Japan May Offer America Free Maglev Train Technology


Stephen Luntz

Stephen has a science degree with a major in physics, an arts degree with majors in English Literature and History and Philosophy of Science and a Graduate Diploma in Science Communication.

Freelance Writer

677 Japan May Offer America Free Maglev Train Technology
Yosemite. The technology used on this Maglev test train has been offered to the United States for free
The Japanese government is reported to be preparing to offer assistance to the America in getting its very fast train program off the ground. Literally. 
The world's fastest trains use Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) technology to remove the frictional effects of wheels on track. With superconducting magnets suspending them above the track trains can shoot along at speeds closer to airplanes than traditional rail. The record speed for Japan's SCMaglev is 581km/h. The only commercially operating Maglev in Japan is a short urban route, where the technology was chosen for its quiet rather than speed, but more adventurous systems are under development.
Aside from the what is needed to accelerate (some of which can be retrieved with regenerative breaking) the energy required to move a train on the flat is to overcome friction and air resistance. Maintaining electromagnets at temperatures required to allow superconductivity requires less energy than would be lost at high speeds from friction. Moreover, maintenance costs are expected to be lower as wear and tear is removed. 
With the development of high speed rail in the United States stalled the Japanese government hopes that waiving of the Maglev license fee will give the idea a boost, as well as allowing their own version to steal a march on Chinese and South Korean competitors.
The proposal is to use MaGLev to run trains from New York to Washington at speeds of close to 500km/h (300mph). Although maximum speeds are not as fast as air travel, the capacity to leave and arrive in the center of cities, and reduced need for screening, means that door to door travel would generally be much quicker than by plane.
MagLev technology is currently hugely expensive. The Nagoya-Tokyo-Osaka plan is expected to cost US$112 billion to run 900km (550 miles). However, its supporters argue that, as with so many other technologies, the cost will come down as more lines are built. Congressional Republicans, on the other hand, have been staunchly opposed to funding more modest high speed rail plans and aren't likely to be swayed by the offer towards passing the federal money needed to make a project like this happen. Indeed, so politicized has rail become that Republicans at state level are blocking train lines even when the federal government is putting up almost 90% of the cost.
Preparatory to the announcement the Japanese Prime Minister Shinto Abe took US ambassador Caroline Kennedy to experience the test track.