A magnetic levitiation (maglev) train in Shanghai. One day maglev trains could cut travel time in the U.S. to a fraction of what it is now. PHOTO: Yosemite, CC License
Magnetic levitation trains, long the stuff of science fiction, could become a reality in East Asia soon, and the United States could follow. As California trudges forth on its ambitious high speed rail project, across the Pacific, Japan is attempting to take rail travel to the next level. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been a big backer of magnetic levitation (or “maglev” as it is often called) technology, and is making a direct overture to the United States.
Abe plans to connect Tokyo to Nagoya and eventually Osaka with maglev trains, which soar up to 360mph. The trains work by having the tracks and the train contain magnets that have the same charge, and therefore repel each other. This causes the train to levitate just above the tracks, and this allows it to travel without friction. Former New York Governor George Pataki took a ride on a maglev train with Abe:
“This is amazing. The future,” Pataki gushed.
Japan is so set on exporting its magnetic levitation trains that they are offering to pay for a track that would run the 40 miles from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. That trip, which takes close to an hour by car with no traffic, would be doable in under ten minutes.
The possibility of maglev trains in the U.S., particularly on the East Coast, represents an existential threat to Amtrak, whose Acela trains are currently the fastest in the country. Amtrak will be working to thwart any rail deals with Japan, and any deal that has to pass through a Republican-controlled legislature or the federal government will have difficulty selling the billions of dollars it will take to bring magnetic levitation technology to the U.S.
Still, train enthusiasts, futurists and people who just want a faster commute may one day have their dream realized. The world’s richest country can only lag behind on transportation for so long.