Japan Offers To Build Part Of New High-Speed Train System In US For Free

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By EW News Desk Team | November 21, 2013 2:19 PM EST

Economy Watch

In a bid to promote a new high-speed train system, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has offered to fully pay for the first phase of construction of a possible rail route in the u.S., linking Washington to New York in just one hour.

According to the New York Times, several American politicians, including former New York Governor George E. Pataki, were in Japan last week for a special test ride on a magnetic levitation train, or maglev, which can travel at over 580 km/h - a world record for a train.

The Japanese are in the midst of building a line that will stretch from Tokyo to Osaka by 2045, while they are also bidding to construct a similar system in the U.S.'s Northeast Corridor - from Washington to New York.

The Maglev train will be more than twice the speed of the U.S.'s current fastest train, Amtrak's Acela, and could reasonably cut down travel time between the two cities from 3 hours to slightly more than an hour.

The sticking point however could be the cost. Japan's budget for its Tokyo-Osaka line has already reached $100 billion. As such, Prime Minister Abe is hoping to mitigate the cost by creating an industry to export the technology behind it.

In order to entice the U.S., Abe has offered to provide the entire maglev guideway and propulsion system for free for the first portion of the line, linking Washington to Baltimore, a distance of about 40 miles, in 15 minutes. The Northeast Maglev, the company behind the effort, then wants to raise the rest of the money from private investors and public sources.

Former New York Governor Pataki marveled at the smoothness of the train during his specially arranged test ride.

"In the subway I'd need a strap, at least," Pataki said, as the speedometer of the train hit 507km/h. ""This is amazing," he said. "The future."

Other analysts however are not as convinced. Even in Japan, there has been growing skepticism over the cost.

"If you seriously take a look at its high cost and low demand, you'll find it makes no business sense," said Reijiro Hashiyama, a visiting professor at Chiba University of Commerce. Hashiyama notes forecasts that Japan's population will shrink to 105 million from 127 million by 2045, raising questions of whether there will be enough people to ride the new train.

However, Central Japan Railway, who are building the train line in Japan, insists that the new line will stoke demand - taking away business from airlines - by decreasing journey times and serving new destinations. The company also said that it would finance the construction through its operating cash flow, including the profit generated by its Shinkansen line.

The Maglev train uses superconducting magnets to literally levitate the train about 10cm off a concrete guideway and be propelled forward. Shanghai presently uses similar technology to run a 30-km route from the airport to downtown, though its top speed at the moment is still 400km/h.

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The article was first published by Economy Watch.

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