10-year countdown begins for launch of Tokyo-Nagoya maglev service

JIJI

Work to build a line for magnetically levitated bullet trains has kicked off 10 years before its scheduled 2027 launch as Japan looks to shorten the trip from Tokyo to Nagoya to just 40 minutes.

Construction of a tunnel under the Minami Alps, believed to be the toughest phase of the Chuo Shinkansen Line maglev project, is slated to commence this year under Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai).

The 285.6-km line will connect a new Shinagawa Station in Tokyo to a new Nagoya Station via five other prefectures — Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Shizuoka, Nagano and Gifu — via high-speed trains with a maximum speed of 505 kph. More than 80 percent of the line will consist of tunnels.

Research on the maglev began in 1962 at a technical institute of the now-defunct Japanese National Railways. The project was taken over by JR Tokai when the JNR was privatized and broken up into seven Japan Railways group companies in April 1987.

The total cost is estimated at about ¥5.5 trillion and work on the two new terminal stations has already been launched.

New facilities are being prepared. The Dai Nagoya Building, a new commercial complex, opened in front of Nagoya Station last year. The JR Gate Tower skyscraper, also next to the current station, is slated to fully open in April.

“Full-scale maglev construction work is now set to start. We are aiming to get the work on track in 2017,” JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge said in a recent interview.

He also noted that the schedule is tight and emphasized the railway’s intention to work hard to complete the Minami Alps tunnel and the new terminating stations.

The 25-km tunnel will be built between the town of Hayakawa in Yamanashi and the village of Oshika in Nagano. Drilling work for an emergency exit began in October 2016 on the Yamanashi side of the tunnel and is slated to commence on the Nagano side this summer.

Work to build the tunnel proper will then be launched. But the depth of the tunnel — 1,400 meters — and the massive amount of groundwater flowing into the construction site will make the project extremely tough. This could delay the launch.

But Mamoru Uno, head of JR Tokai’s Chuo Shinkansen project headquarters, said: “We are determined to accomplish the construction work by bringing together our state-of-the-art technologies, experts’ knowledge and the capabilities and experiences of construction companies.”

Construction on the new stations at Shinagawa and Nagoya is expected to be tough as well as they will be built beneath the existing ones, which host the Tokaido shinkansen and other train services.

Tsuge said all of the difficult work will present “a major challenge.”

The maglev is eventually slated to be extended to Osaka. While JR Tokai initially planned to put the Nagoya-Osaka section into service in 2045, the government plans to help the railway move up the timeline by up to eight years, or 2037 at the earliest, by throwing money at it.

JR Tokai has been asked to borrow ¥3 trillion in long-term loans at a fixed interest rate from the government’s zaito fiscal investment and loan program to accelerate work on the extension.