Exploring the Chuo Shinkansen Maglev Route

Not many cars drive on prefectural road 35 near Akiyama, but I’ve cycled there many times on the way to or from Tsuru city during brevets and other long rides. Akiyama’s claim to fame, other than being a charming rural backwater, is it’s Maglev test track, which will grow into a section of the 286 km Tokyo-Nagoya line scheduled to open 10 years from now in 2027.

The test track was built in the 1990s to develop and test prototypes for the train and track, first 18 km in length, then extended to 42 km to be able to test the train at higher speed. The best detailed summary about the route that I’ve found so far that is not in Japanese is this (in German).

Ten years is not a very long time for a project of this scale, especially when there is always the risk of unforeseen difficulties during tunneling (the known unknowns). A 25 km long tunnel will run between Hayakawa in Yamanashi and Oshika in Nagano. Construction has started at both ends. As the Maglev train needs a near level track, this will be a base tunnel at low elevation. Consequently there will be 1400 m of rock above at its deepest point.

Near the end points at Tokyo and Nagoya, new stations will be built under existing train stations (Shinagawa station in case of Tokyo). The lines will run in tunnels at least 40 m underground. Under Japanese law (“Deep Underground Law”), construction at least 40 m below the surface can be done without having to purchase the land above, as long as its purpose is deemed to be in the public interest.

The Chuo Maglev line has been called the world’s longest subway line, as more than 85% of it will be in tunnels. From Shinagawa the tunnel will first run southwest towards the Tamagawa, passing Senzokuike and crossing the river near Todoroki (between the Daisan Keihin and Tokyo Toyoko line bridges).

It continues on the Kanagawa side towards Sagamihara. Avoiding Machida to the south and Tama New Town to the north, it will run south of Onekansen. The first stop after Shinagawa will be near Hashimoto station, to connect it to the existing rail network (JR Yokohama line, JR Sagami line, Keiō Sagamihara line) with proximity to the Ken’ō Expressway. The Maglev line will cross the Sagami river on a bridge, heading between Tsukui-ko and Miyagase-ko.

A 50 ha railway yard for maintenance with train depot is planned near Toya, which my cycling friends mostly remember for the Sunkus convenience store north of Miyagase-ko. From there the line tunnels west through more mountains to the existing test track.

Altogether there will be 9 emergency exits that connect the line to the surface in the tunnel section near Tokyo.

If you check Google maps for the satellite view, you’ll see the test track line emerge to northwest of Tsuru. where it crosses national route 139 from Otsuki to Kawaguchiko. If you drive out from Tokyo on Chuo expressway, you can see the line cross over the expressway on a bridge. There’s a Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center nearby.

Heading further west into Yamanashi, the line first stays a little south of Chuo mainline and the Chuo expressway, before those two swing northwest while the Maglev route heads straight west. You can see it emerge for shorts covered bridges near Hatsukari, then pop out for longer viaducts as it crosses national route 137 and prefectural route 36 on the edge of the big Yamanashi plain. The current end of the viaduct is at Fuefuki, Yamanashi, according to Google maps.

There will be a station for Yamanashi prefecture in Ōtsumachi near Kofu, with access to JR Minobu Line.

The Yamanashi plain is where most of the above ground distance of the line will be found. The viaduct sections will either have noise barriers or complete covers. A main reason to opt for viaducts in this area is the relatively high water table, which would complicate tunneling.

The debris from 246.6 km of tunnel drilling amounts to 56.8 million m3 (some 145 million t by weight) that will be deposited at locations along the line.

Personally I’m a skeptic about this project. The time savings compared to regular bullet trains are relatively minor, once you factor in that most people will also spend a fair amount of time getting to and from one of the Maglev stations via conventional public transport.

For the people along the line who don’t live in Tokyo or Nagoya, they get one station per prefecture. Chances are, with Japan’s population on the decline, as the new line starts up that train services on the JR Chuo line, which runs somewhat parallel to the Chuo Shinkansen line, will get thinned out. We’ve seen the same thing with bullet train lines that opened that lead to cutbacks on other regional train connections.

So how much time will people actually save, if they don’t happen to live in Shinagawa and want to go to Nagoya or vice versa? Even Nagoya is only a halfway solution without the extension to Osaka that isn’t scheduled to be completed until 2045 (or 2037, if the central government steps in with a huge loan).

I think the only thing we can say with any certainty about benefits from the project is that, yes, the construction companies and the suppliers of equipment will benefit handsomely. Drilling and lining 247 km of tunnels with concrete and pouring some more of it for 24 km viaducts and 11 km of bridges will make them some money but will add a fair amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. The air resistance of trains at 505 km/h and therefore their energy consumption will definitely be higher than that of conventional trains. One source I saw listed it as having a CO2 output of 2-4x that of conventional commuter trains (not sure how those compare to a shinkansen).

Nevertheless, the dice have been cast and construction is under way. I will try and find more information about where construction is going on and what parts can be explored on bike rides or visited. You can already get train rides at the Maglev visitor center in Tsuru. There was some discussion of extending the test track 7 km to the west and building a station by 2020 to be able to offer test track rides as far as Kofu by the Olympics but without the Kanto connection that seems like a gimmick to me. I doubt that’s going to happen, as all kinds of construction projects are already competing for capacity before the magic Olympic year, driving up prices and busting budgets.

Military Coup in Zimbabwe – Has “Gucci Grace” Overplayed her Hand?

Early reports from Zimbabwe suggest the military has taken control of the country to prevent Grace Mugabe from becoming President Robert Mugabe’s anointed successor. She was scheduled to be nominated as ZANU-PF vice president at a party conference next month, after the expulsion of the previous VP, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The military take-over is preempting these moves. Mr Mugabe and his wife appear to be in military custody. There has been no public statement by him so far.

The coup was sharply criticized by the ZANU-PF Youth League, an ally of Grace Mugabe. Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, another ally, has been detained. The coup was supported by the War Veterans Associations, an ally of Mnangagwa, who has now returned to the country from South Africa, where he had been staying since his expulsion.

These political affiliations highlight the factional nature of the coup: It is not about ending Mugabe’s dictatorship, but about who within the ruling party will get to keep the spoils of the corrupt system. Grace Mugabe, whose luxurious lifestyle at the expense of the people made her deeply unpopular in the impoverished nation, would have been an extremely risky choice for the party. The military leaders feared she would redirect funding to herself and her allies, away from the military, other civil servants and other party factions.

Her opponents are anything but angels. Some have been involved in the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983-84, when over 20,000 people are estimated to have been killed. The so called War Veterans (many of whom are too young to have participated in the independence war of the 1960s and 70s) were involved in violent takeovers of farms and violence and gross human rights violations against supporters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in the disputed 2008 election.

Even if the military were to force Mugabe to resign or to retire to a purely symbolic position, the real question will be if the military and the factions taking over from him will allow free and democratic elections to take place in the coming year. I think this coup is a milestone, but the struggle is far from over.

Huawei Nexus 6P Battery Upgrade

I’ve had my Huawei Nexus 6P for about two years now. The combination of a great camera, an excellent screen, good performance and decent battery life has made this my best smartphone ever.

However, a couple of months ago something happened as the battery capacity appeared to have collapsed dramatically. Sometimes the phone would shut down only 5 hours after I had disconnected it from the AC charger when I left home, starting off supposedly fully charged! I had to always carry a USB battery and cable with me to not risk losing the use of my phone in the middle of the day.

Attempts to recalibrate the capacity indicator helped only insofar as the phone would shut down at 14% charge instead of say 55% charge, so there was slightly more warning, but the number of hours was still too short. This actually seems to be a common problem with the Nexus 6P, which otherwise is still a great phone.

It’s not uncommon for Li-ion batteries to significantly lose capacity after about about three years, but if it happens after less than two years as in my case, that’s not very good. Fortunately, replacement batteries are available and any competent phone repair shop will be happy to do the necessary surgery to replace a battery that is on its way out. Unfortunately the days when you could simply pop open the phone case without any tools and swap the battery yourself are long gone. This is a trend started by Apple and almost every other phone maker has since followed suit. I think it’s meant to get people to buy a new phone sooner, which is good for Apple and its competitors, but bad for consumers and for the planet.

There are Youtube videos that will show you how you how to open the Nexus 6P case and disassemble the phone to swap the battery. This involves the use of a hairdryer or heat gun to soften the glue that holds it all together as well as a plastic card and a small screw driver. As I did not feel adventurous enough to attempt this myself, I contacted several phone repair shops here in Tokyo. Repair King Japan replied. Though they they didn’t have the Nexus 6P battery in stock they were happy to order one for me. Once they got it, I dropped the phone off and two hours later I could have it back with a new battery. So far it’s looking good: It’s been 40 hours since the last full charge (with battery saver mode inactive) and it’s still showing 64% with about 3 days of power left 🙂

Hopefully with the new battery my Nexus 6P will be a great phone again for a few more years!