Magnetic Levitation Train Hits 310 MPH
President Barack Obama and his administration have planned to allocate $8 billion toward high-speed rail projects, giving the passenger rail industry a boost. "These efforts will save money by untangling gridlock, saving lives by improving our roads, and save or create 150,000 jobs, mostly in the private sector," Obama said in a speech in April, 2009. Job creation will be among the first benefits realized by such an endeavor. With the national unemployment rate at around 10 percent, the United States could certainly use more jobs. Tony Daniels, the program director for the California High Speed Rail Authority says that construction on a new line there will begin as early as 2011. And according to a study by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, high-speed rail has the potential to generate thousands of jobs at varying levels of the employment, which include planning, engineering, construction, maintenance, service and operations. "The benefits to all of us that live in America will be enormous, and it will create a tremendous amount of jobs," said Daniels. Here are five kinds of jobs that Daniels and other experts in the railway industry think will come online in the next few years, as high-speed rail breaks ground around the country.
1. Urban Planners
Before construction can begin, urban planners must work to gain clearances and contracts to place the tracks over both public and private land. This involves coordinating with public officials, business owners and residents, while possessing a clear understanding of applicable federal and state laws. For nationwide projects, urban planners will play a key role in figuring out where a network of high-speed trains will fit. The minimum education requirement for entry-level positions is a bachelor's degree, but an advanced degree is recommended.
2. Rail Engineers
In the early stages of construction, engineers will be needed to address nearly all aspects of the mechanical and electrical structure and function of a high-speed rail system. The duties of these specialists will include finding the best designs and processes for implementing entire lines of track. From the firms that provide the data on where the tracks will go to those that design the trains and the scheduling systems, these positions will be essential for carrying out the blue print of the railway. The minimum education requirement for these jobs is a bachelor's degree in engineering, but "most importantly they need to be professionally registered in the discipline," Daniels said. This is to say that engineers must work in their given discipline for several years before being officially certified for that discipline -- a process Daniels says can take up to five years.
Apart from the engineers and urban planners, architects play a vital role in designing the buildings and the stations. The architectural model shown here is the new Liege-Guillemins TGV Railway Station in Belgium, designed by Santiago Calatrava. New train station construction efforts will need to employ specialists from coast to coast. There are ten major corridors being considered for federal funding, all of which crisscross the country. The number of stations that will be built nationwide is unclear; however, Daniels says in reference to the California project that most, if not all, of the stations will be new. Architects that decide to go into this new industry will face the challenge of designing the look of the buildings and structures that will allow the trains to be boarded. "Architects in this country have designed train stations for transient light rail with hundreds of beautiful stations and will continue to do so," Daniels said.
4. Construction Crews and Engineers
The entire California corridor has an estimated cost of $40 billion, as stated in reports by the California Department of Transportation. People like Andy Kunz, CEO of the newly formed U.S. High Speed Rail Association, is convinced that to complete such a vast stretch of track will be a great under-taking. "I've heard it said that this will be the largest public works project in 50 years, and I agree with that," he said. Becky Sabin, a representative from Siemens Transportation Systems, one of the world's largest manufacturers of high-speed trains, says that many different types of specialists are needed in the process of making trains. These positions vary in degree of education and skill required, from skilled tradesmen such as welders, electricians and carpenters to project managers.
5. Operators and Maintenance Workers
After all of the construction crews, architects, planners and engineers are finished with their work, many people will be needed to maintain and operate the trains. The purposed national high-speed rail system will need a fairly large workforce, potentially thousands of jobs. The majority of these jobs are ticket agents, train engine crews, conductors, engineers, attendants and maintenance crews. Depending on the position, education requirements can vary drastically, from a high school diploma to trade school to advanced degrees in engineering. Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari says that it is unclear if high-speed rails will employ more or less of a workforce than that of the current numbers of passenger rail. "It's really will depend on the service design and what kind of service is offered whether it's at the level of service and amenities aboard the train will have a lot to say with what the emploment is going to be," Magliari said.
Japan’s railways are (rightly) famous for their bullet trains that move at up o 200 miles an hour. The Central Japan Railway Co. recently tested one that makes the bullet trains seem positively slow, reaching 310 miles per hour.
It’s called the L-Zero, and it’s a magnetic levitation, or maglev, train. Once it gets up to speed, it doesn’t use wheels — magnetic fields levitate it above the tracks. The train essentially flies. Once in service, the train will get from Tokyo to Osaka in 45 minutes, a trip that takes about an hour and a half now.
The railway tested a five-car train on a 27-mile track, making it the longest maglev train anywhere, as well as the fastest. Magnets not only float it above the tracks but keep the train itself centered.
Even though it reached its maximum speed in a few minutes, none of the people invited for the ride — mostly local journalists — reported feeling pressed back into their seats.
Completion is scheduled for 2027; the whole project will cost $90 billion. Even with the big up-front investment, though, maglev trains promise lower operating costs because there is less wear on the tracks.
If the L-Zero were built here, it could cut the travel time between Boston and New York to under an hour; a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles would take an hour and ten minutes. Even trips cross-country would be more feasible; Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited takes 19 hours to go 960 miles from New York to Chicago. A high-speed maglev could do it in less than half that, with stops.