Would A Bullet Train Fly In The U.S.?

We were reading Mike Chino’s post on Inhabitat yesterday about Kawasaki‘s plans for a new, faster, more energy-efficient bullet train in Japan. Besting the previous speed record of 186 mph, the new, so-called “Environmentally Friendly Super Express Train” (efSET) will speed passengers along at 217 miles per hour. It got us thinking about whether a network of bullet trains here in the United States could change the way people think about travel. Would it ever fly over here? It certainly used to be indelibly etched into the fabric our culture- the 19th century expansion west depended upon the railroad system. But these days, does the average person really think about the train as an option when traveling from, say, Philadelphia to San Francisco? Or even Philadelphia to Cleveland? For shorter distances, Amtrak makes a lot of sense, for our schedule, our environment and our pocket books (I’m bringing back pocket books, by the way!). When you think about driving out to the airport, getting there up to two hours early, going through security, sitting on the runway waiting for the thunder storm to pass, and the huge CO2 footprint of the flight itself, maybe a bullet train starts sounding like a decent option. An average trans-continental flight travels at about 532 mph. Traveling from New York to Los Angeles, as the crow flies (and, by crow, I mean Boeing 757) is roughly 2600 miles. That’s about five hours in a plane, versus potentially twelve hours on the efSET. Obviously, the difference becomes less as the distances go down- that trip from Philly to Cleveland (roughly 430 miles) would actually be quicker on the efSET, taking into consideration the fact that it could go city center to city center.

We’d love to see a rail network that was a reliable, affordable, fast (!!) and energy-efficient alternative to the airlines.

Here’s Mike Chino’s post from Inhabitat:

Kawasaki Reveals The Fastest Bullet Train in Japan

by Mike Chino

Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. recently announced that it is developing the country’s fastest high speed train! Named the “Environmentally Friendly Super Express Train” (efSET), the modern marvel will propel passengers along at 217 miles per hour, besting the record-holding Shinkansen’s 186mph. The streamlined design also promises to be less noisy, more energy efficient, and will feature a state-of-the-art electrical control system.

The introduction of Kawasaki’s new high-speed train stands to improve upon Japan’s standing rail system, already considered to be one of the most efficient in the world. The efSET will feature an extremely lightweight and aerodynamic profile in addition to a regenerative braking system that will recycle the kinetic energy generated by its movement.

Kawasaki plans to finalize the design by March 2010, and the company has already announced that it plans to prepare the efSET for international release. They estimate that 10,000 km of high-speed railways will be deployed over the next 20 years – lets hope some of those lines fall within the United States!

For more info, check out KHI’s ‘Environmental Activities.’

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