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Japanese railway company starts testing 249mph bullet train speeds

This week, Japanese railway company JR East showed off its new Alfa-X, a high-speed bullet train that is designed to achieve a top speed of 400kph, or 249mph, which would make it the fastest commercial train in the world. In day-to-day operations, the train would shuttle passengers at 360kph, or roughly 224mph.

On Friday, JR East will begin testing the Alfa-X, without passengers, on its railways. According to Bloomberg, the 10-car train will make the trip “between the cities of Aomori and Sendai at night” for the next three years during a testing phase. JR East hopes to use the Alfa-X commercially by 2030. Japan News says the line will eventually be extended to Sapporo.

That long lead time suggests that there might be an opening for another high-speed bullet train option to overtake the Alfa-X Shinkansen train in speed for commercial railway service.

Bloomberg notes that the front runner for the top-speed crown may be a magnetically levitated train line that’s being built between Tokyo and Nagoya, which is expected to open in 2027. That train, however, takes advantage of a tunnel-heavy route to achieve a top speed of 505kph (314mph). (That project was also beset by scandal in 2018, though it appears to still be underway.)

Additionally, many startups are working on bringing a so-called Hyperloop to market. Hyperloop pods would run in a low-pressure tube on magnetic levitation rails (or alternatively, air-bearings), allowing them to reach theoretical speeds greater than 600mph. 

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