JR Tokai wants Tokyo-Osaka maglev by ’25

Cost, route, stations, other hurdles remain but carrier hot to start construction of line accommodating 500-kph trains

Kyodo News

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) appears poised to get to work on building a maglev line linking Tokyo and Osaka with trains that can run up to 500 kph, hoping to begin operations in 2025.

But the carrier has to overcome a number of hurdles before the line is up and running, including negotiating with local governments regarding the route and location of stations.

JR Tokai announced in April 2007 it hopes to start the service in 2025 but did not disclose how it would secure the necessary funds. Because government support cannot be expected, the plan was shelved at one point.

But last December the carrier said it intends to pay the bulk of the construction costs, totaling about ¥5.1 trillion.

In June, JR Tokai President Masayuki Matsumoto stressed the importance of building the maglev line.

“Although we’ve been strengthening the Tokaido Shinkansen Line with earthquake-resistance measures, we need to have another (supplementary) line.”

Tetsuzo Fuyushiba, the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister at the time, later expressed the government’s readiness to push the project forward.

“When the results of research (on geology carried out by JR Tokai and other entities) come out, I’d like to provide swift instruction on the next research to be done,” Fuyushiba said.

The next phase will look into the cost of construction and expected passenger levels. JR Tokai said it will finish the study by the end of this year, because it will take more than 10 years to purchase the right of way.

However, a land ministry official said it is unlikely the study will be easy to carry out.

For example, a detailed calculation of construction costs cannot be made until the locations of the starting and terminal stations are determined, as well as the route linking them and where stations will be built along the way.

“Shinagawa is a powerful starting station. Ideally, the route is almost straight,” Matsumoto said, but he added that consultations with local governments will be held after the geological survey is finished.

Nine prefectural governments along the planned route have passed resolutions demanding to be fully consulted by JR Tokai.

“We’d like JR Tokai to faithfully hear our opinions in determining stations and the route,” Aichi Prefecture, the group’s secretariat, said in a statement.

Nagano Prefecture’s moves are being watched with particular interest. The prefecture is insisting that the route swing to its north to pass through the Suwa area, instead of a straight route with a tunnel under the Southern Alps.

The Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Nagano and Gifu governments along the line all want stations in their prefectures, hoping an influx of tourists and businesses will revitalize their areas.

Each station would probably cost billions of yen to build. “We will build the starting and terminal stations with our own money, but we would like local governments to pay for the others,” a JR Tokai official said.

But negotiations are expected to meet rough going because the prefectural governments aren’t exactly swimming in money.

The land ministry said procedures before the start of construction must be discussed by the central government’s deliberation council.

“Understanding cannot be obtained unless there is a clear-cut prospect for a settlement with local governments,” a ministry official said.