Superconducting Maglev

INTRO: Interest at this month’s high speed railways conference in Okayama commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Sanyo Shinkansen will focus on the 300X experimental train, but JR Central is poised to start levitation trials with the maglev train on the Yamanashi test line

BYLINE: Yoshiyuki Kasai

PresidentCentral Japan Railway Co

OVER THREE billion passengers have travelled on the Tokaido Shinkansen since it opened in 1964 as the world’s first dedicated high speed line. Running from Tokyo to Osaka, a distance of over 500 km, the line has made an enormous contribution to the cultural and economic development of Japan.

Today there are 11 departures an hour in each direction at peak times, and Tokaido Shinkansen trains now carry about 360000 passengers every day. The increasingly important mission of the line is to provide safe and reliable service along Japan’s principal transport artery linking Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka. Its role has become especially significant in recent years because of rail’s environmental credentials.

At present Series 300 Nozomi trainsets operate on the Tokaido Shinkansen at up to 270 km/h. In our pursuit of the ultimate railway technologies, we have been carrying out trials since January 1995 with the experimental 300X trainset. This train reached a record speed of 443 km/h on July 26 1996 on one of many test runs conducted at speeds of over 400 km/h to gather diverse experimental data.

For JR Central to make further progress towards a high speed railway that is safe, reliable and which generates relatively little noise and vibration, continuous advances are needed not only in rolling stock design, but also in operating systems and infrastructure. In a continuing effort to improve the overall quality of Tokaido Shinkansen services, the results of the 300X trials will be used to reshape current Shinkansen operations. They also form an essential part of development work for the Series N300 trains that will follow Series 300.

Chuo Shinkansen

The capacity of the Tokaido Shinkansen is now reaching its limits. Traffic volume has risen over the years in line with economic growth and the expectation is for expansion to continue gradually in the future. To cope with this situation, JR Central plans to increase operating capacity by raising the number of hourly departures in each direction to 15. This will alleviate the bottleneck for the time being.

The Tokaido Shinkansen was fortunate in escaping serious damage during the Great Hanshin Earthquake of January 1995, but it is not inconceivable that a similar tremor could disrupt Japan’s principal trunk route. The construction of the Chuo Shinkansen as an alternative to the Tokaido Shinkansen has therefore become even more important.

In addition to serving as a second major transport artery, the Chuo Shinkansen is a project of national importance, as it will support further development of the Japanese economy and help resolve energy use and environmental issues.

As the Chuo Shinkansen line has the same mission and objectives as the Tokaido Shinkansen and will serve many passengers in the same market, it is vital that JR Central is in a position to control and manage both arteries. In 1990 under the Nationwide Shinkansen Railway Development Law, the Minister of Transport directed JR Central and the Japan Railway Construction Public Corp to undertake topographical and geological surveys for the Chuo Shinkansen. These are currently in hand.

Superconducting Maglev

In choosing the most appropriate technology for the Chuo Shinkansen, JR Central has put great emphasis on devising a system suited to 21st century operations. We have been pursuing superconducting maglev technology in our efforts to develop the ideal ultra-high-speed mass transport system. Japanese National Railways began development of maglev in 1962, and in 1979 an experimental unmanned maglev vehicle reached a top speed of 517 km/h on Miyazaki test track.

April this year sees full-scale operational test runs begin on the Yamanashi maglev test line (RG 1.97 p14). This has been built under government leadership so that it can form part of the future Chuo Shinkansen.

The first test train is about to begin levitated runs that will lead to verification of the 550 km/h maximum speed. When the second train is delivered this autumn, we shall be able to test the conditions for trains passing in opposite directions. Continuous high-speed running tests will also be carried out.

Confirmation is expected in 1999 of the practicality of using maglev technology for regular operations. Testing and development is in the hands of JR Central and the Railway Technical Research Institute.

From the experience gained with operation of the Series 300 Nozomi and the test results from the 300X experimental train will come the Series N300. This will represent the culmination of over 170 years of railway technology - perhaps we can say that the train will be close to perfection.

Meanwhile, tests with the superconducting maglev train begin in Yamanashi this year. This and its related technologies will continue to grow, develop and bear fruit through the 21st century. We are sowing the seeds of the future, to be reaped by the generations of tomorrow. o

CAPTION: Levitation trials with the first maglev vehicle on the Yamanashi test track are due to begin next month. The photo shows the three-car unit being hauled by a special tractor