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The Future of Train Travel: Life in Hyper-Speed

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.  

High-speed rail 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.
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
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. 

© ArchDaily
© 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 Japan, 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:Barbara Porada. "The Future of Train Travel: Life in Hyper-Speed" 13 Jun 2013. ArchDaily. Accesed . <http://www.archdaily.com/387454/the-future-of-train-travel-life-in-hyper-speed/>