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High-speed Trains Versus Automobiles and Airplanes

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There are constraints on the growth of the highway and air travel systems, among them traffic congestion or capacity limits. Airports have limited capacity to serve passengers during peak travel times, so do highways. HSR is able to relieve congestion due to potentially very high capacity on its fixed corridors.

HSR has the advantage over automobiles in that it can move passengers at speeds far faster than those possible by cars, while also avoiding congestion. High-speed travel means less pollution, less energy consumed, in addition to being less stressful, more productive and more reliable than car journey.

While high-speed trains generally do not travel as fast as jet aircraft, they have advantages over air travel for relatively short distances (of less than 650km). The process of checking in and going through security screening at airports, as well as the journey to the airport itself makes the total journey time comparable to HSR. Trains can be boarded more quickly in a central location, eliminating the speed advantage of air travel. Rail lines also permit far greater capacity and frequency of service, and rail schedules find fewer weather-related interruptions than do airline schedules. Another plus point of HSR is comfort: the journey involves fewer modal changes, less standing and queuing, and more spacious seats.

High-speed trains are more environmentally friendly, especially if the routes they serve are competing against clogged highways.

A side effect of HSR is opening up of previously isolated regions to fast economic development.

The problem with high-speed trains is that high speed means high costs comparable with air transportation costs. While the anti-HSR lobby says people will never be parted from their cars, the principle remains that powering one engine to transport hundreds of people is better economically and environmentally than powering a car with one person.

Exercise 31 Discussion.

Notwithstanding the high-speed revolution in Europe and Asia, there are countries reluctant to develop HSR. The USA, for instance, is cautious about very high speeds. Governor Jeb Bush of Florida is opposed to the latest plans to build a high-speed line in his state, and is doing everything he can to derail the project. Similarly, in Germany there is a growing opposition to building a Transrapid Maglev system. Of course, the economic situation differs between the countries, but how can high-speed rail be seen as a benefit in Spain, but a liability in the United States?

What do you think about these facts?

Divide into two groups of opponents and proponents of HSR in Ukraine. Present your arguments for and against. Use the arguments from the text above and the phrases from Exercise 29 to convince your counterpart.

For ideas: enhance rail’s image; shorten journey times; attract customers from competing modes; reduce (increase) environmental impact; boost economic development; encourage growth and investment in distant regions; encourage mobility linking different regions of the expanded EU.

Supplementary Text B


Magnetic levitation or Maglev is the rail industry’s rising star just now. Maglev systems, with top speeds between 250 and 300 mph, use forces of attraction or repulsion1 from powerful magnets placed in either the vehicle or the guide-way beneath it both to lift the vehicle and to propel it forward. The gap between the vehicle and the guide-way is continuously monitored, varying from 10mm to 100-150mm.

The train must be balanced on the magnetic field against varying passenger loads, wind buffeting and centrifugal effects on bends. This requires very accurate and fast control, which is easier to implement with today’s electronic systems.

In contrast to high-speed rail (HSR), Maglev systems involve no physical contact between the guide-way and the train, which means less wear, less maintenance, less noise and no friction to overcome. It also makes Maglev ideal for urban environments. Trains can run in any weather, on steep inclines2 and tight turns3 without reducing speed. Maglev rides are as comfortable as those on airliners flying in non-turbulent air.

There are two countries working on Maglevs now – Japan and Germany. But their designs are fundamentally different. Japanese Maglev uses magnets made with superconductors, the extraordinary materials that carry electric currents without resistance and must be chilled to – 425F for that. The West German model, known as the Transrapid, uses conventional, room temperature electromagnets. Another major difference between the two designs is the way the trains levitate. The two systems use opposite ends of the magnet to lift off. One is using attraction force, the other repulsive force. However, in both cases the train effectively rides an electromagnetic wave. Theoretically, the train can travel beyond 1,000km/h (620mp/h). So far, a record speed of 560km/h was achieved during an unmanned run at Central Japan Railway’s Maglev test track.

Transrapid has demonstrated safe and reliable operation of its Maglev vehicles at speeds up to 450km/h on its 35km test track in Emsland, Germany having carried hundreds of thousands of passengers by now. The Transrapid consortium is also working on two major projects, the Los Angeles–Las Vegas link and a 95-mile Hamburg–Hannover line.

In China, the new 430km/h Transrapid Maglev train connects Shanghai’s financial district with the International airport in only 7.5min.

Critics say Maglev is a high cost system, but proponents say that costs are comparable with new motorways or HSR, whereas Maglev’s higher speeds can attract more passengers and produce more revenues.

1 repulsion – відштовхування

2 steep inclines – круті нахили

3 tight turns – круті повороти

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