We at CycleKyoto are passionately, unabashedly pro-public transportation. In tandem with walking and cycling, it is safe, healthy, good for the environment, cost-effective, and pro-business.
Japan is heaven for those of our ilk. Trains - JR and multiple private railways - run on time, are spotlessly clean, and provide excellent service. Some cities have brought back trolleys - or, as they are now known, light rail. Though we prefer more environmentally-friendly forms of transportation, city and intercity buses are equally well run.
And, of course, Japan's bullet trains are world class.
Now, however, there is a movement to install linear bullet trains. Also known as Maglev (magnetic levitation), these trains are propelled while using magnets rather than with wheels, axles, and bearings. The train therefore levitates a short distance away from a guide - similar to traditional train tracks. Maglev trains thus travel more smoothly and quietly than ordinary trains and trolleys because of lower friction.
JR East has laid out plans to begin work on an initial line - the Linear Chuo Shinkansen - and has support from the current Japanese government.
The first line would run from Tokyo's Shinagawa Station to Nagoya and is set to open in 2027. With capacity for 1000 passengers, the trains are able to run at 500 km (310 mph) per hour. For a non-stop trip to Nagoya, it will take but 40 minutes.
After that, the line will be extended to Osaka.
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Sounds great, no?
For several reasons, though, we oppose maglev trains.
First is cost. Japan's finances are a disaster. Per capita Japan is the most indebted nation on the planet. To build the Tokyo - Nagoya route is estimated to cost 5 trillion yen (USD 5 billion). However, even supporters admit that until digging for tunnels begins in certain areas they have no idea how quickly construction will proceed. Expect costs to balloon and far exceed these estimates.
Second is safety. On the first planned route - Tokyo to Nagoya - 86% of it will pass through tunnels. Thus, on a 286 km route, 246 of those kilometers will be underground in tunnels. In particular, the tunnel through Fossa Magna, a rift from Niigata to Shizuoka, will be extremely difficult to bore. Worse still, in the event of an earthquake, the geological strata may shift by as much as several meters. Another safety issue is - earthquake or simple breakdown - how would 1,000 passengers evacuate from a tunnel?
Third is the price of the ticket. The price of a one-way ticket between Tokyo and Nagoya is expected to be 700 yen ($7) more than the current price of 10,780 yen.
Fourth, the environmental impact will be huge and lasting.
Finally, though France may wish to differ, Japan already has the world's best high-speed rail system. In order to save a bit of time, is economic and environmental destruction really necessary?
Why not use those funds to further strengthen Japan's transport system, fix crumbling bridges, increase day care, make public schools more attractive, make alternative energy sources mainstream, etc.
Tags Japan Touring Kyoto Cycle Japanese