CRYSTAL KUA / CKUA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu public affairs officer Mark Matsunaga, left, and a representative from Itochu Corp. looked over a prototype of the Linimo rail car in Japan yesterday.
‘Maglev’ offers city futuristic rail option
Hannemann likes the Japanese train's speed -- to run and build
NAGOYA, Japan » Call it "The Jetsons" meet mass transit on a "maglev" carpet ride.
A magnetically levitated train system that travels on air in Japan's fourth-largest city gave Mayor Mufi Hannemann and members of the City Council a look at what could be the future of rail transportation in Honolulu.
"I think it's the most futuristic of all the ones that we saw, of what future transportation systems are going to look like," Hannemann said.
The train cars hover above -- instead of making contact with -- the rails, as a result of electric current that flows through electromagnets attached to the train cars. With no wheels or rubber tires, and a lack of resistance or friction, the so-called maglev system makes for less maintenance, quieter rides and potentially faster speeds.
When the train gets ready to go, it lifts up and hovers about eight millimeters above the rail.
"It generates force in a straight line and propels the vehicle forward," said Masaaki Fujino, president of Chubu HSST (High Speed Surface Transport) Development, which developed the technology. ItochuCorp. is leading the group looking to build the maglev system in Honolulu.
The only other operational maglev system is in Shanghai.
Nicknamed Linimo -- short for lineal motor railway -- the system began service in March in time for the start of the World Exposition in central Japan. During the expo, the rail system carried an estimated 20 million passengers.
The trains can maneuver sharper turns and go up steeper grades, and continue to work in different kinds of weather.
The Linimo line operated by the Aichi Rapid Transit Co. runs partially underground, but most of the route is on an elevated guideway.
As with the two rail systems Hannemann and Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz, Rod Tam and Todd Apo toured earlier this week, the group took a look at the operations center and then rode the train.
As a demonstration, Dela Cruz, Apo and Hannemann were asked to push the 54-ton rail car to show how easily the lack of resistance lets it move.
Hannemann and the Council members said they were impressed with the futuristic look not only of the trains, but the entire system, including the stations.
"The stations, the way they were built, it was really neatly landscaped; there was a Zen feeling to it. I saw some aspects there that could be incorporated into our Oahu-type system," Hannemann said.
City Council Chairman Dela Cruz said, "I never thought we would actually see the day where that technology is used the way it is. We've all heard about it, we've all read about it, but to see it as part of a transportation solution is amazing."
Hannemann said he learned several things from the visit to the Linimo line.
First, the roughly 5.6-mile line was constructed in three years. That shows a rail system does not have to take more than a decade to get up and running, he said. Hannemann has a goal of breaking ground on a system by 2009.
"The Japanese said it can be built in three years, so that's what is going to be one of my motivational factors," Hannemann said.
The Japanese were able to test the system while construction was going on -- part of the reason the project could be completed for the opening of the exposition.
Hannemann's administration is preparing a federally required analysis and draft environmental impact statement to determine the best mass-transit system for Honolulu.
In the summer, the Council approved a 0.5 percentage point general excise tax surcharge to generate $150 million to help pay for a new transit system. The new tax increase will be levied beginning in January 2007.
Nagoya's levitated train system
A look at the High Speed Surface Transport
Linimo Magnetic Levitation Rail System:
» Construction began in April 2002.
» Opened in March
» Construction cost: $100 million per kilometer
» 8.9-kilometer (5.6-mile) line
» Nine stations
» 244 passengers per car, three cars per train
» Speed of 60 mph