Thursday, June 30, 2005

Shinkansen follow-up

Slashdot has some interesting discussion on the Japanese bullet train.

A couple of interesting posts:

Amtrak is the inter-state railway system in the USA and is supposed to be equivalent to the inter-prefecture system in Japan. Yet, why does Amtrak refuse to use bullet trains? Amtrak uses the regular trains that travel 100 kph, at best. Typically, the speed is closer to 80 kph. The result is that traveling between states usually takes several days. Imagine trying to spend several days locked in a train.

Given the fact that Amtrak is supposed to compete against airplanes and that Amtrak is covering great distances, it should be using bullet trains exclusively.

Amtrak has been a money-losing operation since day #1. For some reason, the American politicians just cannot determine why Amtrak remains unprofitable. How can anyone be so ignorant that he cannot see the reason? No one wants to ride a train for 2 or 3 days when you can take an airplane for equivalent cost to the same destination in less than a day.

Does any American politician even know the phrase, "Japanese bullet train"? The answer to Amtrak's problems is staring the American government in the face, and no one is adovating the right solution. I almost think that the lobbyists for the commercial aviation industry (i.e. Boeing & Airbus) want to ensure that Amtrak is not allowed to use bullet trains.
Here's another one:

First one ran in the late '60s for the Olympics. It's still online....

I was on a platform, on the bullet line, one time, outside Tokyo, about 1/4 mile from a tunnel entrance/exit. The tracks leading to the station platform were canted so the train could bank into the turn. You could feel the ion change in the air that preceded the train as it exploded out of the tunnel and blasted past the platform...the locals had one hand on the newspaper and the other wrapped around the nearest pole to counter the terrific buffering as the 1,000 seat wonder blew past. Inside, there are LCDs showing live telemetry - it's very hard to tell how fast you're really moving, since the ride is so smooth and quiet.

I saw a video on TV one time, showing how they run field tests of various segment showed a technician putting on an old leather flying helmet and goggles. He climbed a small ladder and slid open a hatch in the roof and stuck his head out...while the train was hurtling along at full speed in the dark of night.

The trains shut down automatically if a quake threatens...they have to keep the lines a significant distance from buildings and roads, so when one of them goes down, it takes a portable bridge crew to get to them. They clean ice off the boggies with high-pressure steam cleaners mounted on bridges when the weather turns cold. Color cameras are mounted everywhere, so that the crew and central control can do visual checks at will.

When the bullets pull into Tokyo Station, the stews inside are just like on a 747, with a replacement crew lined up along the platform, waiting for shift change. All neat as a pin. The 'pilots' are dressed just like commercial airline staff, and draw huge crowds, with autograph seekers and train groupies galore. I had my photo taken with one, and he even let me wear his hat :)

They have a mini-shinkansen that goes up into the mountains for weekend ski trips that is the best looking...all smoked glass and dark gun-metal gray, with green pinstripes. The mega-shinkansen is a double-decker design, that looks a bit ungainly, yet it still manages speeds high enough to match domestic airline travel times.

You have to ride on one of these beasts to appreciate them.


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