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July 2, 2015

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‘Bullet train’ operator pitches technology for rail projects

Japanese rail experts say developers of high-speed rail in the American Southwest should consider safety features to protect passengers from derailments resulting from earthquakes.

Tsutomu Morimura, senior executive director and director general of the general technology division of the Central Japan Railway Co., told an audience at UNLV Monday that his company has patented anti-derailing guard rails and post-derailment stoppers on tracks to help prevent trains from coming off their tracks in the event of an earthquake.

Morimura made his comments in a high-speed rail forum sponsored by UNLV’s Transportation Research Center and the Ward 5 Chamber of Commerce. Morimura and Motoaki Terai, general engineering manager of Central Japan Railway’s maglev system development division, gave presentations on the Japanese rail company’s two high-speed systems.

Central Japan Railway, which operates Japan’s famed Shinkansen “bullet train,” is angling to sell its technology to developers of high-speed rail proposals under consideration in the United States.

Two high-speed proposals are in different stages of development in Southern Nevada. The traditional steel-wheel DesertXpress proposal that would connect Las Vegas to Victorville, Calif., has completed an environmental impact statement on its proposed route and managers have said it would begin construction of the $4 billion project in the first quarter of next year. A rival proposal offered by the American Magline Group would use magnetic levitation technology with a route that would go to Anaheim, Calif. The maglev plan is at least a year behind DesertXpress and the company estimates it would cost $12 billion to build.

At present, the Central Japan Railway would be on the outside looking in on the existing proposals because DesertXpress has partnered with Canada-based Bombardier as its primary supplier while American Magline is working with Transrapid of Germany.

Transrapid has a commercially operating maglev in Shanghai.

But Morimura told about 60 people attending the UNLV presentation that his company’s steel-wheel and maglev products are superior to those on the market because they run faster and have better performance records than others.

One key attribute, he said, was the Shinkansen safety record – there have been no passenger injuries or fatalities since the bullet train began operating in 1964.

Speaking through a translator, Morimura said the Shinkansen is on its fifth generation design and the N700-I model the company is pitching worldwide has a maximum cruising speed of 205 mph – 55 mph faster than the DesertXpress train.

But Morimura said operators of trains in Southern California and Southern Nevada should pay attention to the probability of a major earthquake and take measures to prevent derailments that could occur if tracks begin to sway.

Central Japan Railway, based in one of the most earthquake-prone regions in the world, has conducted vibration tests on high-speed-rail bogies and developed track enhancements to head off derailments.

The Japanese rail company also is developing a new maglev system capable of traveling at 313 mph that won’t be ready for commercial operation until 2025. The Japanese system differs from the German Transrapid design by having its primary propulsion magnets in the guideway instead of on the vehicle.

Because of their design, maglevs aren’t susceptible to earthquakes because the vehicles float within a box-shaped guideway.

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