Japan's new maglev: two-hour train trips between Sydney and Melbourne?

By John Walton, May 11 2011
Japan's new maglev: two-hour train trips between Sydney and Melbourne?

Travel times within Japan will be slashed once a new maglev train system between Tokyo and Osaka is built -- and the company building it hopes to export the 500 km/h next generation train elsewhere.

The Japanese government has instructed railway company JR Tokai to confirm its proposed maglev route before construction is approved to start in 2014. The initial plan is to link Tokyo with Nagoya, halfway to Osaka, before completing the network.

Japan has four of the world's busiest air passenger routes, so it can justify the immense expense of developing and constructing the world's first long-distance maglev train -- which levitates on magnets rather than rolling along rails.

The travel time over the 438 km between Tokyo and Osaka will be nearly halved, with the current two hour journey cut by 51 minutes to a speedy 67 minutes. 

Australia is an obvious destination for an exported maglev: the Sydney to Melbourne route is the world's fourth-busiest air route. At a distance of just under 1000 km, a maglev could make the trip between central Sydney and Melbourne in two hours. 

Taking the train is currently a twelve-hour slog: nice for tourists, but impractical for business travellers. But a two-hour journey between Sydney and Melbourne is just thirty minutes more than the timetabled flight duration between the two airports. And that doesn't count the time taken to get to the airports at either end.

High-speed rail has already taken huge bites out of European air travel, with few business travellers choosing the plane over the Eurostar train between London and Paris or Brussels, with its champagne breakfasts in business class and centre-to-centre convenience.  

Similarly, Spain's AVE train between Madrid and Barcelona has cut the number of flights between the two cities, while the United States is currently in political negotiations for high-speed rail to connect Los Angeles and San Francisco in California.

John Walton

Aviation journalist and travel columnist John took his first long-haul flight when he was eight weeks old and hasn't looked back since. Well, except when facing rearwards in business class.

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