Thursday, March 26, 2009

Super shinkansen

Though I've been to Japan dozens of times in the 1990s and 2000s, it wasn't until 2005 on a trip with relatives who wanted to crisscross the country that I actually road the Shinkansen, Japan's bullet train.

I had been on other forms of the JR (Japan Rail), and the truth is, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting a super smooth ride in an ultra-clean space vehicle of sorts, but instead I was on a train that was adequate, but clearly showing its age. In particular, I thought that the ride was shaky and uneasy at times. My experiences on the much newer but equally fast KTX were much more to my expectation (though it, too, is not perfectly smooth).

Still, with the Shinkansen and the KTX, what is there to complain about? They shoot you across the country at 305-kph, getting you to where you're going way faster than if you took the bus or even a plane (since you would have to get to/from the airport).

According to this Los Angeles Times article, however, Japan is looking to enhance the experience with newer trains expected in service in 2011:
An E-5 series of train scheduled to take to the rails in 2011 promises speeds of nearly 200 mph, improved suspensions and a car-tilting system to make the ride more comfortable on curves. Power-reclining shell seats in first class will provide what engineers call a "peaceful and soothing time during your travels."

Amtrak, eat your heart out.
Furthermore, and much more ambitiously, they are looking at improvements encapsulated by what I would call Shinkansen 2.0: a network of maglev trains that would zoom along at 310 mph — nearly 500 kph! This network is set to be in place by around 2025, carrying around 200,000 passengers per day.

As Korea itself gets ready to open the final high-speed portions of the Kyŏngbu (Seoul-to-Pusan) and Honam (Seoul-to-Kwangju/Mokpo) KTX, one wonders what is in store for the future. Korea rejected the German-based maglev and Japanese-based Shinkansen for the French-based CGV, in part because of technology transfers. Will it plan future projects (say, a Seoul-Shinuiju-via-Pyongyang route) around these ultra-fast trains? Will the KTX tracks be reworked to allow for the faster trains? Will a proposed undersea route from Korea to Japan be along these lines?

Ah, the possibilities are endless.

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