Japan plans green “super express” train

A high-speed train capable of traveling 350 kilometers per hour, being developed by Kawasaki Heavy Industries, will spearhead the company’s plan to build 10,000 kilometers of high-speed rail links in the next 20 years, with an eye on selling them to Brazil and the United States.

Japan is home to the fastest train network in the world, the Shinkansen, which carries trains at up to 300 kilometers per hour. Using experience designing trains for the Shinkansen, Kawasaki’s latest project, named the “environmentally friendly super express train,” or efSET, is being developed to be more energy-efficient and less noisy. The lightweight, aerodynamic train will minimize noise and vibration, and it will use regenerative braking technology to capture energy lost during braking.

Last year, the latest train model to start traveling on the Shinkansen showed off several features that reportedly make it the fastest train in service. Designed by Japan Railways, it uses an active tilting system powered by air springs that allow it to whip around corners without losing speed. Hoods cover the gaps between cars, giving the whole train a more smooth and aerodynamic profile, according to Popular Mechanics. Taken together, the improvements allowed it to use 19 percent less energy than current bullet trains.

The U.S. only has one high-speed rail line in service, Amtrak’s Acela Express, which operates in the northeast corridor connecting Boston, New York, and Washington D.C. It also uses tilting trains to reach a top speed of 240 kilometers per hour, though several technical limitations of the tracks keep its average speed much lower. The California High Speed Rail Project plans to deliver passengers between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two and a half hours, but the consortium has repeatedly failed to secure sufficient state funding to begin construction.

The past failures of federal and state governments to get behind train travel in the United States don’t paint a rosy picture for Kawasaki’s new train, which will be ready for orders in 2010. But if oil prices continue to climb and American car culture continues to evolve towards more efficient transport options, perhaps proposals for a faster, more efficient rail network will finally stand a chance.


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Just wanted to point out that the French TGV ("Train a Grande Vitesse" -- High Speed Train) already shares some of these characteristics: cars linked together to form one "sturdy" block, regenerative braking sending power back into the network, aerodynamic noise-minimizing design, etc. Its operating speed is about 300km/h, and top speed over 510km/h. Rides are as smooth as it gets (like in an airplane, without the turbulence). And the network spand several european countries and is constantly extending. The train has been in operation since early 1980's and underwent major redesigns (now featuring two-level cars for greater capacity). I rode it many many times throughout many years... :) Very affordable. When it passes highway-going cars, it's as if you were passing trees from these cars :)

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