U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took a ride Tuesday on the fastest passenger train in the world, a maglev, as part of Japan’s sales pitch for billions of dollars in high-speed train contracts.
Washington is attempting to drive development of a new train network that will eventually span the country, but the U.S. has almost no domestic experience or technology. Japan, with one of the most advanced train systems in the world, is an eager seller, though it has had scant success with exports so far.
LaHood, who in the past few months has also ridden high-speed trains in Spain and France, said he was impressed with Japanese technology, but that is only part of the equation.
He said potential manufacturers need to “come to America, find facilities to build this equipment in America, and hire American workers.”
“It’s getting America into the high-speed rail business, but it’s also putting Americans to work building the infrastructure,” he said.
During his short visit to Tsuru, a quiet town in the shadow of Mount Fuji, he went straight to the maglev test line in Yamanashi Prefecture. The train hit speeds of (502 kph during a 27-minute run.
Unlike standard trains that ride on on metal rails, magnetic levitation trains float along suspended by powerful magnets. The Japanese version, developed mainly by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), uses superconducting magnets to hover above the track.
The train set a speed record for a passenger train of 581 kph in 2003, which JR officials say still holds today.
After decades of testing, the train has been approved by the government and is to begin service in 2027 between Tokyo and Nagoya.
“I explained this is proven technology that is already in practical use,” JR Tokai Chairman Yoshiyuki Kasai said.
The U.S. in January awarded $8 billion in starter funds to several regional projects, and is due to give $2.5 billion more this year, LaHood said.
Japan’s high-speed rail services run hundreds of trains a day with an average annual delay that is typically less than a minute.
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