Japan Bullet Trains Test: How Fast Are New Maglev Rails? [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 6, 2013 1:00 PM EDT

bullet train
Japan recently tested its newest bullet trains, which can travel at speeds of up to 310 mph. Pictured here is a maglev train from China, where commercial maglev trains were first introduced commercially. (Photo: Reuters)

Japan bullet trains, which travel at speeds of 310 mph, have undergone their first test tracks. As part of this early test, the bullet train was pulled by a special vehicle. This fall, full-scale testing will begin.

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The latest generation of Japanese bullet trains, the L0 Series, travel about 110 miles per hour faster than their predecessors, but won't begin commercial service until 2027. The high-speed trains will operate between Tokyo and Nagoya, making the current 90 minute journey between the two cities only 40 minutes. By 2045, the train line will extend to Osaka, with a goal of eventually creating a high-speed network across all of Japan.

The bullet trains run on magnetic levitation, or maglev. These high-speed rail networks use magnets to lift the train above the tracks. They require no wheels, which reduces friction and allows bullet trains to travel faster and more quietly. Japanese bullet trains have a distinctive and sleek "nose" that is more aerodynamic than a regular train's front, and decreases air resistance.

Because there are no wheels to make physical contact with the track, bullet trains are not affected by weather, and the rails do not degrade as much. The initial costs are far more expensive than traditional train tracks, but the maintenance costs are lower.

Japanese bullet trains have been around since 1964, when the first bullet train, called "shinkansen," was created for Olympic Games. Since then, Japan has been at the forefront of high-speed rail travel. Japan has plans for its bullet train technology that extend beyond its own borders. Japan is selling the technology to other countries, among them India, which is expected to build a bullet train between Mumbai and Ahmadabad.

Commercial maglev service was first introduced by China in 2004. Shanghai's maglev travels at speeds up to 264 mph, though it averages 150 mph. By way of comparison, here in the U.S., Amtrak says that more than half of its trains travel at an average speed of 100 mph or greater.

Below is footage from 2011. So as the Japanese bullet train whips by at incredible speeds, remember that the new one is much faster than this.

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