Faster than a jet: First glimpse of Tokyo’s maglev rail station deep underground

Japan is building a magnetic levitation (maglev) railway that will get passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya faster than a jet plane, and now the public has been treated to its first glimpse of the Tokyo station slowly taking shape deep underground.

Japanese Central Railways (JR Central) invited media to view the painstaking work – which can only happen at night – going on 40m below the platforms of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station.

Construction began in February last year, but progress is slow because work is restricted to a four-and-a-half hour window between the last train of the night and the first of the morning, according to the Japan Times.

On their nocturnal visit Saturday reporters watched a 12.4m girder being installed before work begins to remove soil beneath it.

When work is complete in three years’ time, the station will have four maglev platforms.

Shinagawa will be the southern terminus for Japan’s first commercial maglev line, a system that in 10 years’ time will begin firing trains at 500km/h over 286km between Tokyo and the southern port city of Nagoya. Journey time is expected to be about 40 minutes, an hour faster than the bullet train and 20 minutes faster than a jet plane.

The total construction cost is estimated at 5.5 trillion yen ($50bn).

The cost of the line is increased by the need to build it in as straight and level a line as possible, which means that it has to tunnel beneath the Japan’s Southern Alps. In all, about 90% of its length will be below ground.

In subsequent stages, the line will be extended another 200km to Osaka.

One question raised by this is what should be done with the 20 million cubic metres of rock and soil that the excavation will produce in the first phase, a problem that Japan’s Environment Ministry is still pondering. 

There will be four stations on the route between Shinagawa and Nagoya.

The Shinagawa and Nagoya stations will be about 40m underground. The first station after Shinagawa will be Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture, Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture, Iida in Nagano Prefecture and Nakatsugawa in Gifu Prefecture.

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