The East Japanese Railway Company (JR-East) began testing its latest pure-electric bullet train this week. It’s called ALFA-X, which stands for “Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation.” Clearly, marketing folks had to make a bit of a clever word jumble to get to that acronym. I think it was worth it, though.
Over the next three years of testing, engineers will run the ALFA-X two times per week — sometimes up to its 400 kilometer-per-hour top speed (248 miles per hour). At that speed, it would be the fastest bullet train in the country. If tests are successful, JR-East hopes to put the new train into regular service by 2031 between Tokyo and Sapporo stations.
You’ve likely noticed the ALFA-X’s long nose, which is 72 feet long. It’s designed this way to limit the sound the train makes breaking through the air. JR-East is also testing a ‘shorter’ 52-foot nose to see which is quieter at speed.
“We want to improve not only speed, but also safety and comfort,” Ichiro Ogawa, the head of JR-East’s research and development center, told Japanese newspaper The Mainichi.
The train is powered by overhead lines that feed 25-kilovolts to the train’s pantographs, which send electricity to the onboard motors, which propel it forward on the track.
Riders are kept comfortable thanks to lateral and vertical dampers. These reduce movement in order to prevent motion sickness and also increase stability. These dampers are important for more than cruising-speed comfort. They also help keep occupants safe in the case of an emergency stop — or even during an earthquake.
Bullet trains aren’t the only transportation system that utilize overhead high-voltage lines to power electric vehicles. Siemens is also testing this technology, which it calls eHighway, in Germany, Sweden, and Los Angeles. This, in the hopes to bring pure-electric power to semi-trucks.