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Japan’s new high speed train – the ALFA-X (Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation) has a maximum speed of 248 mph (400 km/h). On Tuesday October 27th it almost reached this speed on a special run for journalists with 237 mph (382 km/h). The test run took place on the Tohoku Shinkansen line between Sendai and Morioka taking just forty minutes for a journey that normally takes an hour and fifteen minutes. That’s thirty five minutes off the usual time! The aim in the near future is to have trains that run at 223 mph or 360 km/h when these new trains come in to use around 2030/2031. The vastly higher speeds above that wont come for quite sometime yet and is dependent on how rail technology progresses.

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The very long nose on the ALFA-X is evident. The ALFA-X has a pair of noses different in length with the longer one at the northern end of the train. Source: Twitter

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The record run on the ALFA-X – 382km/h or 237mph. Source: Twitter

Very unusually the train has an advanced aerodynamic braking system which is sited on the roof. Special aerofoils come into play when the train needs to brake. The inspiration for this came from fighter jets and peregrine falcons. In addition to that the train uses a electromagnetic system (common on other Shinkansen stock) to assist with the deceleration and braking of the train. Normal braking systems such as disc brakes and shoe brakes are no good when it comes to these ever increasing high speeds on the railways. Even at quite fast speeds these older types of systems cause a lot of shudder and vibration and whilst they are acceptable on slower modern stock, the need to remove the braking systems from any direct contact with the wheels is necessary to ensure the stops are much smoother especially with these vastly higher speeds. See Semantic Scholar for illustrations and an exposition on how these electromagnetic or eddy current brakes work.

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Few illustrations exist of the new braking systems employed by the ALFA-X however this one illustrates it sufficiently. Source: Misfits Architecture

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Pictures of the actual train’s roof are rare however this view of the pantograph at least shows part of the aerodynamic braking flaps at left. Source: 2nd-train

Another innovation in these new trains is the snow device. Japan has lots of snow and the Shinkansen regularly has to pass through snow at high speeds. Various techniques are used to keep the trains running however this one is different. Its a fairing on the underneath of the train body that comes into use resulting in less snow finding its way into the bogie areas.

Short report (in Japanese) on the ALFA-X’s special run on 27th October 2020. One can of course see English (not translated perfectly tho) by selecting the subtitles first and then selecting auto translate to English.

ALFA-X at Wikipedia

Other articles on the high speed run:

Ashai Shimbun

Interesting Engineering

For the feature image I used one from this news article the overlaid it with an ALPHA-X logo!

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