London Subway Plans 24-Hour Service

Most lines on the New York subway system run continuously, except for planned work programs that sometimes reroute service.  Therefore, metropolitan area transit users may not realize that most urban rapid transit systems do not run all the time; this strategy reduces costs and allows needed maintenance to proceed unhindered by thundering trains.

In London, the Underground—London’s rapid transit system—has never run all night long. This may be changing, according to reporting by Katrin Bennhold in The New York Times (Nov. 22).  The Underground will begin running all night starting in 2015, a campaign promise of London’s Mayor, Boris Johnson.  The transition may not be easy, especially since Transport for London plans to cut costs at the same time, notably in closing ticket offices, eliminating about 750 jobs in the process.  Union leaders have forecast labor strife.  Ticketing and the present “smart” card, the Oyster card, will be phased out starting next year in favor of direct payments using bank debit cards.  Ten years ago, ticket windows sold 10% of the tickets used on the system; now that’s down to only 3%.  The nighttime service will begin first on Friday and Saturday nights on 5 lines in 2015 and will then expand to other lines and nights of the week.

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Japan Offers High-Speed Rail Financing

While U.S.A. efforts to begin a true high-speed rail system remain mired in politics, Japan is eager to export its rail technology, and will even help finance systems that use it, according to reporting by Eric Pfanner in The New York Times (November 19).  In a recent visit, ex–New York Governor George Pataki inspected Japanese magnetic-levitation (or “maglev”) technology and listed to the Japanese sales pitch.  Various other American politicians also made the trip, a number are on the advisory board of The Northeast Maglev, a company in Washington that wants to build a maglev line between Washington and New York.

The existing Japanese high-speed or “bullet” rail system does not use the maglev technology, which is a more recent development that is largely seeking a market, but there are proposals for Japan to use the technology in a new line proposed to partially pass through the Japan Alps, running from Tokyo to Nagoya and Osaka.  The demonstration line ridden by Gov. Pataki achieved speeds of 315 miles per hour, more than twice the fastest speed that Amtrak’s trains can currently achieve—typically, Amtrak trains run at their fastest speed only for short distances, as most of the rail network cannot support these speeds.  Maglev technology, although capable of very high speeds, has a disadvantage in that it is incompatible with existing track, so maglev trains require a totally dedicated system of their own.  Some high-speed train systems, such as in France, rely on use of conventional low-speed trackage to allow trains to serve cities off the high-speed network, without the need to change trains, and the current plan for high-speed rail in California also relies on that capability.  In order to encourage foreign countries to adopt Japanese maglev technology, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has offered to contribute “several billions of dollars” in financing, in order to establish an international showcase that would stimulate worldwide interest.  This, however may only be the proverbial drop in the bucket: the cost of the Japanese Tokyo-Osaka line is currently estimated at nearly $100 billion.

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