Business / Corporate

JR Tokai helps push Washington-Baltimore maglev project


Imagine whisking past some of the densest road congestion in the United States at 500 kph.

That’s the vision of Northeast Maglev, a company seeking to bring a $10 billion Japanese magnetically levitated train line to the 64-km Washington-Baltimore corridor for 15-minute trips.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Wayne Rogers said he plans to ask for federal funds next year.

“We have been working with the Japanese government and they have said that they will provide half of the money for the first leg and we have private investment that we’re mobilizing as well,” Rogers said Tuesday in Tsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture. “We hope the U.S. government will be submitting some of the funds to finish it out.”

Japan is looking for an overseas customer for maglev technology as the country works toward opening its first line in 2027. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the government may provide financing to support a bid by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) to provide trains for a Washington-Baltimore line.

Maglev trains rely on magnetic power to float the cars, eliminating the friction of steel tracks. The trains start off running on wheels, the same as used on F-15 fighter jets, until they’re going fast enough for the magnets to kick in and create lift.

Northeast Maglev is led by former transportation officials and executives. A Washington-Baltimore starter line eventually may be extended to New York, putting the biggest U.S. city within reach of the capital in 60 minutes by train, Rogers said.

A separate Maryland Department of Transportation-backed group had proposed a similar line, costing about $5.8 billion, that would cut the journey to 18 minutes and could eventually be extended to New York and Boston.

The Maryland department had sought $1.75 billion in stimulus funds for the Baltimore-Washington plan, a bid that was rejected. The Federal Railroad Administration said the project was “not ready,” Maglev Maryland said in 2010.

The Maryland group’s proposed line could carry about 9.2 million passengers a year, according to a Baltimore-Washington maglev website.

A maglev train may help ease traffic that has made roads in Maryland’s Montgomery County, which lies between Washington and Baltimore, the fourth-most-congested in the country, according to digital-mapping company TomTom NV. Washington ranks seventh.

Japan’s backing for maglev sales is part of wider government efforts to help train makers compete in the U.S. with Germany’s Siemens AG, France’s Alstom SA, Bombardier Inc. of Canada and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp.

“We want to strengthen our alliance with the U.S.,” said Yoshiyuki Kasai, chairman emeritus of JR Tokai. “The U.S. could begin maglev operations around the same time as Japan or earlier.”

The Nagoya-based rail operator will ask for a consulting fee for the project, while not charging a licensing fee for the technology, Kasai said. “We’re not doing this to make a profit.”

JR Tokai got governmental approval last week to go ahead with plans to build a maglev line linking Tokyo and Nagoya.

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