Monday, February 26

The love story of the Olympics and the bullet train: how sport has helped power the world’s fastest trains

Major international events often come hand in hand with a major industrial drive in the host country or city. And the Winter Olympics are no exception. A bullet train connecting the cities of Beijing and Zhangjiakou is already in operation. And, despite driving at 350 km/h, has no driver.

This new bullet train joined the most extensive high-speed network in the world in 2020, but it is at the Winter Olympics that it will unfold all the potential for which it was conceived. China has more than 40,000 kilometers of track on which high-speed trains circulate, according to El Español. But the real milestone is that the vehicle is completely autonomous and drives without a driver, the first of its kind in the world to do so. It is even ahead of Japan, a reference country in these trains that run at very high speed.

Much more than high speed

Curiously, The first time a bullet train was seen was at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.. The sporting event was one of the promoters of the famous Shinkansen that began linking Tokyo and Osaka at a speed of 210 km/h almost 60 years ago, cities separated by more than 500 kilometers of highway.

Now, the new Chinese bullet train that will link the cities of Beijing and Zhangjiakou in just 50 minutes (the same journey by car takes more than two and a half hours) is much more than an autonomous vehicle without a driver, it is also an exponent of what the Chinese industry can do. The Government of the country knows that a sporting event of these characteristics is a window to the world and that the high-speed road network may be decisive in the future for tourism and the logistics of the fourth largest country in the world. In fact, it plans to install another 1,400 kilometers of this type of road before the end of 2022. To get a better idea, the Japanese road network has 2,700 kilometers.

And the real progress in this case is not where you get to, but also how you get there. Inside it hides a whole television set that journalists can use on their trips, even to broadcast live programs in high quality taking advantage of 5G networks. Added to this is the implementation of a touch screen in each seat, plugs to connect different devices and a dining car that can be transformed into a press room. And everything, with a really limited human team, since the Chinese Government ensures that the services that passengers need will be automated and attended by robots.

The Olympic Games boost high speed again

The presentation is also a boost to Chinese development and research, which is ahead of Japan in the race to offer a bullet train without a driver. To achieve this, they have implemented a system of sensors and cameras that scan the road 14 kilometers in advance. This allows its eight vehicles, individually powered by independent electric motors, to reach a speedtop speed of 350 km/h without the need for an operator to work in his cab. Quite a show of force on a high-speed line that stops at Badaling Chang Cheng, where the most visited section of the Chinese Wall is located.

Japan aims to reduce a journey from 3 hours and 22 minutes to a trip of 67 minutes

For its part, the japanese bullet train is a pride for the country and research to improve it is constant. Although its maximum speeds are similar to the new Chinese bullet train, the neighboring country has not yet managed to carry out an autonomous vehicle with these characteristics.

As you have been able to read above, the first Japanese bullet train arrived on time for connect the cities of Tokyo and Osaka (separated by 515 kilometers) at a speed of 200 km/h. The advantages it offered 58 years ago were evident for a line used by 24% of all travelers in Japan, despite the fact that its tracks barely represented 3% of the total kilometers available.

Japanese bullet trains currently travel at speeds of 320 km/h but it is hoped that on the next line, which will link Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, they can circulate at 505 km/h as the track will be prepared for magnetic levitation trains. From Japonismo (one of the spaces most consulted by those seeking information to travel to Japan) point out that the first part of this line should be built in 2027 and will reduce the time to travel from Tokyo to Nagoya to 40 minutes, instead of the current 100 . Much later, in 2045, the section from Tokyo to Osaka is expected to be completed, covering in 67 minutes a distance that would now take three hours and 22 minutes.

Like clockwork

One of the attractions of these high-speed trains is their punctuality. If a character has defined the Japanese internationally, it is that of the serious, reliable and punctual person. And being a national pride, its bullet trains had to comply with these premises.

Last November, the news broke that a Japanese machinist was sanctioned by his company with the subtraction of 56 yen from his salary (0.43 euros at current exchange rates) for have delayed the service by a minute. The driver took the wrong platform and arrived two minutes late at his correct destination. This caused a one-minute delay for travelers for which the driver and railway company are still litigating.

Aerotrain, the hybrid between plane and train that broke speed records half a century ago

And it is that the Japanese precision in its trains has achieved that the average delays are less than one minute. A delay of five minutes is reason enough to require a certificate certifying why you have been late for work and in 2017 the rail system had to apologize publicly after one of its trains advanced its departure by 20 seconds. And, of course, cleanliness is not one of the reasons for delaying a train. Your workers can leave a bullet train like new in just seven minutes.

These same principles are being applied in the development of their autonomous bullet trains. In his first tests They have barely traveled five kilometers and have reached 110 km/h top speed. However, in their obsession with accuracy they have managed to the train only stopped three inches further than expected. Much less than the 50 centimeters that the engineers had given themselves.

Photo | Justin Brinkhoff Y hans-johnson