Sunday, 21 April 2013

... Indochina: Faster Than A Speeding Bullet

Thanks to my backpacking pillow, which I oddly woke up hugging, I slept most of the flight from Bangkok to Shanghai landing just before 7am local time. Back on track with my "I don't check in luggage" mantra I was soon heading towards customs, which was painless, friendly and swift.

When I'd finished lugging my tired behind through the massive airport and recovered from a cloud of cigarette smoke, I had two ways to get downtown. Choices are taxi or the world's fastest train. Guess which I chose?

If I thought that getting through customs was fast then that was before I boarded the Maglev train for a round-trip return ticket cost of ¥80 (about $13CDN). That is a measly $4 more than what I have to pay to get from YVR to Marine Drive Canada Line station, which is a piffly few kilometres and basically crap in comparison.

The Shanghai Maglev line was the first commercially operated high-speed magnetic levitation (Maglev... clever hey?) line in the world. It was designed to connect Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the outskirts of central Pudong where passengers can then interchange to the user-friendly Shanghai Metro to continue the trip to the city centre.

Inside the train car, I admittedly expected to see seat belts and shoulder harnesses space-age style. However, upon reflection, they likely wouldn't be much use in an accident at 1/3 the speed of sound and yes I was perhaps a tad disappointed to find your bog-standard style of seat, albeit comfortable. The doors shut, and the train began to accelerate silently, smoothly, and rapidly. The vehicles on the parallel highway on view out of the window lost ground as we whipped by at a speed that I, in my rather tired state, couldn't quite grasp the concept of.

However, when the speedometer above the door reaches its apex, I became acutely aware that I was moving.... very fast. It felt kind of like a jet in turbulence and for a brief moment I wondered if there had been any Maglev MayDay episodes. Just after the speedometer topped out, there was a"boom" and blur, which scared the bejesus out of me. This was the Maglev headed in the other direction blasting past at an aggregate speed of 604 kph! Then, with about 10km to go, it was time to hit the brakes and a few moments later, when we had slowed to a mere 241 kph, I felt as though I was strolling.

Now here comes the science.....

Using a electromagnetic levitation system (sounds kinda heebie jeebie but bear with me), vehicles are propelled with magnets rather than with wheels, axles and bearings. The train hovers a half-inch above the track using magnets to create both lift and thrust with no support other than magnetic fields. This allows for faster acceleration, less weight and a quieter & smoother ride than regular wheeled transit systems, basically the Bionic Man of transit!

How. Cool. Is. That?

At full speed of 431kph (268 mph), the journey takes 7 minutes and 20 seconds to complete the distance of 30 km (about 19 miles). Some trains in the early morning, like the one I was on, and late afternoon take about 50 seconds longer due to *only* traveling at 302kph. A train can reach 350 kph (217 mph) in a rather jaw-dropping 2 minutes, with the maximum normal operation speed of 431 kph  reached thereafter. This also means that at full speed the Maglev passes in the other direction at an aggregate speed of 862 kph (536 mph). To put that in perspective, a 747-400 flies at high-subsonic speeds of 913 kph (mach 0.85 or 567 mph). So as you can see, this is no stroll in the park! I plan to experience this on my return journey to the airport in 2 days time.

Riding the Shanghai Metro, in comparison, felt admittedly like I was riding with how my grandad used to drive. Seems kind of backwards for it to be known as the "rapid transit system" in light of what I had just ridden. In 2012 it was the 5th busiest metro system in the world and with a daily ridership record of 8.486 million in March of this year it is no surprise to hear it is one of the fastest growing transit systems. There are currently 12 metro lines yet several more are under construction.

Rather wonderfully, for me anyway, the Shanghai Metro decided to create a ¥45 pass that allows unlimited journeys on all Shanghai Metro lines for a 72 hour period. Absolute bargain! Not only would that be fantastic for all the exploring I was going to be doing but would also get me back to the Maglev Interchange at Longyang Road when I return to the airport. Similar to the transit systems in Bangkok you swipe/tap this card at a turn style to gain access to the station, which may serve several lines, and then make your way to the platform for the line you want.

Everything is well marked including all the exits which tell you where you will end up on the surface. There's also plenty of signage advising you of what the next station is in each direction in both English and either Shanghainese or Mandarin (I'm not sure which but have been told that they are both quite different). I had absolutely no problem in making my way through downtown underground on 2 different lines to my destination station.

It was funny to see how I peaked everyone's interest - I stuck out like a sore thumb being the only non-Asian in my carriage. However, two passengers smiled warmly at me overloaded with my backpacks and said hello in English.

I think I will heart SH!

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