The Central Japan Railway Company has whisked passengers along a section of track at up to 500 km/h (311 mph) during testing of the Shinkansen maglev train. The BBC reports that one hundred wide-eyed train enthusiasts were onboard the train's first manned voyage, with trials to continue over eight days.
Japan's famed bullet trains travel at speeds of around 320 kmh 200 (mph). But these may soon be left in the wake of the record-breaking levitating Shinkansen, which uses the force of electromagnets for propulsion and to hover above the track.
The benefits of these super fast, friction-free train systems have been explored for several years. China's state-owned press agency reported in 2012 that the China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corporation Limited, the country's largest rail vehicle maker, built a train inspired by an ancient Chinese sword capable of hitting 500 km/h (311 mph). But China's vision for ultra fast transport systems stretch back further than this, with Shanghai's Transrapid maglev train hitting the 500 km/h mark during testing in 2003.
On a more speculative note, earlier this year Chinese scientists built a super-maglev train that could theoretically hit speeds of 1,800 mph. This would be achieved, according to those involved, by running the train through a vacuum, eliminating the issue of air resistance. Then there's also Elon Musk's proposed (non-maglev) Hyperloop, which would aim to transport passengers from San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in 30 minutes.
Testing began on Japan's new maglev train last year, after a prototype was revealed in November 2012. Unmanned journey's took place over an 18 km (11 mi) piece of track. The train is now the first to carry passengers at such speeds. The Daily Mail reports that 2,400 in total were selected by lottery to ride the train during its test period, drawn from a pool of almost 300,000. The system is due for completion in 2027 and is expected to halve travel time between Tokyo's Shinagawa Station and the city of Nagoya, a trip that takes around 80 minutes at present. The thrill experienced by the train's first passengers can be seen on this BBC video.