April 29, 2007
We Are SO Far Behind…

Freedom may, as the White House continually suggests, be on the march; but my guess is that maglev trains will arrive at a useful destination far more rapidly.

Too depressed by what you hear from Bill Moyers, Jon Stewart, and Josh Marshall to face the future? If so, you’re probably not reading this blog; but just in case, please consider the possibility that there are alternatives to our crazed war-machine culture that are not pie in the sky or rose-colored glasses.

Certainly we’ve screwed things up pretty badly in a variety of ways, from the war to climate change to politicization of the justice system to thoroughly corrupt goverment that’s often indistinguishable from the corporations whose greed it should be restraining. And so on.

But there alternatives. Consider what Japan has decided to do with an estimated $76.3 billion: make the legendary shinkansen obsolete.

Magnetic trains zooming at a landscape-blurring 500 kilometers (310 miles) an hour will connect Tokyo and Nagoya by 2025, one of Japan’s biggest railway operators said Friday.

The new magnetically levitated, or “maglev,” trains would slash the 100-minute travel time down the country’s busiest transportation corridor and are envisioned as a successor for Japan’s iconic bullet trains, or shinkansen, first introduced to the world in 1964.

Right off, damn, that’s embarrassing. We haven’t even got bullet trains yet. Here in the Bay Area, CalTrain runs what it calls Baby Bullets, which are normal trains in express mode. They probably top out in practice around 50 mph, and since they don’t stop every mile or so and have no lights or traffic to deal with, they make far better time than the standard trains. But they’re not bullet trains, not like Japan and France have.

But noooo, we prefer the glory, honor, and sacrifice of war. One commenter calculated that for the $420 billion we’ve spent so far in Iraq we could build a maglev train system approximately equivalent to half the existing interstate system, perhaps five east-west and seven north-south routes.

Problem is, we’d need less oil, steel, rubber, cars, insurance, health care…

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Posted by Chuck Dupree at April 29, 2007 04:30 AM
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I had to take Greyhound to go from Oakland to Santa Cruz. Figuring out how to get there at all was a puzzle. Amtrak had a bus that would have gone from San Jose to Santa Cruz, so I was going to take BART to CalTrain to San Jose and do that, but Amtrak won't book buses unless it's part of a train reservation.

It worked out okay, except for the part when I got back and had to go from the Greyhound station to catch an AC Transit bus in Oakland, and had my wallet stolen at the bus stop, so I had to walk to Emeryville while calling for a ride.

Yeah, we have good transit systems.

Posted by: whig on April 29, 2007 5:51 AM

Pennsylvania's had a mag-lev for Pittsburgh on the drawing board for at least 10 years, but somehow it never gets built.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 29, 2007 4:26 PM

Unless they are designed to move freight, they'll never get off the ground in this country. On the other hand, there's no reason they couldn't move freight as well as people. Sure would take a load off the interstate highway system.

Posted by: Buck on April 29, 2007 4:42 PM

I used to live in Pittsburgh. It's complicated.

Posted by: whig on April 29, 2007 10:37 PM

On complicated Pittsburgh, whig, I read recently that the county has an average percentage of non-U.S.-born residents but that an unusually high number of them are well-educated, well-to-do people connected with Carnegie Mellon and other high-tech employers and schools, so there's a shortage of uneducated poor immigrants. I couldn't quite figure that out.

Posted by: Joyful Alternative on April 30, 2007 9:56 AM

They've been discussing mass transit here in Honolulu
since before I got here in 1968! Nothing yet,but there are plans!
There's also no glory in infrastructure

Posted by: Palolo lolo on April 30, 2007 4:27 PM

The big advantage the Shinkansen has is that it is a dedicated route, There isn't any other traffic and the stops are widely spaced. So the average speed is a much high fraction of the top speed.

Running any sort of high speed train amongst other traffic is difficult, and there are often assumptions about the speed of trains in the design of the signalling system. The fast trains between London and Scotland in the 1930s has to run under special signalling rules, because they needed so much more distance to stop. High speed needs better track maintenance, and maybe redesigned switching layouts.

The advantage of maglev is that none of the exiting traffic can use it. But is might be easier to revive Brunel's broad gauge.

Posted by: Dave Bell on May 2, 2007 2:58 PM

50 mph top speed? Damn, that's not just not a bullet train like the French have, that's not a bullet train like we in Britain have.

As Bill Maher would say,

New Rule: you don't get to call it a bullet train unless it would get a speeding ticket if it were on the road.

Posted by: derek on May 3, 2007 5:32 AM
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