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.

The complete article (limited access) can be visited at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/business/international/japan-pitches-americans-on-its-maglev-train.html