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Japanese Train Sets A Speed Record Of 581 kph 764

Azuma writes "Last night, on December 2, a high-speed Japanese train set a new record of 581 kph, breaking its own previous record. The new Maglev high speed had real passengers on board this time. They proved that the distance between Osaka and Tokyo can be covered in one hour's time. However, we wouldn't see real trains for a while now since the cost is prohibitively expensive at this time. However, they expect that the cost would come down over the next 20 years. This seems to be the future of transportation, at least in Japan. Here is a detailed article from The Japan Times."
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Japanese Train Sets A Speed Record Of 581 kph

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  • 361MPH (Score:5, Funny)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:32AM (#7616983)
    for those of us who don't use that artificial metric crap. I mean, really, if God wanted us to use the Metric system, he would have made the distance between the King's nose and his thumb to be exactly one meter.
    • Re:361MPH (Score:5, Funny)

      by mattjb0010 ( 724744 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:37AM (#7617002) Homepage
      for those of us who don't use that artificial metric crap.

      Have you considered a job working for NASA or the JPL?
    • Re:361MPH (Score:4, Funny)

      by javiercero ( 518708 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:39AM (#7617012)
      Too bad god made his penis exactly 1 inch long... a lot of repressed feelings and wars due to massive inferiority complexes could have been avoided if God had been more generous with the King!

      But then again, if God did not want us to use the metric system then how come s/he gave us Ten fingers? :) Rather than using the kings shortcommings, other people decided to use"standard" equipment.... unless you are one of them crab people, then you must be restricted to binary counting I guess.....

      Yeah it is late and I have been coding 2 days straight....
      • Re:361MPH (Score:2, Funny)

        by Dopefish_1 ( 217994 )
        But then again, if God did not want us to use the metric system then how come s/he gave us Ten fingers?

        Well, just to be pedantic, God didn't give us ten fingers. He went for the more practical combination of eight fingers and two thumbs.
      • Re:361MPH (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @09:31AM (#7617575)
        Actually, 10 fingers is a base 11 system, not base 10 (because 0 is usually represented by not raising any fingers, and than you have 10 numbers left, 10 + 1 = 11)
    • Re:361MPH (Score:5, Funny)

      by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:43AM (#7617037)
      for those of us who don't use that artificial metric crap.

      Yes, for those of us with twelve fingers, imperial measurements are much more natural.
      • Re:361MPH (Score:5, Funny)

        by pavon ( 30274 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @01:32PM (#7619665)
        Everyone should have 12 fingers! I mean really base ten is such a pain in the ass. People natually work well with common divisions and multiples of things, like half an hour, 1/3 a cup etc. Look at all the natually developed measuremnent units: 360 degrees, 24 hours / day, 60 minutes per hour, 12 inches per foot. All nicely divisable by all sorts of numbers. But ten is divisible by what, 2 and 5. Like that sucks. Think about how cool it would be if all the common fractions had simple decimal notations as well. In base 12: 1/4 = .3, 1/3 = .4 1/2 = .6 etc. None of this infinite repeating digit crap.

        Oh, and every time you hear about alien sightings they have 6 fingers on each hand. Is it a coincidence that those base-12 civlilizations are advanced enough to cross the galaxy, while we base-10'ers are still groveling in the dirt? I think not!

        Forget metric - it is cumbersome in its ten-ness. And imperial is out of sync with our numbering system. What we need is a base-12 metric system. And it all begins with genetically engineered 12-fingered children! Who's with me?
    • by zhenlin ( 722930 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:54AM (#7617096)
      God measured in cubits.

      Also, 581 kph = 116.5050712 microparsecs per century.
    • Re:361MPH (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      well, if GWB's nose keeps growing, it soon will be.
  • by Maestro4k ( 707634 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:34AM (#7616994) Journal
    The one thing I came to like the most when I visited Japan on vacation a few years ago was the train service. Not having a car truly didn't feel like a loss when you could easily hop on a train and be where you wanted faster than you could drive there. (Especially in Tokyo.)

    I just wish the US would invest in more passenger trains. They don't have to be super fast (like the one in this article), but imagine how much fuel/electricity we could save if we could all easily commute by train. And hey, you can always sleep on the train on the way to work, something you can't do while driving. (Or rather, something you shouldn't do, I'm sure someone's tried it.)

    • I think the reason the US as a whole doesn't invest more in trains is the fact that the country is A. Pretty big and B. Pretty Empty.
      There's a lot less people per square mile here then in Japan and the like.
      Personally, I love the Chicago transit authority. I've lived as far away as Milwaukee and still commuted into Chicago every day (in fact, living in Milwaukee the commute was shorter then a lot of other train lines - the train made 2 stops and went 80mph most of the way there, about 45 min commute). And t
      • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:53AM (#7617083)
        I think the reason the US as a whole doesn't invest more in trains is the fact that the country is A. Pretty big and B. Pretty Empty.

        That actually sounds more like a reason why it would be sensible to have a rail system to me, rather than a reason it hasn't got one.
        • While the reason, initially, was a corrupt business/government situation, the public aversion to trains is now more cultural than anything else.

          As the nation grew, the auto industry fought to suppress the train industry and succeeded. Now trains are mostly relegated to freight. Sure there are occasional passenger train systems across the nation... there are two in my general area (DART and The-T) but AMTRAK doesn't exist out here. And since we all have cars instead of buses and trains (largely! must I
          • As the nation grew, the auto industry fought to suppress the train industry and succeeded. Now trains are mostly relegated to freight.

            A nice Big Business conspiracy theory, but it's nonsense. For long distance passenger travel, it was the airlines that killed the railroads. In the densely urban Eastern Corridor (Chicago, around the lakes to the Washington/Boston Corridor), there is more passenger traffic than ever before. One reason the airlines won is their greater convience, the other is that the cou

      • I had a similar commute for a couple of years - about an hour doing between 50 and 80 MPH.

        Now imagine that done at 4 times the speed - the hour becomes 15 minutes. I could get 45 minutes more sleep every morning, and 45 minutes more beer / TV / Sex / Xbox in the evenings.

        Over the course of a year thats a whole lot of extra EVERYTHING. Roll on the new trains!
      • While I do not fully agree with your assesment of Chicago->LA, the most important route to build would be NY->Pit->Det->Chg->Mil.
        These 4 cities have more traffic between them than any other route in the USA. In fact, most airlines make all their profits doing cargo between NY/Chg.
        As to Chi->LA, well, I would argue for 3 East-west high-speed maglevs with stops every 1000M. Likeiwise, 4 North-South (W, Rocky, Missisppi River, E coast) to carry cargo.
      • by pdjohe ( 575876 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:35AM (#7617288)
        I think the reason the US doesn't have a better train system is...

        1. In the past, Ford wanted automobiles to be affordable enough so that every American family could own one.

        2. Gasoline is much cheaper in the US than in Europe and other parts of the world.

        3. In many parts of the US, it is impossible to get by without a car.

        4. Americans generally prefer privatization (own a car) over mass/public services.

        • by DABANSHEE ( 154661 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @03:39PM (#7620983)
          GM, firestone & Philip's Petroleum created a front company that purchased over 400 suburban railway & tram systems in the US, then ran them down & replaced them with buses. They even got a $10,000 fine when the govt prosecuted them under the anti-trust statutes. Yep they destroyed infrastructure that today would cost millions or billions to replace for a then $10,000 penalty.

          If it wasn't for that fact, many US cities today could [b]potentially[/m] have suburban railway systems as extensive as Sydney's suburban & inter-urban Cityrail system []

          Really AFAIC railways systems should be publically run & financed through consilidated revenue, just as roads are. Public transport will never reach it's full potential while it's expected to make a profit (or break even), while there's no equilivent expectation in regards roads
    • by dbleoslow ( 650429 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:42AM (#7617024)
      I live in Tokyo now and if there's one thing you can almost always count on, it's the train system. I know that if my commute is 30 minutes, it will always be 30 minutes, except for the rare exception, whether it's rush hour or late at night. I go back to the DC and I'm stuck on the Beltway during rush hour for 3 hours for what is normally a 30 minute drive.

      I don't think passenger trains will ever catch on in The States. The population is just too spread out right now. Japan is roughly the size of California but with half the population of the US (If I recall correctly.) You just can't fit all those people on the roads at 1 or 2 people per car. And besides, how will all the salarymen molest the school girls if they're in a car and not crammed into a train :)
    • [quote]I just wish the US would invest in more passenger trains.[/quote]

      There's a reason why Amtrak is (or was) the only profitable railway network in the world: it runs very few passenger trains. Railways don't like passengers because they're a pain in the ass, expect to get places in a hurry and complain if they're late. Freight is the only thing that makes economic sense on railways, with the exception of a few commuter services in and out of big cities with traffic congestion problems.

      [quote]imagine h
    • by fruey ( 563914 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:45AM (#7617045) Homepage Journal

      Too bad most places don't invest in more trains. However, investment usually implies a return, and most train companies lose money. The more captalistic a country is, the worse this becomes... note in the article " Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) and the government-affiliated Railway Technical Research Institute." that it's a state sponsored initiative getting these things going.

      The French TGV is one good example of a system that works, but it's not easy to replicate economically in a country like the UK where there is public outcry at any possible addition of rail links or something close to where they live (and population density is three times higher than France, so routing around people isn't as easy). The Eurostar now has high speed track for part of the link in the UK, shaving 20 minutes off total journey time, but the route is incredibly inefficient and could have been much more direct. Also, it was way off schedule!

      The US gave up on trains long ago. Flights and cars are all there is, Amtrak is a joke. Ironic that the rail revolution made the US what it is today, and it has to be the major economy that has turned its back on rail the most. High speed services coast to coast would undoubtedly be too expensive though. I think there must be a magic ratio between average distance travelled by passengers, total country size, train running cost and so on which the TGV manages to get close to. The TGV rocks.

      • by tekunokurato ( 531385 ) <> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @09:50AM (#7617658) Homepage
        You do realize that the subsidies that Amtrack and most local train utilities recieve are less than half of what similar road spending requires, right? Think of roads as direct subsidies to the car companies; boston (used as an example because I live there, not because it's an extreme case) subsidizes about 60% of the MBTA's budget, but spends more than that every year on roads even discounting the fiasco that is the big dig. The MBTA serves over 700,000 people daily, and the central artery will serve less than 300,000 drivers, as per Mass Highway Department estimates). Other cities are the same, so citing subsidies to public transport but NOT citing road costs depicts a situation only the car companies would claim is true.
  • by raahul_da_man ( 469058 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:34AM (#7616996)
    The maximum speed for a maglev train is considered to be around 580 kph due to limits in electrical facilities for the train, the engineers said.

    We haven't seen nothing yet. It seems the more juice, the higher the speed. I for one hope to see mass production of Maglev trains. They will be vastly superior to planes at less cost.

    I can't help thinking that maglev train development will help achieve cheap spaceflight as well. Imagine a spaceplane taking off from a maglev hitting 1000+ kph.

  • Vegas to LA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The-Pheon ( 65392 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:34AM (#7616997) Homepage
    Living in Las Vegas, I would love a high speed rail to LA. It is all desert, plenty of room for a right of way! I'm sure the casino's would love getting people from LA to the city in an hour as well!

    Just remember in ten years, it was my idea :)

    • good luck EVER getting the vote buyers er politicians to do anything with that kind of financial outlay. Between the environmentalists (gotta protect that desert turtle ya know?), miltary at ntc, offroaders, nimby-ists, etc, you'd never see something like this done in the US any more. Not that we couldnt use it badly, I-15 is a mess any more between LA and vegas.
      • Re:Vegas to LA (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MtViewGuy ( 197597 )
        Actually, the environmentalists SHOULD support this idea.

        Between getting a lot of road traffic off Interstate 15 between Los Angeles and Las Vegas and also reducing the need for air travel between Los Angeles and Las Vegas (imagine 375-450 passengers per train leaving four times per hour from Los Angeles to Las Vegas), that means a lot less air pollution from automobiles, buses and jet airliners.
    • Someone made this proposal quite a while ago. I don't know if it was an "official" thing, but I remember when I had the hots for Vegas every weekend me and a buddy used to talk about it all the time.

    • How many people would ride it? The proposed link from Sacramento through the San Francisco Bay Area to Los Angeles and San Diego might actually get enough use to make it worthwhile. Commuters might use it, as well as travelers. I-5 is slow going on holidays, and widening the Grapevine would be a royal pain.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:38AM (#7617010)
    kph parses as kilo*pico*hour. It makes no sense.

    You probably mean km/h.

    No need to bastardize a fine international standard.
  • Impressive (Score:5, Informative)

    by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:41AM (#7617016)

    If you are going to visit Japan, there is a special travel pass you can get, which is only for tourists. It allows you to travel on any train in Japan over one, two, three or four weeks. It is well worth it.

    Having spent three weeks travelling around Japan on their trains, I can confirm that they are very impressive. Many of the trains have the kind of luxury fittings that you'd expect to find flying first class. But they are expensive.

    Although I believe that Europe is currently developing a Europe-wide high-speed rail system, Japan has had one for years. Why is it only Japan that has such an advanced train system? Travelling by train is great - much more environmentally sound and safer than travelling by car, and of course you get to use the travelling time productively, especially when the trains have plugs for laptops and network connections/WiFi.
    • Re:Impressive (Score:5, Interesting)

      by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:00AM (#7617127) Journal
      I wonder if moving that fast causes problems with train-land wi-fi and cell networks due to the doppler effect? Imagine you're screaming toward a cell tower at 167 m/s (600 km/h) - that's a doppler shift of 500Hz at 900MHz, which I imagine could cause some problems.
      • Good thing you don't have to shout at cell towers to have your voice relayed by them, or that'd be a problem.

        You should be thinking speed of light here, not sound.
      • 500 Hz @ 900MHz 1ppm (Score:5, Informative)

        by wowbagger ( 69688 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @09:12AM (#7617458) Homepage Journal
        500 Hz at 900 MHz is less than 1 ppm.

        The TCXOs (temperature compensated crystal oscillators ("X" being the industry standard abbreviation for crystal - get over it)) used in moble equipment are usually rated about .5 ppm, so a 500 Hz shift isn't that much.

        The more important aspect is the timing skew - GSM and CDMA require the mobile and the base station to have a VERY accurate idea of the time of flight delay between them, so as to keep the transmissions in their allocated time slots (IIRC GSM requires something like a 5 microsecond accuracy, but not being at work yet I can't get the specs right now.)

        Moving that fast means the timing skew is going to shift significantly between bursts.

        However, most high speed trains are moving to having a cell on the train itself, which then links to the landline system via a dedicated link from train to land.
    • Re:Impressive (Score:4, Informative)

      by Zog The Undeniable ( 632031 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:10AM (#7617168)
      The French TGV system is pretty good too, but it is expensive. They have the speed record for real trains, as opposed to maglev vaporware.
    • Germany, France do (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Goonie ( 8651 ) *
      Whilst I haven't ridden on the 300 km/h French TGV, I have ridden on the German ICE trains, and they are insanely great. Power sockets, big comfy chairs, good food, beer, and coffees in the restaurant, even (cellular, not wifi) net access. It's not cheap, but it's very, very good. Not to mention frequent and bloody quick.

      Whilst there are inter-country trains, it's still a damn long way between, say, Hamburg and Rome, and planes would be quicker than the current generation of very fast trains. 600 km/h

      • And Spain is getting there, so before long you'll be able to travel, for instance, Seville-Berlin on high-speed train.

        I have read that AirFrance and Lufthansa are having to close some internal routes because they can't compete with the high-speed trains.
    • Re:Impressive (Score:5, Informative)

      by divide overflow ( 599608 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:11AM (#7617171)
      >If you are going to visit Japan, there is a special travel pass you can get, which is only for tourists. It allows you to travel on any train in Japan over one, two, three or four weeks. It is well worth it.

      You are talking about the Japan Rail Pass []. It doesn't allow you to travel on ANY train in Japan, ONLY the trains on the JR Group lines including all Shinkansen (bullet trains) EXCEPT for the ultrafast JR "Nozomi" bullet trains. None of the many private (Non-JR) train lines accept the Japan Rail Pass. Note however that the Japan Rail bus and ferry lines DO accept the Japan Rail Pass. See this page for information on where the Japan Rail Pass is valid [].

      If you are eligible to get a Japan Rail Pass and are planning on doing much rail travel in Japan then you will almost certainly want to get one.
      • I'm not sure what exactly "Nozomi" means, but a search on sure didn't give me a bullet train :/
    • It isn't.

      There are no coherent policies within the European Union, certainly nothing like a "Europe-wide high-speed rail system". The European Union is a bunch of countries who don't really like each other very much getting together to prevent from becoming financially irrelevant as the size of the superstate increases.

  • For those who don't want to look it up, 581 kph converts to 361 mph.

    I've been on the Channel Tunnel Eurostar train from London to Paris and that tops out at 186mph. That was quite amazing. To think that this thing can hit twice that speed is mind boggling.


  • is if it stopped in Osaka or just kept on going from the inertia.
  • Semi off topic. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by taliver ( 174409 )
    But I thought I'd bring it up. Inevitably there are going to be long threads of why the US doesn't have this leading to conspiracies involving auto manufactures, oil companies, and congessmen payed for by Amtrak.

    Before all that gets carried away, a minor side note. There was an article online, and if I find the citation I'll respond to my own post with it, that spoke of why using innerstates as guides for high speed railways was impossible. Basically innerstates have very frequent curves in them, and at
    • If you follow the interstate that would be true. But, a maglev is not on the ground. It has its' own ROW as it is elevated. So a maglev could simply pick a straightline and proceed. Now, as to Conspiracies, .... :)
  • Japan is linear (Score:5, Interesting)

    by reignbow ( 699038 ) <> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:52AM (#7617078)

    This is obviously very impressive. Maglev trains are very expensive (especially the track), but they reach enormous speeds. It gets even better if you let them run in a depressurised tunnel, allowing them to reach speeds of several thousand kilometers per hour. Of course, that costs lots of extra moolah, but its an upgrade possibility once maglevs have become more commonplace.

    Concerning the question of why other countries don't have trains as cool as Japan - well, several reasons. The US just aren't interested. Appearantly, the American Way means having two cars per family and getting stuck in a traffic jam at least once a week. Besides, there are geographical concerns. America, as well as my home country (Germany) are definitely two-dimensional, rather than a linear strip of settlement like Japan, meaning that one requires a grid of synchronised train lines. Trust me, that's hard.

    Also, for the US there's the problem of population density. Sure, in the cities, public transport has customers. But in the rural regions, there isn't enough demand to make narrow-interval trains profitable. And the broader the intervals (say, twice a day?) the lower the interest. After all, why wait two hours for the next train, when you can jump in your car now?

    • Re:Japan is linear (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bagels ( 676159 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:32AM (#7617276)
      Of course, there may be a sort of a "last mile" problem in the US too - once you arrive at your destination, it might take almost as long or longer to make the second half of the journey from train station to final destination (because of car rentals, traffic, etc.).
      • Re:Japan is linear (Score:3, Interesting)

        by squarooticus ( 5092 )
        Definitely deserving of insightful.

        I take commuter rail to work. Here's the breakdown of my one-way commute to work:

        8:00 leave house
        8:18 arrive at commuter rail station, only 3 miles away (variance is high, so I have to leave early)
        8:24 train leaves station
        8:45 train arrives at terminal
        9:00 finish walk to subway
        9:03 subway comes
        9:05 leave subway
        9:08 finish walk to office

        As you can see, only 23 minutes of the 68 minute commute is actually spent *on* the train. If I drove into work and planned my arrival
  • Build your own! (Score:5, Informative)

    by valentyn ( 248783 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @07:58AM (#7617113) Homepage
    As we've seen home built roller costers and rockets on /., now is the time to build your own Maglev train. All you need is posterboard, foamboard, or cardboard, 20-30 square or rectangular magnets, masking tape. Then follow the instructions []. Have fun!
  • If that's what the scenery looks like, I'm not sure I'd want to fly by it at 581 kph.
  • by Crass Spektakel ( 4597 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @08:00AM (#7617124) Homepage
    Twenty Years ago the first maglevs were build in Germany. Increadibly fast and very quiet. For Testingpurposes. Since then ... nothing happened. Oh, yes, they sold the whole stuff for a piece of bread to china which also build the first "german maglev" for public use. Well, in germany we still have no public maglev.

    At least in central europa (germany, france, benelux) we have conventional trains running at speeds of 150-300kph since decades. But then europa has a highly incompatible trainsystem. Western Europa (except once Great Britain) uses one type of track, eastern europa another one and while the british system closely resembles western europas tracks its not safe for high speeds.

    Thank goodness china desided to use western-europa tracks which will more or less force eastern europa and russia to adopt or wither away.
  • by leoboiko ( 462141 ) <leoboiko AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @10:49AM (#7618096) Homepage
    The new Maglev high speed had real passengers on board this time.

    From the article:
    The three-car maglev train reached a top speed of 581 kph with technicians on board[...]

    You see, they haven't tested it with real people, only with technicians.
  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Wednesday December 03, 2003 @11:50AM (#7618623)
    While it's impressive that the Japanese have reached an incredible 581 km/h on their maglev trains, it's not a practical design for one reason: their maglev requires cryogenic cooling for the magnets to run in superconducting mode so the train can move. Installing cryrogenic cooling systems drastically increases the cost of the train, not to mention adding a good hunk of deadweight that could otherwise be used for carrying passengers and/or cargo.

    A better solution is to use the permanent magnet system that was developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory a few years ago. Since the LLNL system doesn't need cryrogenically-cooled magnets, that allows for lower train weight, which means more passengers and/or cargo carried. Also, the construction cost per kilometer is quite a bit lower, too. Sure, the LLNL system limits the train to around 500 km/h (310 mph) but that's still way faster than any steel-wheel train in revenue service (that 320 mph test run on the French TGV system some years ago is totally impractical in everyday service).

In seeking the unattainable, simplicity only gets in the way. -- Epigrams in Programming, ACM SIGPLAN Sept. 1982