It has been awhile since I’ve talked about high speed trains here because, well, there hasn’t been a lot to talk about. America’s high speed rail system is slowly doling out money to Florida, the MidWest, and California, but it will be years before we see anything substantial. China, however, is moving ahead full speed with its plans for a high speed rail network, pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into such a network.
The latest plan from the People’s Republic calls for a high speed train that will combine the maglev system used in Japan and France with vacuum tubes. In theory, this train will be able to go 1,000 kph, or about 620 mph. That is twice as fast as most high speed trains travel today. How?
Vacuum tubes. When I hear vacuum tube, I think of those archaic computers with hundreds of little light bulbs beeping and booping in some underground bunker. The vacuum tubes planned for this Chinese super-train are more complicated. Maglev systems use magnetics to propel trains along at speeds in excess of 300 mph smoothly and quietly. What keeps them from going faster (the current world record is 361 mph, set in 2003) is air friction. China has a clever solution to this problem; remove the air. Hence, vacuum tubes.
These vacuum tubes would add almost $3 million to the cost of every kilometer of track (on top of the already astonishing cost of maglev trains), but would allow this super-train to travel upwards of 600 mph. Is the world record worth it? China seems to think so…and I agree. I am not a fan of flying. I like to stay on the ground. A super-fast maglev train sounds right up my alley. My only concern is the whole lack-of-oxygen. What happens if the train fails or loses power? Will suffocation ensue? If all goes according to plan, the train could be ready to levitate in about a decade.
Would you ride a 600 mph super train in a vacuum?
Chris DeMorro is a car enthusiast, blogger, and all-around crazy man who is as passionate about hybrids as he is about Hemis. You can follow his constant misadventures at Three Months In A Mustang.