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Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) | L0 Series Superconducting Maglev Vehicle


On August 29, 2013, full-scale tests of the Chuo Shinkansen Line (a superconducting maglev line) were initiated with the goal of starting commercial operation in 2027, and the L0 Series rolling stock made their debut appearance as the passenger rolling stock to be used. The test track in Yamanashi Prefecture was extended from 18.4 km to 42.8 km, and this track will be used to conduct tests geared to the line’s commercial operation, including tests for the L0 Series’ signature travel speeds of 500+ km/h, and travel at a gradient of 4%, impossible with the current Shinkansen bullet trains. The interior of the rolling stock has also been remodeled for commercial use; passenger cars are more comfortable, and are equipped with overhead luggage racks and windows virtually identical to those of the current Shinkansen trains. The time when, for the first time in the world, passengers will board a superconducting maglev (SCMAGLEV) vehicle will is fast approaching.

Superconducting Magnetic Levitation — A Unique Technology

The main characteristics of maglev vehicles are that the motor produces a linear force instead of torque as in conventional trains, and that the vehicle is levitated from a guideway and propelled by strong magnets. The L0 Series is a type of maglev vehicle, but while other maglev vehicles around the world use permanent magnets, the L0 Series uses superconducting magnets. This highly unique superconducting maglev technology has been researched and developed from basic technology in Japan, and the groundbreaking SCMAGLEV currently only runs in Japan.

The greatest attraction of the SCMAGLEV is its outstanding speed. It can travel as fast as an airplane, and, at the time of writing in 2013, the fastest recorded time of a manned SCMAGLEV run is 581 km/h, achieved in 2003. A speed of 500 km/h has been reached by other rail vehicles, but this represents the maximum achievable speed for these vehicles. In contrast, for the SCMAGLEV, 500 km/h is only a stepping stone to even higher speeds.

The key to the SCMAGLEV’s speed lies in its levitation height.

Maglev systems that use permanent magnets have a levitation height of about 1 cm, and the particular attention is required to maintain the clearance between the vehicle and the rails; a single tiny pebble on the rails can cause a catastrophe. With conventional wheeled trains, also, although the technology is greatly advanced, the friction between the wheels and rails continues to present an obstacle. Some of these maglev and wheeled trains have achieved speeds of above 500 km/h, but only during tests, and their speed during normal operation is limited to between 300 and 400 km/h. Any further increase in this speed is considered extremely difficult because the vehicles, rails, and guideways (the tracks on which maglev vehicles run) will not be able to endure the stresses associated with higher speeds.

In comparison, the SCMAGLEV can levitate at 10 cm. This extraordinary levitation height ensures that the vehicle will never come into contact with the guideway during operation. Additionally, overhead wires and pantographs are not required, so the vehicle only experiences air resistance, allowing it to reach incredible speeds. At speeds under 120 km/h, stowed wheels are lowered to safely support the vehicle. Should there be any trouble with the magnets, these wheels can be used to safely stop the vehicle.

Toward Technologies Yet to Be Experienced by Humankind

Many of the transportation vehicles currently in operation have become faster and more convenient over the years, but their basic principles of operation have not changed since the very first models. This applies equally to cars, trains, and airplanes. At first glance, maglev vehicles may look like a new type of train, and, even though they are commonly referred to as maglev “trains”, their principle of operation is completely different from conventional wheeled trains. Rather, they are next-generation transportation vehicles. Moreover, the SCMAGLEV, which can travel at speeds above 500 km/h, is a brand new technology for humankind.
In addition, SCMAGLEV technology can bring about significant advances, not only in linear motor technologies but also in magnetic levitation technologies, and it can also be applied to the field of machine tools, which is another of Japan’s strengths. The fields of aerospace engineering and architecture will also benefit from SCMAGLEV technology.

At a time when large organizations are conducting any number of cross-border research projects, the development in Japan of a completely new technology, as exemplified by the SCMAGLEV, without any external input is an achievement of which the country should be truly proud. It will be satisfying to see Japanese SCMAGLEV technology used to its fullest potential, thereby revolutionizing transportation around the world.

15 September, 2012
About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON
JR Central L0 Series
Maximum operational speed 500 km/h
Passenger capacity Front car: 24
Intermediate cars: 68
Total length 299 m (with 12 cars)
Car length Front car: 28 m
Intermediate cars: 24.3 m
Width 2.9 m
Height 3.1 m
Manufacturer Nippon Sharyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries