The Future of Train Travel: Life in Hyper-Speed

a smaller prototype of the Maglev

Japan, inventor of the world’s first bullet train, recently unveiled plans for an even faster and more radical train model: a floating train, powered by magnets, that will travel 100 mph faster than current bullet trains (about 300 mph). The maglev train, standing for “magnetic levitation,” will run between Tokyo and Osaka, an estimated distance of 315 miles, cost $64 billion, and be completed by 2045.

has already revolutionized national and international transportation in many parts of the world - for example, China has a maglev that already goes 270mph – and now high-speed is transitioning into hyper-speed. Last year, we reported that Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and co-founder of both PayPal and Tesla Motors, shared with the public his desire to patent a new mode of transportation – the “Hyperloop” that would get passengers from San Francisco to LA in only 30 minutes.

So what might the future hold for train travel? And, more importantly, how will it affect our cities and the people who live in them?

For more on the maglev train and the future of rail, read on.

A concept rendering for Aeromovel, a system Elon Musk cites as similar to his Hyperloop.

The “Hyperloop” would, according to Musk, “never crash, be immune to weather, go twice as fast as an airplane, four times as fast as a bullet train, and – to top it off – run completely on solar power.” While this sounds like a too-good-to-be-true idea straight out of a science fiction novel, our friends at Business Insider believe that there’s no reason the Hyperloop couldn’t become reality with enough political and financial backing – but that’s quite the caveat.

In fact, magnetic levitation technology in trains has been tossed around in the scientific community – and even proposed as an alternative to air travel – for decades.

In 1972, physicist R.M. Salter detailed an underground tube system that could transport people from Los Angeles to New York City in a mind-boggling 21 minutes. The Very High Speed Transit System (VHST) would consist of “electromagnetically levitated and propelled cars in an evacuated tunnel” underground that would function as a sealed vacuum and zip back and forth across the country – at about 14,000 miles per hour.

the VHST system

Not only would the VHST’s travel time between LA and NYC be 5 hours shorter than a plane’s, its tunnel component would also eliminate possibilities of sabotage, right of way costs, surface congestion, grade separation problems, and noise pollution.

So if scientists were already thinking in hyper-speed in 1972, why has it taken so long for the technology to become a reality?

Salter blamed political issues. He wrote, “History has shown that some obvious projects, such as tunneling under the English Channel proposed in the time of Napoleon, can be delayed for centuries because of political pressures” – and, of course, money.

Courtesy of ArchDaily

Although President Obama proposed his vision for high-speed rail in the US back in 2009, transport infrastructure here in the States is only lagging further and further behind countries like , who have now officially entered hyper-speed mode. High-speed rail is moving forward in the state of California, but seemingly nowhere else. No matter how compelling the idea, a project of this magnitude demands full political and financial support to succeed.

So although the likelihood that hyper-speed could soon become the new means of travel sounds unlikely, it still offers lots for the imagination. High-speed and hyper-speed rail has the very real capability of bringing cities together like never before. What’s more, it would necessitate a whole new kind of infrastructure to support it. What would such a hyper-speed station look like? How would it affect other types of transportation, or change the face of our cities? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

References: Co.EXISTBusiness InsiderThe Asahi Shimbun, Archdaily (12)

Cite: Porada, Barbara. "The Future of Train Travel: Life in Hyper-Speed" 13 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 30 Oct 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=387454>
  • w

    China has an existing Maglev train. The Shanghai Maglev Train has been in operation since 2004.

    • The Rkitekt

      Read the second paragraph, already mentioned. Plus China’s Maglev is more of a show piece than a functional regional transit option.

  • Andy Vieira

    First impressions from a vastly undereducated architectural student playing devil’s advocate:

    –magnetic vacuum driven. The traditional underground train station model would have to be rethought completely. One person inside the tube area when the vacuum is engaged could send a person rocketing down the tunnel for a very short, very fast, very deadly ride.
    –this would empower an EMP further as a WMD. Imagine a train traveling at 14k mph suddenly crashing back to the ground from a loss of magnetic force.
    –interconnected tunnels stretching for tens of thousands of miles underground. Water fill seems like an ongoing problem and would provide for a seemingly uncontrollable pathway from seismic region to seismic region. imagine the “levies breaking” where the underground of the entire country is interconnected below sea level.

    • 12voltporcupine

      in principle a nuclear EMP weapon is about as powerful as they show in movies, and can knock an area into the stone age pretty effectively, BUT among its very few weaknesses is that it is ineffective underground. Which is part of the reason why all the fictional WW3 scenarios usually involve some kind of a secret government hideout really deep in the dirt. so I think an EMP won’t effect the underground maglev.

      but you’re right – seismic will – seeing as this would stretch from LA to mid west, it would cut across san andreas which as we know is a sideslip fault and would eventually exert shear force on the tunnel.

  • martin silesian

    I heard a week ago a discussion about high speed network in UK and plans according to which it would connect Scotland with London.

    The guy who was against the connection said that as research has shown conducted in Europe, high speed connections always are beneficial for main/capital/stronger cities. In this case it would be London against Edinburgh and rest of Scotland. It always resulted in closing down regional offices and moving staff back to main/capital/stronger city.

    Another reason against it were high costs and decreasing popularity.

    In case of US.

    Obama’s US want maglev hyper trains when currently USA has huge problems to maintain current infrastructure, example here: falling bridges. So how are you going to make it in US in terms of financing, maintaning or finding specialist workforce?

    I’m actually in favour of these trains as flying is time consuming, boring and uncomfortable (getting to the airport, gates etc).

    But can it be something more than just drawings?

  • Robsleg

    There is a similar project in Switzerland called Swissmetro. The funding of this project was suspended in 2009 when it was estimated that costs were too high for the expected benefits, and the risks were too high: maintaining partial vacuum in long tunnels, magnetic sustentation, etc… (and of course : building tunnels hundreds of kilometers long)

    From what I understand, this project real interest was to drive research in several aeras: building powerful magnets, more efficient pumps, faster trains, distributing the heat generated by the numerous vacuum pumps to neighbouring homes, …

  • Md. Mohidul Islam

    Dear Leader,

    Thank you so much.

    Rail can connect the regions much well.

    Bangladesh-Myanmer-Thailand-Malaysia-Singapore-Vietnam-China HS Rail we are dreaming.

    How is it possible?

    Who are studying or working.

    Md. Mohidul Islam
    Dhaka
    Bangladesh