Why can’t we have a 300-mph floating train?

Last modified: 12/2/2012 11:42:42 PM
A Japanese railway company this month unveiled a prototype for a commercial passenger train that it says can reach speeds of 310 miles per hour via magnetic levitation. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the plan is for the floating train to begin zipping commuters from Tokyo to Nagoya in 2027. At that speed it could make the 200-mile trip in under 45 minutes.

Maglev trains have long been the holy grail of ground transportation. Levitating above steel rails, they need no wheels and have no friction with the track, resulting in an ultra-fast, ultra-quiet ride. So far they’re very expensive. This project is expected to cost upwards of $100 billion.

But if that sounds prohibitive, consider that the United States spends significantly more than that on highways in a single year. And while a highway might get you from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six hours if you’re lucky, a Maglev train like the one Japan’s building could theoretically do it in an hour and 15 minutes.

Why are we so far behind? Perhaps the biggest reason is that the United States is built around the automobile. Sprawling suburbs make mass transit difficult.

But it’s been clear for years that our McMansion-and-SUV lifestyle isn’t sustainable in the long term. And as our cities grow denser and our existing infrastructure ages, it’s just silly that we aren’t making more of an effort to replace it with something better and more futuristic.

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