The conditions surrounding railway operations continue to go through significant changes as we cross the threshold into a new century. The age of intense economic growth has come to an end and, while aging and the low birth rate continue their upward swing, we are steadily embarking on a new path into the age of information networks stimulated by the IT revolution. Railways are experiencing severe competition with automobiles and aircraft and, from the standpoint of preserving the global environment, there is an increasingly strong feeling that the time has come for a reassessment of railway operations There are demands in response to these changes for research and development that have the aim of providing means of transportation that arc appealing and geared to the needs of the times.
At the Railway Technical Research Institute, we have prepared a new basic five-year plan starting in 2000, known as Research 21, and initiated its activities in April. The following is an explanation of the direction of that research and development.
First is the technological development of the Maglev systems. The institute is proceeding with the development of superconducting magnets, ground coils and other basic technology for the Maglev systems and, along with the construction of the Yamanashi Test Line achieved a maximum speed of 550kph with passengers on board last year. Nevertheless, prompted by the remaining need for continuous test runs to verify long-term durability and the development of technology to realize cost reductions and improvements in the aerodynamic properties of the train cars, we will continue to make progress with these issues as a project in preparation for practical application.
Next is research and development relating to conventional railways. We have been promoting conventional railway projects thus far centered in efforts to improve speed; there is a need, however, to undertake initiatives that will address the diversifying needs of railway operators as well as social change. We have thus designated three areas as the cornerstones of our future research and development endeavors.
The first of these is research and development for the future of railways. These will be promoted based on a long-term perspective taking their practical application within the next few years to a decade into account. We will take up as issues advanced and sophisticated projects that would be difficult for railway operators, universities, manufacturers and others to tackle on their own and will proceed actively with these while taking advantage of the lnstitute's special equipment and facilities. Specific examples include the sophisticated train control systems using networks, next-generation railway cars with the goal of recycling electric power, the development of barrier-free train station facilities and their assessment. In addition, we also intend to challenge the potential for the application of superconductivity, hydrogen energy and other new technology.
The second cornerstone is the development of practical technology. The majority of this technology is based on requests by the JR group companies with the goal of realization at actual railway operation sites and we have also been responding to broader needs other than the JR companies. A typical example is the development of the gauge changing train (GCT) and we have been providing solutions to technical problems in the field and proposals for design methods based on basic properties and functions that have already been verified.
The third cornerstone is fundamental railway research. We have positioned this as research that will serve as an embryo or foundation for practical railway technology as well as research necessary for solving various railway problems. In content, we will place particular importance on analytical reseach to elucidate various unique phenomena in railway systems, establish safety assessment procedures and so forth by theoretical and experimental methods and investigation and introduction research for the application of new technology to railways.
The above is a description primarily of our research and development activities. For more than ten year now since its establishment, the essential value of the Railway Technical Research Institute has truly been brought into question and we intend to venture into new frontiers as we proceed in the new century.