The Genbi Shinkansen: Japan’s newest bullet train is the world’s fastest gallery, packed with contemporary art inside and out

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RocketNews 24 (by Casey Baseel):

From an engineering standpoint, Japan’s famed Shinkansen is already a work of art. Recently, though, the country’s bullet trains have been putting a renewed effort into their appearance, taking inspiration from centuries-old tradition and science-fiction anime.

The latest Shinkansen to be unveiled, though, incorporates design cues more modern than tatami reed floors yet not as futuristic as giant robots. Instead, it’s envisioned as a travelling gallery of contemporary art, allowing for what operator East Japan Railways calls “the world’s fastest art appreciation.”

A special train needs a special name, and the new Shinkansen has been christened Genbi, combining the kanji gen (), meaning “contemporary,” and bi (), “beauty.” The Genbi Shinkansen will run along the Joetsu Shinkansen line between Niigata and Echigo Yuzawa Stations in Niigata Prefecture.

▼ Fittingly, the kanji used in the Genbi Shinkansen’s logo are heavily stylized.

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Seven of the carriages will be used as art exhibition spaces, with different painters, sculptors, and visual creators represented in each. The contributing artists have been announced as Nao Matsumoto, Yusuke Komuta, Kentaro Kobuke, Naoki Ishikawa, Haruaka Kojin, and Brian Alfred.

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If you’d like your sense of taste to be stimulated along with your sight, there’s also a cafe. On the menu you’ll find sweets made with rice flour from Niigata’s prized (and pricy) Uonuma-grown Koshihikari rice and butter from dairies on Sadogashima Island.

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And it’s not like only passengers inside the train will have something pretty to look at, either. The non-windowed side of the Genbi Shinkansen’s exterior is covered with colorful photographs of Niigata’s Nagaoka Fireworks Festival, one of the largest in Japan, taken by photographer Mika Ninagawa.

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The Genbi Shinkansen goes into service next spring.

The Chinese concept train that never stops at stations

Business Insider (by Dylan Love):

A train in motion is a train carrying out its purpose. So why bother stopping at stations?!

That’s the idea behind this concept train from China. Check out the video below which demonstrates how it works:

Passengers step onto a compartment platform above an incoming train, which is then snagged by the train as it moves through the platform. At the next station, anyone wanting to get off moves up into the compartment, which is then snagged by the station. The train itself never stops, it simply trades embarkation capsules as its moves through a station, giving passengers a window of time to board without the train needing to stop.

Just how fast is Japan’s new maglev train? See for yourself…

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RocketNews 24:

It may not be due to begin ferrying passengers between Tokyo and Osaka for another 10+ years yet, but Japan’s magnetic levitation (maglev) train is already zipping up and down a special section of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, and it’s nothing short of spectacular.

Check out our video of this thing in motion – oh, and try not to blink because you really might miss it.

The Japanese maglev broke world records last week when its parent company, Central Japan Railway Company, announced that it had recorded speeds of 590 kilometres per hour (that’s 366 mph) on a stretch of test track in Yamanashi Prefecture, smashing a world record that has stood for over a decade.

But these are all just numbers; what does a train travelling that fast actually look like? Well, you’re about to find out…

Scheduled to start serving the public between Tokyo and Nagoya in 2027, the line is set to be extended all the way to Osaka by 2045, making it possible to travel between the two cities in just 67 minutes – roughly half the time it currently takes by bullet train. It’s going to be a long time coming, but with speeds like that, we’ll probably have clawed back our lost time after about a week of commuting.

If you’d like to check out the maglev for yourself, head over to the Yananashi Prefecture Maglev Exhibition Center website for more info.

China to build $242bn high-speed Beijing-Moscow rail link

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China and Russia’s multi-billion dollar high-speed rail network project

International Business Times:

China is to build a 7,000-kilometre high-speed railway connecting its capital Beijing to Moscow which will reduce the journey time between the two cities to two days from five.

The $242bn (£160bn, €210bn) project was confirmed in a Weibo post published by Beijing’s municipal government. The rail link will go through Kazakhstan and make travel between Asia and Europe easier, according to the post.

China and Russia had signed a memorandum of understanding on the ambitious project in October 2014. The construction of the project is expected to take eight to 10 years.

The huge investment would mostly be made by China, as Russia’s economy has been hurt by the recent oil price plunge and Western sanctions, according to critics of the project.

However, the high-speed rail line can provide many other long-term benefits that could make up for the cost of the investment, according to an earlier post on Sina’s military blog.

The new high-speed rail line can be used to increase the transfer of energy resources and food items, which are scarce in China, according to the blog.

It noted that the rail network can be used to import some of Russia’s fertile soil to China to improve the quality of its overdeveloped land. Further, the rail line could be used by Chinese farmers to migrate to Russia and set up small agricultural villages.

The relationship between China and Russia has been strengthened as the latter is engaged in a political row with the US and Europe over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

The countries earlier signed a $400bn deal for Russian gas giant Gazprom to build a pipeline and start gas supplies to China. The 30-year contract will enable the company to supply 38 billion cubic metres of gas to China per year.

How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today

Shinkansen bullet trains at a depot in Fukuoka in 1975.

 

The Guardian:

 

At 10am on 1 October 1964, with less than a week and a half to go before the start of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the two inaugural Hikari Super Express Shinkansen, or “bullet trains,” arrived at their destinations, Tokyo and Osaka. They were precisely on time. Hundreds of people had waited overnight in each terminal to witness this historic event, which, like the Olympics, heralded not just Japan’s recovery from the destruction of the second world war, but the beginning of what would be Japan’s stratospheric rise as an economic superpower. The journey between Japan’s two biggest cities by train had previously taken close to seven hours. The Shinkansen had made the trip in four.

The world’s first high-speed commercial train line, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on Wednesday, was built along the Tokaido, one of the five routes that connected the Japanese hinterland to Edo, the city that in the mid-1800s became Tokyo. Though train lines crisscrossed the country, they were inadequate to postwar Japan’s newborn ambitions. The term “shinkansen” literally means “new trunk line”: symbolically, it lay at the very centre of the huge reconstruction effort. All previous railways were designed to serve regions. The purpose of the Tokaido Shinkansen, true to its name, was to bring people to the capital.

 

A couple say goodbye as he leaves on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.

A couple say goodbye as he leaves on the Tohoku Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo.

After the war Tokyo was in ruins, but its rebuilding progressed without any master plan. As industries gravitated to the city, young people flocked to Tokyo to work; and as they started families they were encouraged to buy homes. The only land they could afford, however, was outside the already densely populated city. Property prices skyrocketed in the 1970s, and even more during the “bubble era” of the 1980s, forcing newer families even further from the city centre. Tokyo swelled to elephantine proportions. The Greater Tokyo Metropolitan Area, composed of four prefectures, became the world’s pre-eminent megalopolis – some 35 million people by 2010, or 27% of Japan’s total population. It isn’t unusual for commuters to spend two hours getting to work every day on trains that exceed 150% of capacity.

This “rush hour hell” has been made famous worldwide by images of station employees stuffing stragglers into packed train cars – potent symbols of the superhuman forbearance of the Japanese worker, but also the dogged efficiency of Japan’s railways. All foreign visitors to Japan invariably ride the trains and come away with the same impression: Japan’s public transportation is the cleanest, most courteous in the world, run by uniformed, be-gloved men and women who still epitomise a hallowed Japanese work ethic that most companies struggle to maintain in an economy that has remained sluggish for two decades.

 

Prince Hiro on board a Shinkansen bullet train  in 1968.

Crown prince Naruhito on board a Shinkansen bullet train in 1968.

But the most vital aspect of this efficiency is that trains run on time, all the time. This is not just a point of pride. It is a necessity, given the huge number of people that have to be moved. Transfers are timed to the split second, and the slightest delay has the butterfly effect of delaying connections. The Shinkansen is no exception, as exemplified by the “angels”: teams of pink-attired women who descend on a train as soon as it arrives at its terminal and in five minutes leave it spotless for the return trip.

The first Shinkansen skirted the Pacific coast through the huge industrial corridor that links the capital with Osaka. This is a nearly unbroken stretch of urbanisation: it has few parallels on the planet. By the early 1950s the conventional train that ran on this route was crammed. Taking a hint from the private Odakyu Electric Railway, which launched a train that could reach speeds of 145km/hr, Japan National Railways (JNR) decided to develop an even faster train, and in April 1959 construction of the Tokaido Shinkansen commenced with an initial budget of ¥200bn (£1.1bn), though the eventual cost would be double that.

The high-speed network now reaches all the way west to the island of Kyushu and north to Akita, at the northern tip of the main island, Honshu. Next March, the Hokuriku Shinkansen will be extended to Kanazawa near the Japan Sea; there are plans to build a new line connecting Honshu to the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Each line is under the authority of one of four JR (Japan Railways) companies that formed when JNR was privatised in 1987. But the central government has overseen the construction of all new Shinkansen lines, usually covering 35% of the cost (JR companies pay 50% and local governments 15%). That means the construction ministry makes the relevant decisions about where lines go, or which cities get stations.

 

 

In an interview in the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper last week, Takashi Hara, a political scholar and expert on Japanese railroads, said the policy of extending the Shinkansen was promulgated by Kakuei Tanaka, Japan’s prime minister from 1972 to 1974. “The purpose was to connect regional areas to Tokyo,” Hara said. “And that led to the current situation of a national Shinkansen network, which completely changed the face of Japan. Travel times were shortened and vibration was alleviated, making it possible for more convenient business and pleasure trips, but I have to say that the project just made all the [connecting] cities part of Tokyo.”

And where the Shinkansen’s long tentacles go, other services shrivel. Local governments in Japan rely heavily on the central government for funds and public works – it’s how the central government keeps them in line. Politicians actively court high-speed railways since they believe they attract money, jobs and tourists. In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.

 

A Marunouchi Shinkansen bullet train passes through central Tokyo.
A Shinkansen bullet train passes through central Tokyo.

The Shinkansen’s focus on Tokyo, and the subsequent emphasis on profitability over service, has also accelerated flight from the countryside. It’s often easier to get from a regional capital to Tokyo than to the nearest neighbouring city. Except for sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves northeastern Japan, local train lines don’t always accommodate Shinkansen rolling stock, so there are often no direct transfer points between local lines and Shinkansen lines. The Tokaido Shinkansen alone now operates 323 trains a day, taking 140 million fares a year, dwarfing local lines. This has had a crucial effect on the physical shape of the city. As a result of this funnelling, Tokyo is becoming even denser and more vertical – not just upward, but downward. With more Shinkansen passengers coming into the capital, JR East has to dig ever deeper under Tokyo Station to create more platforms.

Deepest of all is the new Tokyo terminal for the latest incarnation of the bullet train – the maglev, or Chuo (“central”) Shinkansen, which is supposed to connect Tokyo to Nagoya by 2027 and is being built 40m underground. The maglev is the next technological stage in the evolution of high-speed rail travel. It is meant to be a morale booster for Japan’s railway industry, which no longer boasts the fastest trains or the biggest ridership in the world, distinctions that now belong to Japan’s huge neighbour to the west.

 

A passenger in traditional dress on board a Japanese hikari shinkansen bullet train in 1965.

A passenger in traditional dress on board a Japanese Hikari Shinkansen bullet train in 1965. 

 

It is being built by JR Tokai, the company that runs the original super-profitable Tokaido Shinkansen, though experts assume the central government will eventually have to contribute money due to snowballing costs. The Chuo Shinkansen will cut the time it takes to get to Nagoya to 40 minutes, theoretically putting the central Japanese capital within commuting distance of Tokyo – in much the same way that the proposed HS2 will make Birmingham a bedroom community of London. “The Chuo Shinkansen will make Nagoya feel like a suburb of Tokyo,” said Hara.

If you have any doubt about that, consider that the maglev – short for “magnetic-levitation”, and known in Japanese as “linear motor car” – has to move in as straight and as level a line as possible in order to reach the speeds that will make it the fastest train on Earth. But since Japan’s topography is mostly mountainous, 86% of the journey will be underground. (The technology probably makes more sense on a flat, open terrain, and JR Tokai is trying to sell it abroad.) In other words, the maglev will essentially be a very long subway ride. Certainly few tourists will find it appealing.

Plans are to extend the maglev to Osaka by 2045, by which time potential ridership will have declined by a third, due to Japan’s shrinking population and more efficient air travel due to new regional airports. The Shinkansen is expensive; with the rise of low-cost carriers, any train trip that takes more than two hours from Tokyo is less cost-effective than flying. The development of the Shinkansen can’t be separated from geography. China’s faster, vaster high-speed rail service isn’t all focused on Beijing, because the country itself is huge; in Japan, however, until recently the Shinkansen was the best way to get to Tokyo from almost anywhere. Like the first Shinkansen, the maglev is a national project, even if the central government hasn’t spent any money on it (yet), but national priorities aren’t as clear as they were in the 1950s. Tokyo can’t get any bigger. Other areas of Japan are barely hanging on. Japan’s high-speed rail system may end up being the victim of its own success.

Beautiful new luxury train for Ishikawa dazzles with gold leaf and lacquer interior

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RocketNews 24:

 

For the past few decades, getting around Japan has been a snap using the extremely efficient rail network that crisscrosses the country. Even better, in just a few years, not only will you be able to go anywhere on the main island of Honshu by train, but you’ll be able to do it in style, thanks to luxurious new trains servicing the ChugokuKanto, and Tohoku regions.

Hokuriku, the part of Japan running along the central northern coast of Honshu, isn’t about to be left out though, and its upcoming train may be the most opulent of all, with an interior decorated with traditional lacquer and gold leaf.

Compared to the other new trains listed above, Hokuriku’s initially seems like a much more modest travel option. The Tohoku train is an ultra-fast Shinkansen model, and Kanto’s and Chugoku’s are sleeper trains. In contrast, the new train for the Hokuriku area, which will run between Kanazawa and the Wakura Onsen hot spring resort in Ishikawa Prefecture, is neither, plus only two cars long with seats for just 52 passengers.

The small scale doesn’t mean any less effort is going into the aesthetics, though, as revealed by concept renderings recently released by Japan railways.

 

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The design cues for the project are “beauty,” and “Japanese tradition,” and plenty of both are apparent in this early artwork. Ever since gold was discovered in the surrounding area centuries ago, Kanazawa has been associated with the precious metal, and the city remains Japan’s most famous producer of gold leaf handicrafts. Lacquerware from the town of Wajima, also located in Ishikawa, is similarly prized, and both elements are prominently featured in the interior of the train’s carriages.

 

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The exterior also gives a nod to Hokuriku’s traditional culture, with imagery evocative of the patterns that grace Ishikawa’s Kaga-Yuzen kimono.

 

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Inside, travelers can snack on Japanese-style desserts or sample a selection of Hokuriku sake. There’s even a stage for folk music performances in one car, which is then relayed by monitor to passengers riding in the other.

 

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Hokuriku’s snazzy new train has its first run tentatively scheduled for October of 2015.

Link

Japan’s real and anime world technological icons combine with this Shinkansen (Bullet Train) transforming robot

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

You could argue that the Shinkansen is the greatest engineering marvel Japan has ever put together. Amazingly fast, the bullet train is also bulletproof in its reliability and punctuality, with almost no delays and not a single accident since the high speed rail service was opened in 1964.

To find a much cooler piece of Japanese technology, you have to go into the world of science fiction and anime robots. Now, some clever designers have put two and two together and created a transforming mecha character based on Japan’s fastest train.

The annual International Tokyo Toy Show is going on right now, and we stopped by to check out some of the 35,000 items being displayed by the 157 exhibiting companies. While there, we came across the booth for jeki, a promotional subsidiary of Japan Railways East.

The team at jeki struck gold with its previous creation, the Suica Penguin who serves as the primary mascot for JR East. You can find the loveable aquatic bird on prepaid JR cards and posters, not to mention in the display case of cake shops on occasion.

 

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But while the Suica Penguin is undeniably cute, he’s not exactly cool. Stepping up to claim that adjective is the new character created under jeki’s Project E5.

 

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The robot is modeled after the E5 Series Shinkansen, which went into use in 2011 on the Tohoku Shinkansen line that connects Tokyo and Shin Aomori Stations. Aside from its sleek lines, the robot checks off two important boxes. First, it transforms.

 

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And second, it looks awesome posing.

 

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The company hasn’t given away much in details about the character’s backstory, so we don’t know yet whether or not the powerful looking machine occasionally has to change into combat mode and fight off alien invaders, all the while continuing to carry its load of business and pleasure travelers. Moreover, the giant-sized model shown here is still just a preliminary concept, although if you ask us, it looks good enough that jeki’s artists can call it a day.

 

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The jeki representative we spoke with said the long-term plan is to produce and sell figures of the character, so if you’re a model train or mecha toy collector, you might want to start clearing off some shelf space. In the meantime, the concept statue will be on display as part of the Tokyo Toy Show at Big Sight on Odaiba from now until June 16.

 

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Check out this link:

 Japan’s real and anime world technological icons combine with this Shinkansen (Bullet Train) transforming robot

 

Link

Japan Railways (JR) unveils amazing luxury train

 

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RocketNews 24:

 

Last spring, Japan Railways, operator of Japan’s fabled bullet trains, unveiled its design for a new Shinkansen that will whisk travelers to northeastern Japan as they relax at the onboard foot baths. Then came the announcement of an overnight train servicing Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima with amenities rivaling those of a fancy hotel.

Now, it’s east Japan’s turn, as JR East has released new images of its upcoming luxury sleeper train for the region, plus its passenger suites that look genuinely large enough to live in.

JR originally shared its plans for the train last year, when famed train and auto designer Kiyoyuki Okuyama, who also goes by the name Ken, came onboard the project. Okuyama, who also headed the design of the footbath-equipped Shinkansen mentioned above, has pegged the design theme as “a train where passengers can enjoy the flow of time and space.”

What this seems to translate to, in concrete terms, is carriages that make use of extremely large windows to provide occupants with the widest possible view of the outside landscape. At either end of the 10-car train is an observation area with sofas and natural light streaming in from all directions.

 

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Of course, nothing ruins your tranquil contemplation of the beauty of nature like the sound of your stomach growling, so of course there’s a dining car.

 

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▼ Enjoy a tranquil dinner under the stars while still hurtling towards your destination.

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There’s also a lounge, if you’re looking for something lighter than a full meal.

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The remaining six cars are used for guest rooms. Five of these contain three suites each, all of which include private bathroom and shower, and look to be a far cry from a packed Tokyo commuter train in terms of comfort.

 

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The jewel in this rail-riding crown, though, is the centra car which houses the deluxe suites.

 

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This split-level room includes two beds, a living room seating area, and even a bathtub. Honestly, if this was an apartment in Tokyo, you’d have no problem at all finding someone willing to sign the lease. The lack of a fixed address would make receiving mail tricky, though.

 

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This isn’t even all the sleeper has to offer, as the deluxe suite car will also contain a separate, single-level guest room, although no images of it have been released yet.

JR East’s new pride and joy is expected to go into service in spring of 2017, so plan your trips (or apartment hunting) accordingly.

Sources: JinMy Navi NewsJR East

 

Check out this link:

Japan Railways (JR) unveils amazing luxury train

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Race against the clock: Shinkansen staff have just 7 minutes to get bullet train ready to ride

Japan’s shinkansen, or bullet train in the West, was the world’s first high-speed train running at 200km per hour, and today the Tōkaidō Shinkansen is the world’s most used high-speed rail line. Impressively, even with over 120,000 trains running on the line each year, the average delay time is a mere 36 seconds!

Part of the reason the bullet train system can run as smoothly as it does is thanks to the ‘hospitality group’ working behind the scenes of the sleek, futuristic facades of these famous trains. These cleaning crews are charged with covering every inch of a train’s interior when it arrives at its final stop and preparing it for the next wave of customers–and they have just seven minutes to do it.

JR East’s rail service company is known as TESSEI, and it is responsible for the cleaning of the bullet trains when they have come to a stop at Tokyo Station. There are around 820 staff members including full-time staff and part-timers known as ‘partners’. The average employee age is 52, and around 50 percent of them are women, so people often talk affectionately of the TESSEI ‘obaa-sans’ or ‘grannies’.

Bullet trains shuttle in and out of the platforms at Tokyo station 210 times each day. TESSEI staff are divided into teams composed of 22 people, and with 11 teams of cleaners taking turns on the platform, which translates into each TESSEI employee cleaning around 20 trains per day.

Despite not being particularly glamorous work, the group has received a lot of media attention over the years, and have been called Japan’s ‘strongest team’ by the Nikkei Business magazine.

Trains spend only 12 minutes at the station in Tokyo. That includes two minutes for passengers to disembark and two more for the next to get on, leaving only seven minutes for cleaning.

One person is in charge of one car with around 100 seats, and the whole car must be made spotlessly clean during those crucial seven minutes. It’s the same for the toilet cleaning staff – no matter how dirty it is, they have to have it sparkling again within the time limit. And lest we forget, the shinkansen aren’t like inner-city trains — passengers often travel for hours at a time, getting settled for the long ride, eating meals, snacking, reading newspapers, and generally making a bit of a mess.

The strict seven-minute deadline means that the work is broken down into smaller blocks that have to be completed in record time: 1.5 minutes spent picking up trash, 30 seconds rotating the seats (some can be swivelled around so that larger groups can face one another), four minutes sweeping and cleaning, and a one-minute check.

Those crucial seven minutes

0:00~1:30 First check the luggage racks on both sides, then look down the gaps between the seats for any forgotten items. As the seats are being turned to face the direction of travel, run down to the door at the other end sweeping out dropped trash into the aisle along the way.

1:30~4:30 On the way back up the aisle, pull down and check the blinds, and at the same time pull out the seat-back trays and wipe everything down, and change the seat covers if they’re dirty.

4:30~6:30 There’s now only two minutes left. Take a broom and sweep up all the trash brought out into the aisle in one go.

Everything above is expected to be completed in about six minutes. The official time limit is seven minutes, but it’s often crowded and takes longer for passengers to disembark, so they rarely have the luxury of using the full seven. This almost superhuman feat is known in Japanese as the ’7-minute shinkansen theatre’.

Link

Japanese ‘Levitating Train’ between DC and NYC would leave the rest of America behind

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Many Americans have long nursed a pipe dream of one day riding a super-high-speed train just like the engineering marvels that have cropped up in Japan, China, and Europe. With a newly publicized offer from Japan, that dream is inching closer to reality — but only for a privileged few.

The New York Times reported Monday that Japan, desperate to export its magnetic-levitation (maglev) technology, has offered to pay for 40 miles of a 300-mile per hour maglev train from Washington, DC to Baltimore, a route that would conveniently give lawmakers an eight-minute trip to the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A mix of public and private funds raised by The Northeast Maglev company (TNEM) would be used to build the rest of the route to New York. If lawmakers bite, residents of the Northeast Corridor could someday zip between Washington and New York in an hour flat.

A ripple of excitement has spread through elite circles in Washington and New York. TNEM is assembling a lobbying force of former lawmakers and businessmen to prod Congress to sign on to the deal in the name of innovation. Meanwhile, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has tellingly tailored his pitch to the financial sector, extolling the maglev’s virtues at the New York Stock Exchange in September.

Dangling the prospect of an hour-long commute in front of politicians, Wall Street moguls, and journalists who regularly travel between DC and New York is a smart strategy. TNEM is hoping to coax an exemption from Congress’ hostility to even the most modest infrastructure spending. But this vision of an American maglev train would be a massive investment that would primarily benefit the so-called Washington elite while sucking funds from the rest of the country’s rail system.

Should the privately-owned maglev succeed, it would sap Amtrak’s high-speed Acela Northeast Corridor, the agency’s major source of revenue for maintaining the rest of the country’s less populated but still indispensable routes. Without the Northeast Corridor, Amtrak would never be able to maintain even the barebones service it currently offers across the Midwest, the West, and the South. TNEM chairman Wayne Rogers made clear to Politico that the company does not plan to collaborate with Amtrak, but compete. “Right now, this is a privately led venture,” Rogers said. “If we looked at it like airlines, I don’t think that, you know, JetBlue would be saying United Airlines has a seat at their table.”

This competition idea echoes a persistent Republican plan to privatize the profitable Northeast Corridor while still requiring Amtrak to provide long-distance service to the rest of the country — a formula that would force the agency to implode. But even TNEM admits that private investments will fall short if the maglev is to become a real possibility. “A large amount of [funding] is going to have to come from the federal government,” Rogers told Politico.

That means the maglev will compete for federal funding with the less shiny but still vitally important spiderweb of Amtrak lines stretching across the rest of the country. The meager federal funding for long-distance train routes is already on the chopping block, threatening to leave many rural Americans without any mass transit options at all.

Conventional wisdom assumes mass transit is only for urbanites, while small town America clings to their cars. But attitudes are changing quickly. Amtrak ridership all over the country is growing steadily, and research suggests that the more regular service a route offers, the more passengers it attracts. If the DC-New York maglev were to become the poster child for infrastructure investment at the expense of slower routes, rural America’s options — and their fledgling interest in train travel — could disappear. The maglev would only confirm suspicions that mass transit investment redistributes taxpayer dollars to toys for city-dwellers, a bias that has helped turn public transportation into a hotly contested partisan issue. Without broadening train use all over the country, mass transit innovation won’t be a priority for most Americans.

True, the Northeast Corridor is one of the most densely populated regions in the country, making it a worthwhile and lucrative area for innovation. In fact, Amtrak is already planning to buy new Acela bullet trains and increase average speeds from 150 mph to 220 mph. The maglev plan favors intensely concentrated speed for a fraction of Americans, without offering a viable plan to expand to desperately under-served areas.

We’ve also already begun and stalled on a far more inclusive high-speed rail project thirsty for funding. President Obama envisioned a high-speed rail system that would connect the whole country, and dedicated $8 billion in the 2009 stimulus bill to start building the network. This 17,000 mile rail system would not be quite as lightning-fast as a maglev train, but would link the rest of the country at or above speeds already enjoyed by Northeast Corridor Acela riders. But after Republicans took over Congress in 2010, funding disappeared, construction on new bullet train routes halted, and the high-speed national network dream has moldered.

Some state associations and private companies in California and the Midwest are still slowly chugging along, but a high speed national network won’t get back on track without long-term federal funding and political support. That won’t happen if we keep pretending people who live in Washington and New York are the only people who ride the train.

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Japanese ‘Levitating Train’ between DC and NYC would leave the rest of America behind