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December 2004: Analysis
Maglev slips down the agenda
LAST month's conference marking the 40th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen
remarkably little emphasis was given to Japan's high speed maglev development.
While trials continue at the Yamanashi test site, there are no plans to try and exceed the 581km/h achieved there on February 16. According to Dr Akio Seki, Senior Executive Director and Director General, General Technology Division, at JR Central, although faster speeds would be possible, this is the safety limit for back-up systems that would be needed were quenching, or loss of the magnetic field, to occur. If this were to happen, to prevent the vehicle striking the sidewalls of the guideway, side wheels that are normally retracted at high speed would come into play, but Seki said that at higher speeds there would be insufficient time to deploy the wheels before the risk of contact.
At the moment, future development of the scheme hinges on a report for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure &Transport due in March 2005 that is expected to confirm finally that the project is technically feasible. While this could form the basis for a go-ahead, the decision is essentially political and looks unlikely at the present time on cost grounds alone.
JR Central management and engineers at the conference were at pains to stress the development work progressing on the Tokaido Shinkansen, with activity at JR Central's Komaki research centre geared primarily towards steel wheels and steel rails and to new technology that may be applied to the N700 design and any future successors. Researchers are working on superconducting materials that are effective at higher critical temperatures, but during a visit to Komaki after the conference this did not appear to be a major area of research.
Among other developments on display at Komaki was self-cleaning glass. According to Dr Akira Fujishima, Chairman of the Kanagawa Academy of Science & Technology, this makes use of a photocatalysis technique to coat glass with a 'titania nanosheet' that could be used to produce self-cleaning windows lasting for up to 10 years; this is being considered for trials on the N700 trainset. A photocatalytic air purifier that could be applied to smoking cars on Shinkansen trains is also envisaged.
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