Leaving… On a Bullet Train

Subtitle: Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again. Babe, I Hate To See Florida Go

Sam Abuelsamid provides, what for Autoblog Green is, a rather strident reproach of U.S. transportation policy (which effects our energy policy, which effects our foreign policy.) Hopefully, the stridency is for reasons other than losing a son or daughter to the Cheney Iraq Oil Grab.

In the United States we've squandered hundreds of billions of dollars in the last five years. (My emphasis) [Editor's note: But, then, Sam comes to his senses and puts in an Oil Masters approved gripe.] Our political "leaders" bicker over fuel economy rules that ultimately still won't get us to where most of the world already is today. (Yes, but it getting us where we seem to want to go, Sam, which is in hell and high water.)

One of the units that will serve the Madrid to Barcelona route, reaching speeds of 350 km/h (200 mph). This speed promises to link the two cities in 2h 35 min of transit time.

Meanwhile the rest of the world is racing ahead, developing technologies that will provide real transportation alternatives. Japan and Europe have long had trains that go well over 200mph.

The Japanese are now preparing to step up to the next level. The Central Japan Railway Co. is preparing to build a 290km magnetically levitated (maglev) train line between Tokyo and central Japan. The target speed for the train is 310 mph. Central Japan Railway has a maglev test train that ran 361 mph in 2003.

In the United Kingdom and throughout Europe, electrified fast rail networks now crisscross between major cities, cutting travel times by as much as half compared to previous train journeys.

When Xavier Navarro critiqued the claims by AVE (the Spanish High-Speed Train system) that High Speed Trains are more efficient than planes, at least in terms of CO2 production, he noted that the "when braking, these trains can give back" electricity to the network; and, these "fast trains also carry more passengers, which distributes the CO2 impact better among all users."

ABG commentator JS notes that there are plenty of studies, which "show the real-world efficiency of high speed rail is many times that of aircraft.

High-speed rail achieves on the order of 300-500 passenger-miles-per-gallon equivalent, whereas efficient jets manage 60 to 80 passenger-miles-per-gallon. You can see links to a number of studies and associated calculations at http://strickland.ca/efficiency.html

18.0 kWh/train-km, or roughly the equivalent of 1.16 mpg for a train with 545 seats. Actual average occupancy is 80%, giving a real-world 506 passenger-mpg.


11.87 kWh/train-km, even with an average load factor of only 55% that's still 310 passenger-mpg equivalent.


There are lots of studies of aircraft efficiency - Boeing even touts commercial aircraft efficiency because it looks good compared to typical car usage. (But not compared to car usage where the car is actually mostly full!)

The current limit - which seems unlikely to be pushed much - is in the range of 70 passenger-mpg. You can double-check such figures fairly easily by doing actual fuel burn calculations, or looking at the annual report of an airline operating a homogeneous fleet.

For example, the JetBlue 2004 annual report: 18,911,051,000 available seat miles, 83.2% load factor, 241,087,000 gallons JetA consumed. This yields approximately 58 passenger-mpg. (Yes, it's 78.4 mpg JetA with all seats filled, but multiply by .832 to get 65.26mpg JetA, then multiply by roughly 32 MJ/L over 36 MJ/L to get gasoline-equivalent for comparison with cars.)

AGB reporter Xavier Navarro1 also told us about some scientists at Tohoku University in Japan that are trying to reduce the energy used by high speed trains by using ground effect to raise the train a few inches from the ground. This could reduce significantly losses of power from ground friction.

Ground effect is produced when a vehicle, at certain speeds, creates a difference of pressure between the air that flows underneath and over the vehicle. Ekranoplan uses the same principle over water. The first to give scientific description of the ground effect and to provide theoretical methods of calculation of air cushion vehicles was by a Russian, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in his 1927 paper "Air Resistance and the Express Train".

The scientists claim that the high speed train floating on a cushion of air could use less energy and cost significantly less to build than maglev trains. Magnetic levitation uses a great deal of power to maintain the magnetic fields that repel the train from the track.

There is debate about the effectiveness of a wing to produce the Ground Effect. For the 2007 California State Science Fair, Norman Bae used balsa wood and Styrofoam models and a homemade wind tunnel to test different types of wings. His results suggested that it is possible to build a train that travels near the inside surface of a U-shaped track using a single wing to generate the ground effect.


Wikipedia entry notes that a disadvantage to using an air cushion to keep the vehicle from touching the surface, either in the manner of a hovercraft or using the Wing In Ground effect, is that such vehicles may be affected adversely and quite drastically by wind, air turbulence, and weather.

TGV holds the record for the fastest wheeled train, having reached 574.8 km/h (357 mph) on 3 April 2007, and also holds the world's highest average speed for a regular passenger service.

Before the project was abandoned by SNCF, the French national rail operator, in favor of TGV, the AГ©rotrain prototype I-80, a full-size 80-passenger car running on 18 km of track, established the world speed record for overland air cushion vehicles. It set the record on March 5, 1974 with a mean speed of 417.6 km/h and a peak speed of 430.4 km/h.

The Wikipedia entry notes that a reason that the French government abandoned the AГ©rotrain in 1977 was that TGV (train Г  grande vitesse), a.k.a., the Bullet Train, could use existing rail lines in metropolitan areas. AГ©rotrain would have required new lines, easements and stations in metropolitan areas, as would high-speed, Wing In Ground effect rail.
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1Green high speed train - unlike any train you've seen before

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