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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 April 2007, 13:49 GMT 14:49 UK
Japan to introduce maglev trains
Japanese maglev test train
Japan and Germany lead the way on maglev technology
Japan has said it aims to launch its first magnetic levitation - or maglev - rail service by 2025.

With a top speed of more than 500km/h (310mph), the trains will run between Tokyo and the central city of Nagoya.

Maglev trains use electric-powered magnets to enable them to float above their tracks, allowing for much faster speeds than traditional rail services.

First developed in the UK, there is today only one commercially operating maglev line in the world, in Shanghai.

'Putting into reality'

Japan's first maglev service will be run by Central Japan Railway.

Shanghai's maglev train
Shanghai's maglev line cost $63m per mile

The aim is for the line to eventually be extended to Japan's second city of Osaka, replacing the famed Shinkansen - or "Bullet" trains - whose top speed is 300km/h.

"We will take the initiative ourselves in putting into reality a means of transport replacing the Shinkansen," said Central Japan Railway president Masayuki Matsumoto.

Japan and Germany are currently leading the way in the development of maglev rail technology, with test tracks in both countries.

Maglev trains are able to reach such high speeds because they float above their tracks, significantly reducing friction.

Cost issue

Although Network Rail, which runs the UK's rail network, currently has no plans to introduce maglev services, Britain once had the world's first commercially operating maglev railway.

From 1984 to 1995, it shuttled passengers at Birmingham International Airport 600m from the main terminal to the nearby railway station.

But after 11 years in operation, it was hit by reliability problems and replaced by a conventional system.

Network Rail has ruled out introducing maglev services because of the costs, which are considerably more than in traditional rail systems.

There have also been concerns regarding maglev's reliability, although a fatal crash last year at a test track in Germany was put down to human error after a maintenance vehicle was left on the line.

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