The Future of Trains? Possibly, but Where?

I recently did an interview with River Davis about the future of high speed rail and particularly the outlook for linear/maglev trains that are being developed by Japan and China. Some of what we discussed featured in an article in Bloomberg, ‘China and Japan Race to Dominate Future of High-Speed Rail‘. The article was also published in The Japan Times, News on Japan and American Journal of Transportation.

As was noted in a previous Bloomberg article which I was interviewed for, the Linear Shinkansen project is facing problems due to a dispute with Shizuoka prefecture about its environmental impact, there are now significant questions about the need for such a line (the questions already existed, but have grown louder) if there is going to be less demand for travel between cities such as Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka following the move to more remote working in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

My views on the linear shinkansen have shifted over time. I used to be in favour of the plan, but now I’m less sure. If the line is completed between Tokyo and Nagoya, will it really save that much time when the time to access the platforms is taken into account? Is it worth the environmental damage and expense to build it? This is the same problem that exists with building new lines in other countries – yes, railway lines may be better than motorways and more planes, but building new railway lines (and the trains that run on them) doesn’t have zero impact. The gains (environmental rather than financial) may not be seen for many years – if ever. For most countries it may be better to use more effectively what already exists (which is one reason why I am opposed to the HS2 project in the UK). For countries looking to develop and with no effective inter-city transport, the situation may be different. And that is where the linear shinkansen comes into play and why we could see it being used more widely outside of Japan than in Japan. It may be that China is thinking the same thing and that is why Japan and China are likely to battle for this export market as much as they look to implement the technology in their own countries.

The topic of the linear shinkansen also comes up in my third novel, FOUR, which I am just finishing off writing at the moment.

If you are interested in the shinkansen, you may also be interested in the following posts and pages of mine:

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Ксения says:

    In 1987 Japanese National Railways (JNR) was broken up into six regional passenger companies and one nationwide freight company. The Shinkansen are operated by individual companies. This means that where a train passes from one region to another, the crew all change. Currently the only example of this is at Shin-Osaka with the through running of Shinkansen between the Tokaido Shinkansen linking

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    1. HoodCP says:

      You can also see this sort of change happening at Hakata (between JR West & JR Kyushu) and at Shin-Aomori (between JR East & JR Hokkaido).

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