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On 2 December, this three-car magnetically levitated train broke the world speed record for a manned train when it hit 581 km/h (361 mph). It achieved the new record on an 18.4-km stretch of a test line, which runs, mostly underground, in Yamanashi Prefecture, west of Tokyo. The vehicle held the previous record of 579 km/h set on 19 November. The extra speed is just icing on the cake for the designers, as the train is expected to operate at only 500 km/h.

The train cars contain liquid-helium­cooled superconducting electromagnets that are both repelled and attracted by conductive coils in the track's side walls, allowing the train to "float" above the track. Another system, in Shanghai, floats using electromagnetic attraction instead [see "Faster Than a Speeding Bullet Train," IEEE Spectrum, August 2003, pp. 30­34].

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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