Train Technology Speeds Ahead

Japan's magnetic levitation (Maglev) train beat its own world speed record on a recent test run. The government-funded, experimental train reached 581 kilometers (360 miles) per hour last December. Central Japan Railway hasn't announced when it will commercialize the train, which might replace its Shinkansen “bullet trains.” Germany developed a Maglev train for China which, in January 2003, became the world's first such commercial train. Passengers can now travel from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport 30 kilometers to the center of Pudong in the eastern part of Shanghai in about 8 minutes, making it the fastest urban transit system in the world.

Today's American high-speed trains are slow compared to Chinese, Japanese, and European Maglev and electrified high-speed trains. Japan's electric bullet trains and France's Train de Grande Vitesse average 186 miles per hour, while Amtrak's high speed Acela train between Washington, DC, and Boston averages 75 to 80 miles per hour. Because of government subsidies, European and Japanese train tickets are cheaper than Amtrak tickets.

This year, the U.S. Federal Rail-road Administration is scheduled to choose one city to host the first U.S. Maglev train project. Among contenders are Atlanta; the Baltimore-Washington, DC, corridor; Los Angeles; and Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, Amtrak continues to experience financial woes. Last November, Congress gave Amtrak $1.2 billion, $600 million less than Amtrak said it needed to continue operating into 2004. The federal government continues to subsidize highways by $33 billion and the airline industry by $12 billion each year.

Passenger numbers are at a record high, but Amtrak officials say they will be forced to cut some routes and employees this year.

Becky Brun is an editorial intern at YES!

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