World’s fastest train built by Central Japan Railways

Japanese private rail company Central Japan Railways (JR Central) announced yesterday that it had broken the world record for the fastest train speed.

The company constructed a seven-car maglev train which travelled at a top speed of 590 km/h (366 mph) for 19 seconds during a test using JR Central’s new LO-series cars.

With this speed, the new train broke the previous world’s fastest train record, which had stood at 581 km/h. This prior record had also been set by the same company and on the same track in December 2003.

Operating an experimental course in Japan’s central Yamanashi Province, JR Central is trying to perfect the use of Maglev technology.

Unlike traditional trains, or even their high-speed ‘Bullet Train’ relatives, maglevs (short for magnetic levitation) trains have no physical contact with their tracks. Rather they use the forces of electromagnetic repulsion in order to float the train above the rails.

This lack of friction with the tracks allows maglev trains to move at unprecedented speeds when compared to other forms of land-based transport.

Japan is determined to build a commercial passenger maglev line within the country, as part of PM Shinzo Abe’s plan to stimulate the economy through infrastructure spending.

In October last year he announced plans to build the first line between Tokyo and Nagoya at a total cost of ¥5.5tr ($52bn).

When this maglev line is complete, it will cut the total travel time for the 286 km trip to around 40 minutes, from a current journey time of 100 minutes using conventional bullet trains.

Maglev technology a costly bet

These costly investments into maglev technology by Japan carry a significant amount of financial risk.

The world’s first ever commercial maglev project, the Shanghai Airport Maglev, was originally planned to be part of a wider system using this technology, however these plans were discontinued.

According to the Chinese government, maglev technology would be too costly to compete with regular high-speed rail, or passenger aircraft.

It remains to be seen if Japan, the home of high-speed rail, could create an environment where maglev use makes economic sense.