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 (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 New Infrastructure, Los Angeles

is often portrayed as the example of the car-friendly city. The traditional image of the town is an endless pattern of single family dwellings, interconnected by traffic-clogged freeways, where transit is undeveloped and the air is choked with smog.

However, Los Angeles is changing. The city’s Transport Authority has planned in the last years a series of measures aiming to improve quality of life through improving transit and walking and providing alternative to car commuting.

New High-Speed Rail Plan for the US

Transport infrastructure has defined the shape of almost every city in recent years. But there is also a wider scale in terms of territorial connectivity that has shaped  regions, not just in its form but also in their economies. Typical examples are the high speed rail networks in France and Japan. And it the US? The opposite: a collapsed -and slow- airport system.

But today US President announced his High-Speed Rail Plan, included on his stimulus plan with a budget of $8 billion for the next two years, and $1 billion per year over the next five years. This will be focused on 9 new corridors, and to improve the existing line between Washington and Boston:

  • a northern New England line
  • an Empire line running east to west in New York State
  • a Keystone corridor running laterally through Pennsylvania
  • a southeast network connecting the District of Columbia to Florida and the Gulf Coast
  • a Gulf Coast line extending from eastern Texas to western Alabama
  • a corridor in central and southern Florida
  • a Texas-to-Oklahoma line
  • a corridor in the Pacific Northwest.
  • a California corridor where voters have already approved a line that will allow travel from San Francisco to in two and a half hours (versus 1:45 plus the security checks and waiting time by airplane)

This also reminds me of the recent Union Station 2020 competition “Crossroads for the High-Speed Rail City”, envisioning Chicago´s Union Station as a territorial high-speed rail hub. You can see the results here.

“ Imagine boarding a train in the center of a city.  No racing to an airport and across a terminal, no delays, no sitting on the tarmac, no lost luggage, no taking off your shoes.   Imagine whisking through towns at speeds over 100 miles an hour, walking only a few steps to public transportation, and ending up just blocks from your destination.  Imagine what a great project that would be to rebuild America.

In France, high-speed rail has pulled regions from isolation, ignited growth, remade quiet towns into thriving tourist destinations.  In Spain, a high-speed line between Madrid and Seville is so successful that more people travel between those cities by rail than by car and airplane combined.  China, where service began just two years ago, may have more miles of high-speed rail service than any other country just five years from now.  And Japan, the nation that unveiled the first high-speed rail system, is already at work building the next:  a line that will connect Tokyo with Osaka at speeds of over 300 miles per hour.  So it’s being done; it’s just not being done here.

- Barack Obama

This plan will surely help the AEC industry by generating several jobs, same as other parts of the stimulus package. The question is, how we (the architects) can play a more active role when it comes to infrastructure? And not just in terms of designing train stations or bus stops, but embracing a wide array of buildings/structures that are the visible face of our cities (roads, bridges, ports, power plants), and also a new business opportunity for us in times like these.

Detailed info: