National / Politics

JR Central gives up on 2027 maglev launch after Shizuoka backs farmers

Jiji, Kyodo

Central Japan Railway Co. has given up on launching the maglev line in 2027 after failing to secure approval for preparatory work from Shizuoka’s governor, who is concerned the massive project will damage the environment.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Government on Friday notified JR Central, as the railway is known, that it will not approve the resumption of preparatory work on the ultra-high-speed bullet train project, which will see magnetically levitated trains slash travel times by more than half.

“Regrettably, opening in 2027 is difficult,” the railway said in a statement in response to Gov. Heita Kawakatsu’s decision.

JR Central President Shin Kaneko met Kawakatsu for talks on June 26, and the railway had been awaiting his response regarding the conditions for approval.

Under the current plan, JR Central would start excavating an area of Shizuoka running through the Southern Alps to build a tunnel for the maglev line, which would initially link Tokyo and Nagoya.

But local farmers are concerned construction will cause underground water to flow into the tunnel, diverting it away from the Oi River, which passes through a central part of Shizuoka well known for its production of tea and oranges.

Maglev trains will have a top speed of 500 kph, meaning the new line will slash the travel time between Nagoya and Tokyo, which are about 286 km apart, to just 40 minutes.

The governor’s decision, however, makes it all but inevitable that the 2027 kick-off date will need to be reviewed.

JR Central had earlier told the prefectural government that construction would have to begin by June to meet the 2027 goal. But Kawakatsu told Kaneko at their meeting last month that the railway would have to enter an environmental preservation pact to start work.

A prefectural ordinance stipulates that any development work covering 5 hectares or more requires an agreement be made between the construction company and the prefecture on environmental protection measures.

JR Central is building accommodations for construction workers, and the area covered by the work will total at least 5 hectares if space for preparatory work is included.

The Shizuoka Prefectural Government said Friday it is discussing what kind of environmental measures to demand at a prefectural panel and an expert council from the transport ministry and is therefore not in a position to sign an agreement with JR Tokai at the moment. It also said construction cannot resume without an agreement.

At a news conference Friday, Shizuoka Vice Gov. Takashi Namba said it “wouldn’t take long” for approval to be reached if JR Central provided ample explanations to the panel.

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