When it comes to using trains in America, options are usually pretty limited. If you're not using the local subway, then you're probably taking Amtrak, and neither are typically the best options. Subways have a tendency to get pretty disgusting, and if an Amtrak ticket isn't extremely expensive, then it's probably for a ridiculously long trip (or both). Sure, it's cheaper than flying, but is it really worth the trouble?
In Japan, things are completely different. The country is known for its 'bullet trains,' which are some of the fastest ground-based vehicles on the planet. Yes, officials may have to literally shove passengers into train cars, but that seems worth it when the train itself can move at over 200 miles per hour. The 'Shinkansen' trains can turn a commute from hours-long to just a few minutes with ease.
On top of that, it seems like Japan wasn't satisfied with simply being the best: a new video demonstrates the latest model of the Shinkansen train, and it blasts the previous speed record out of the water. The new train was able to hit 500 kilometers per hour, or just over 300 miles per hour.
The Shinkansen trains work using magnetic levitation, or 'MagLev' technology. Instead of using wheels-on-rails like American trains, the Japanese train cars essentially hover over the rails using powerful magnets. While there are wheels used to get the train up to speed, for the most part, MagLev trains are smoother, quieter and faster than the traditional models.
Truth be told, the project is still a long ways off from being fully implemented. Unfortunately, the new tracks are dramatically more expensive to install than the previous tracks, and new lines to Japan's biggest cities such as Tokyo won't be completed until 2027 at the earliest.
Even so, the Shinkansen trains are years ahead of what we use in America. Amtrak could certainly learn a lot from Japan: taking the train would be a lot more popular if the entire trip only took a few minutes.
Photo: Doug Bowman