Sunday, November 02, 2008

Shinkansen? Psshaw.

Well, they've been talking about it for a while now, and it looks like they're finally making some headway on talks of installing a maglev train in Japan. What's a maglev you say? Well it's basically a cross between the Shinkansen and Marty McFly's hoverboard, and it's got a top speed of something ridiculous like 581km/h (361mph) - according to the link "imagine a commercial jet aircraft flying past at full throttle at ground level."

Now my feelings on this are rather mixed... the inner nerd in me thinks it's a cool idea and would love them to push the technology forward to the point of commercial viability. The technology has been around since the 1960's, and it's about time someone's making it work right. Currently the only working specimen of this that I know of is the maglev in Shangai servicing the airport, which from what I hear is a total waste of space and is actually slower than normal travel due to the poor planning associated - a white elephant of the highest degree. There are no really nationwide-scale applications of the technology anywhere... the why comes next.

The pragmatist in me, however, knows that the reason the technology hasn't really seen widespread use is because it's frickin expensive: the Japan project tops off at a sombering 28,530,743,199 Doll hairs... in Zimbabwe. Ok, it's 5 trillion yen ($50 billion USD), but that's still a lot. And this is just to connect Tokyo and Nagoya, which means it's still got a long way to replace the Shink in practicality. It will eventually go at least to Osaka, which is a big step up.

And the payoff really isn't all that much - the Shink will get you to Nagoya in 100 minutes or so, while Osaka takes a little over 2 hours. In contrast, a plane ride from Tokyo to Osaka would take you about an hour, which is roughly how long the maglev would probably take. Ok, so maybe it would be nice to cut down on the flights in the whole gas-guzzling, carbon footprint clean technology sense, but it would probably still be quite a bit more expensive than a plane ride unless they totally redo the pricing schemes and cut Shink prices.

And the Shink has been around since the 70's... ok, so maybe by 2025 it would be nice to start waving in the next big thing. It's no flying car or hoverboard, but I guess it'll just have to do.

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