Thursday, June 2, 2011

Where is the Silicon Valley of High-Speed Rail in the US?

The Chinese are confronting rapid mass transit very aggressively.  So are the Japanese.  It's not so important that they are building, or even using their HSR, it's that they are developing and researching the next generation, even as we believe we have to play catch-up by buying their HSR merchandise off their shelves.  Can you see how wrong that is?

We were the leaders in the information technology electronics revolution.  We created whole new industries.  And now, the whole world is catching up.  There are now "Silicon Valleys"  in India and elsewhere.  Meanwhile, we are world leaders in the financial industries where they are immensely creative in developing new ways to get rich at the expense of the rest of us.

What's that got to do with High-Speed Rail? Everything!  I don't know if maglev is a market-worthy, mature transit modality.  I don't know if it is capable of making rail obsolete once and for all.  I don't know and neither does anyone else.  The problem is that we are not willing to invest in finding out.  We are leaving that to others.

We have become the check-book, credit card Nation for the world, while the rest of the industrial world is expanding their R&D and have become the shopping malls for the US.  Why do you suppose that we are now saddled with permanent, structural unemployment?

The article quotes Ray LaHood.  That's the last place I would go to get a credible opinion.  And, anyhow, it's not about maglev,which may or may not be a good idea.  The point is that we don't know and should be investing in serious research and development to find out. 

Did you know that the Chinese are investigating an evacuated tube for maglev that reduces any friction whatsoever to be almost negligible?  Theoretically, there are no upper speed limits.  Nothing, including air, touches anything. Very fanciful, right?  So were desktop computers sixty years ago. 

We were once famous for thinking outside the box.  But now, our greed and politics have only boxed us in. 

Japan OKs maglev high-speed rail line between Tokyo, Osaka
By Andrew Nusca | June 2, 2011, 6:36 AM PDT

Japanese officials have approved the construction of a high-speed maglev train line between Tokyo and Osaka, Environment News Service reports.

Transport minister Akihiro Ohata gave Central Japan Railway the green light last week, setting in motion a 9 trillion yen (approx. $111.4 billion) project that began in the 1970s.

The superconducting maglev train — “maglev” is short for magnetic levitation, allowing the trains to avoid touching ground — would cover the 320-mile span between the two cities in just 67 minutes, topping out at 313 miles per hour. Employing the opposing forces of superconducting magnets and coils to avoid rail friction, maglev trains are considered among the fastest in the world.

The 14 new Series L0 trains are expected to begin operation between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027 — a 40-minute commute — and Tokyo and Osaka in 2045.

For now, the trains are undergoing testing on an 11-mile test track in Yamanashi, which is currently under construction to be extended to more than 26 miles.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was certainly impressed on a visit to the test track last May. He wrote on the department’s Fast Lane blog:
I have to say, those trains are fast. Very fast….those of us who saw the Japanese trains are impressed with the railroad system in Japan. And we do look forward to opportunities to partner in America with experienced rail companies from abroad. But we’re only interested in partnerships that use American workers in American facilities.

Here’s hoping to see maglev Stateside.