The Silk Route
The term ‘planned engineering works’ is fixed into the Londoner’s travel vocabulary, thanks to the intermittent engineering works that have been underway for the last 10 years, helping to revitalise London’s aged transport infrastructure. One of The Tube’s oldest lines, the Circle line has bared the brunt of this, after 70-odd years of constant service much work is being done to modernise and streamline the service.
And yet whilst Britain has been working hard to upgrade a 17 mile ride of about one hour through 35 stations, China is in the process of planning a heavy 5000 mile, two-day route from Beijing to London’s St Pancras.
Already halfway through a £480 billion domestic railway expansion of nearly 19,000 miles (only a little less than the circumference of planet earth), China aims to build a high speed network linking the central Asian region to Europe, India and South Asian countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand. With 17 countries already in negotiations on how to make this possible, you might as well prepare yourself for the reality of travelling 220mph in an upgraded version of the Chinese ‘Harmony Express’ train above.
East of Beijing, in the train-futuristic land of Japan, plans to build a Maglev (magnetic levitation) network between Tokyo and Osaka have recently been given the green light. In what is probably one of the few equally ambitious plans as China’s intercontinental network, the railway company JR Tokai is currently preparing the exact route for their incredible 310mph trains to connect two of Japan’s largest cities.
Photo of Japanese Maglev train during a testing course. Image credit: SuperTightStuff
Maglev trains’ incredible technology has been around for nearly a century however, only commercial use today is currently the city shuttle in Shanghai’s airport. Literally hovering above a magnetic track, the train has no direct contact to the ground. Repulsive and attracting electromagnetic forces propel the train forward, eliminating friction to make it run over 310mph. Theoretically speaking, this technology means that the Maglev trains would be able to get from New York to Los Angeles in only about one hour if travelling in a low pressure tunnel.
So why not travel in Maglev trains from Beijing to London? At only 2 pence per passenger mile and close to no maintenance cost, it can be difficult to find any excuses. Nonetheless, incompatible to the existing lines of Europe and most of Asia, it is simply not ‘interoperable’ on the current rail networks and will cost way too much to install. But whilst we are unfortunately held back by ageing infrastructure on a scale as large as this, the same should not be said for shorter distances. Urban transport executives should look to Shanghai Airport’s Maglev transit service for inspiration. Almost noiseless, the Shanghai Maglev ‘Transrapid’ is a highly energy-efficient, capacious and perfectly designed city operator. For a better connected London, currently growing at 6 people an hour and emitting 44m tons of co2 yearly. I hope that one day TfL can start to implement such futuristic solutions to enhance the tube service.
Shanghai Airport has the only commercial maglev train running between the airport and central Pudong where travellers can connect to the Shanghai Metro. Image credit: Cuewb