The Yamanashi Test Line in 1998
Executive Director, RTRI
The Yamanashi MAGLEV Test Line recorded a speed of 550km/h at the end of last year, to surpass the hitherto highest speed of 517km/h recorded at the Miyazaki Test Line 18 years before.
We should recognize a number of differences between the records at Miyazaki and Yamanashi other than the maximum speeds. This will clarify our concept on technological development and make the status of the development of MAGLEV well understood by readers.
First, the Yamanashi Test Line succeeded in super high speed tests with cars close to those to be used in actual passenger service. The Miyazaki Test Line used a 10m-long levitation body with a space of only a few square meters that was too small to accommodate passengers. Therefore, it cannot be called a "car" or "train". It was a sort of movable superconductive magnet rather than a railway vehicle. In contrast, the Yamanashi Test Line uses a 80m-long train composed of three cars, which has already recorded a maximum speed of 531km/h with about 10 "passengers" on board. From this viewpoint, there is a great technological leap from Miyazaki to Yamanashi.
Second, the records at Yamanashi have been attained based on a number of considerations for environmental preservation. Of course, the system at Miyazaki was called a pollution-free railway. However, it was far from an actual transport system. We didn't take into consideration the magnetic fields in the cabin at all. Aerodynamic noise was abandoned as "inevitable" with only its data collected. At Yamanashi on the other hand, tests were planned through negotiations with the regional government and have been performed under its monitorship. Consequently, the test results were confirmed to satisfy the predicted or targeted conditions, in that the noise level along the truck is 10dB or over less than that at Miyazaki, for example.
Third, various elements conceivable for a transport system were developed simultaneously and proved to be feasible. The Yamanashi Test Line has tunnels, bridges, curves and gradient sections. It is also equipped with three types of turnouts, a test platform, a vehicle depot and substations. Various brake systems and security systems are also installed. Important components and devices are all duplicated. For a main test theme this year, two train compositions and two sets of power conversion equipment have been introduced, to enable testing high-speed passing-by overtaking and succeeding train operations. Different types of each equipment are being tested, compared and improved.
Circumstances surrounding this development project have changed during the period of 18 years from Miyazaki to Yamanashi.
First, competition among different modes of transport has intensified. The project of TRANSRAPID system is steadily progressing to target high-speed operation between Berlin and Hamburg. Shinkansen and other 300km/h class railway systems in various countries are aiming at raising train speed further. Cars are establishing their position as a transport means in the 21st century armored with information systems and countermeasures against emission problems. Airlines are cutting fares by taking advantage of reduced fuel consumption amid severe competition with each other.
Second, people have become concerned with environments and energy more than ever. The COP3 Kyoto Conference last year announced a target to substantially cut emission of carbon dioxide and other gases. Problems of pollution are routinely discussed all over the world as a crisis for mankind. Among others, the environmental loads of transport facilities draw public attention. Railways may be losing their superiority in terms of environmental preservation features as a result of technological development of cars.
We had an international conference on magnetically levitated systems (MAGLEV'98) this April at Yamanashi, where a number of participants gathered. During pitched discussions, we couldn't help but recognize that there are a number of competitors. Is the system under development really economical? Can it solve problems of environment and energy? Is large-scale infrastructure investment possible in a slow-pace economic growth period?
To prove the feasibility of the system, we have almost passed the first gateway. However, we need technological developments to answer these questions. It depends on our answer whether it is a genuine technology in the 21st century. This is nothing but what deserves our efforts and makes us a front attack on the problems to get a positive answer. This is an important target of our efforts at the Yamanashi Test Line that enters the 2nd year.