Japan Begins Testing Electric, 249-MPH Bullet Train Named 'ALFA-X'

This train is faster than a McLaren F1 in a straight line and is meant to cruise at 224 mph for extended periods—all in near-complete silence.

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The East Japan Railway Company (EJRC) is testing a new high-speed "shinkansen," or bullet train, called ALFA-X. Its ultra-aerodynamic shape and high-level efficiency mean it'll be able to transport commuters in record time thanks to a top speed of at least 249 miles per hour (400 kilometers per hour).

Short for "Advanced Labs for Frontline Activity in rail eXperimentation," the ALFA-X's official designation is Class E956. At present, this class encompasses two prototype locomotives with differing aerodynamic profiles, both of which will be tested to determine the best design. With their long noses, both locomotives resemblance a duck's head, but in the world of engineering, function is form, so they're gorgeous regardless.


In addition to using ultra-low-drag aerodynamics to attain a top speed of over 249 mph, the ALFA-X is loaded with advanced technologies meant to make it efficient, safe, and comfortable. The entire train is constructed from the lightest materials feasible in a train of this type to increase performance and reduce its use of electricity, which it draws from 25-kilovolt overhead AC lines. This juice is made useable by power converters constructed of silicon carbide, an ultra-hard substance often used in brakes, clutches, and bulletproof vests.


Though the ALFA-X is engineered to travel at 224 mph (360 kph) for sustained periods, quietness is baked into its design, both to keep passengers comfortable and to minimize noise pollution when the ALFA-X passes through cities. Lateral and vertical dampers reduce movement on these axes to prevent motion sickness and increase stability—paramount if the train has to stop from 224 mph in event of an emergency, such as an earthquake.

When it enters service, the ALFA-X will be the fastest bullet train in Japan. It'll almost always be on time, too: average delays for shinkansen lines in Japan are just 42 seconds as of 2018. Even so, the ALFA-X won't be the quickest commuter rail vehicle in operation. China's Shanghai Transrapid maglev operates at speeds up to 431 kph (268 mph), or faster than the top speed of the Bugatti Chiron.