Japan will offer 500 billion yen in loans for U.S. maglev project

January 06, 2014

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

Japan plans to offer 500 billion yen ($4.79 billion) in loans to the United States as part of a push to export its high-speed magnetic levitation train system, which could transport commuters between Washington and Baltimore in only 15 minutes, sources said.

Using Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai)’s maglev technology, the U.S. government is considering constructing a 60-kilometer rail track to connect the two major East Coast cities.

If the planned track is completed, the time needed to traverse the highly traveled corridor would be sharply reduced from the current 1 hour by commuter rail to 15 minutes.

The Japanese side has told Washington that it intends to offer half the amount of construction costs in loans through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, so that it can help the United States introduce the maglev, sources said. The maglev technology uses magnetic repellence to lift the train above the tracks, eliminating friction and allowing it to travel at a high rate of speed.

While the two nations’ governments have estimated total construction costs at about $8 billion (834.32 billion yen), Tokyo estimates that the final tab will be around 1 trillion yen, taking into account fluctuations in the exchange rate. That would mean that Japan's share of the project costs is about 500 billion yen.

The United States is also weighing eventually building a 730-km maglev track linking Boston and Washington.

At a Japan-U.S. summit last February, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told U.S. President Barack Obama that Japan was prepared to offer its maglev train technologies.

“I want to propose that (the United States) introduce the maglev train system to represent Japan-U.S. cooperation,” Abe said at the meeting.

Obama reportedly showed interest in utilizing Japan’s maglev technology.

As Abe travels around the world to promote the export of his country’s infrastructure technology, the latest proposal for extending a loan to the United States is part of such efforts.

JR Tokai has been working with the U.S. sales promotion company The Northeast Maglev (TNEM), which has exclusive rights to help sell JR Tokai’s maglev technologies in the United States, to call on state governments to allow the construction of maglev railway lines.

But JR Tokai and TNEM have so far not concluded any agreements with local governments to begin laying tracks for maglev trains. It remains unclear on what routes the trains will run and when commercial operations will begin, as well.

Whether the latest plan to extend the 500 billion yen in loans will be actualized depends on if the Japanese government and the two companies are able to reach an agreement with regional governments.

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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  • The L0 series maglev Shinkansen train during a test run on the Yamanashi Maglev Test Track on Aug. 29 (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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