It sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but since the Japanese were also the pioneers of the original high-speed bullet trains back in the 1960s, news of its latest generation of super-duper high-tech locomotives is not likely to be a pipedream.

Indeed, Japan plans to develop a new series of trains that at 500 km/h will redefine the word ‘high speed’. What’s more, they will be ‘floating’ around on a cushion of air. At these speeds it could more aptly be called flying rather than floating, but the maglev concept behind it has been around for some time now.

Originally conceived of in the late sixties, the maglev concept sprouted many a prototype before it was first put to practical use on the high-speed network of China in 2004. The new trains under development by the Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) are expected to take it all to another level though, and if all goes according to plan we will be able to board one by 2027.

Is that a sigh of disappointment I hear? Well, it takes some doing to send a train at breakneck speed on a cushion of air through a densely populated country and arrive in Nagoya 20 minutes after you’ve set out from downtown Tokyo. Considering even the shinkansen bullets take 90 minutes to complete the trip, you’d want the train company to make sure it’s all safe and sound!

Maglev trains do not have wheels that run on a track. Instead, they literally float on a cushion of air, propelled by electromagnetic pull and free of the friction created by the contact of metal wheels on rails. Not only this, but it is also a more convenient and cleaner form of long distance travel than its main competitor: aviation. While the investment involved is staggering and the development period extended, Japan’s ongoing commitment to staying at the head of this field is commendable.