billion/mile. The detours, of course, will drive the cost up as well as slow the train down.

      So if nothing else, the Japanese will provide the world with real data for both construction and operating costs. Their test bed already provides lots of interesting video [youtube.com]. Best part is at 5:30.

  • Oh Fast (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Monkey (795756) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:37AM (#25469269)
    About seven years ago I would have thought this was the epoch of cool. Now I think it's cool, but not even in the top 100 of cool civics works projects. Once I started riding my bike to work fast doesn't impress me like it once did. On the other hand Copenhagen has redid it's infrastructure to have protected bike lanes all over the city and residential districts are close to work. Now that's cool.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by entgod (998805)
      Bikes are nice but they are an option only for people who live relatively close to their working place. Weather can also be an issue. Here in Finland it can be a real pain cycling to work through half molten snow.

      Also, trains can carry at least hundreds of people at the same time. Also, a crowd of hundreds of japanese riding their bikes to work would look funny :)
    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      I couldn't agree more. A good safe bike path network blows all this high tech stuff away easy. I ride 6.1 miles each way and it is only about ten to fifteen minutes slower each way--and way more fun and relaxing.

      I'd want to ride a maglev once, though! It would be really cool from NYC to DC.

    • by PitaBred (632671)

      You keep using that word [answers.com]. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  • monorail (Score:5, Funny)

    by Paralizer (792155) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @10:45AM (#25469403) Homepage
    I've sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook. And, by gum, it put them on the map.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Kratisto (1080113)

      Well sir,
      There ain't nothin' on Earth like a
      Genuine,
      Bona fide,
      Electrified,
      Six car,
      Maglev Train

  • by boristdog (133725)

    I didn't think the Japanese could do anything to make the bullet trains (Shinkansen) any more awesome. Those things are fun to ride. Smoother than France's TGV.

  • Well at least their trains will go faster than their server!
  • by level4 (1002199) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:01AM (#25469677)

    And I hate those stupid blog stories anyway.

    Here's a real article with actual information:

    http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nb20081022a1.html [japantimes.co.jp]

  • by Captain Spam (66120) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:04AM (#25469723) Homepage

    Well, looks like Transport Tycoon Deluxe is a few years late in its estimates, strangely. I guess that makes up for SimCity 2000 being (apparently) more than a few years early with microwave power.

  • by gmor (769112) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:13AM (#25469853)
    we have a ballot measure this November to borrow $10 billion dollars (and receive matching amounts from fed) to build a bullet train line half a century after the Japanese did it. According to the planners [ca.gov], maglev was rejected because there are no large-scale deployments. Why do we never get to leapfrog technology in the US?
  • Security? (Score:2, Insightful)

    Not only of the passengers, train, and endpoints/stations, but now you have to protect the entire track too. All it takes is some terrorist group with RPGs going around blowing up sections of track, causing train derailments.
    • Okay okay...build the track underground?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sperbels (1008585)
      Technically, this can be done now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by robinsonne (952701)
      How many times have you seen terrorists blowing up train tracks with RPGs in the U.S. or Europe lately?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Sockatume (732728)
      Those are vulnerabilities of existing rail and road structures too, though. I mean, damaging a major road bridge at rush hour could probably cause as much havoc as derailing a maglev. More so floating bridges like the one out in Seattle. And aircraft aren't exactly reknowned for their imperviousness to rockets.
  • US in the dust... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by demonbug (309515) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:17AM (#25469907) Journal

    Great, it finally looks like we might start catching up [ca.gov] to where the Japanese were 40 years ago [wikipedia.org], and now they have to go and make the jump to MagLev.

    Yeah, I'm voting for Prop 1A - been following it since '97 or so (the proposition was originally supposed to appear back in 2000 or so, but they keep pushing it back). Expensive, and I doubt it will get the ridership they are projecting until a lot of additional work has gone into local transit in the destination cities, but I'm hopeful that it will kick-start our state and local governments into looking at options besides "build more roads".

  • by Piranhaa (672441) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:17AM (#25469911)

    500 kph(km/h) = 310.685596 mph

  • by MickLinux (579158) on Wednesday October 22, 2008 @11:34AM (#25470191) Journal

    ... would be only 250 kph with zero wait, nonstop direct. The huge expense (and questionable success... see what happened at ODU) of maglev would not be necessary.

    To do that, you have a main line, and then side branches with stations. On the side branches, people get on, and an engineer takes them out onto the main line in front of the train. The trains dock (basically at full speed), and lock together.

    Meanwhile, the back unit drops off the back, to proceed to the next station. Trains could go through, basically every half hour, and all rides would be one way, nonstop, direct at 250 kph (150 mph).

    When you get on the train, you slide your ticket through a reader, and are instructed which car to proceed to. Additional color coding can also help.

    That's for Japan, which would use a basically linear system.

    It's slightly more complicated for continental countries, requiring the main trains to travel in circuits -- but basically the same.

    With electric propulsion, and today's computers, GPS, and measurement, the system shouldn't be all that difficult.

    You end up with less wait than a nonstop flight, much cheaper transport, a lower carbon footprint, and comfortable travel.

    Add into that the possibilities for ordering meals and having them delivered piping hot, and it would replace most of your short-hop air travel. Now use the meals to make the tickets significantly cheaper the way Vanderbilt did on his NJ-NYC ferry, and you'd have a huge commercial success.

    That's not to say that one wouldn't need to design in certain protections, and that there wouldn't be hurdles to overcome, but the design would far outperform a 500 mph train that travels twice a day, at costs close to that of airfare.

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