US | All aboard the Shinzo Abe express to Trump Tower
Japan's bullet train, or Shinkansen, at Tokyo station on March 25, 2004. 
Photo: Reuters
Japan's bullet train, or Shinkansen, at Tokyo station on March 25, 2004. Photo: Reuters

All aboard the Shinzo Abe express to Trump Tower

Tokyo wants the US to use its high-speed train technology

February 13, 2017 4:56 PM (UTC+8)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is proposing that Japan serve as a major technology and investment partner in President Donald Trump’s US$1 trillion plan to upgrade US infrastructure, with a focus on high-speed maglev trains.

Abe made the pitch following a summit with Trump at the White House on Friday, adding that a magnetic levitation train, or maglev, from Washington DC to New York and Trump Tower would take only one hour.

“With President Trump taking on the leadership, I’m sure major scale infrastructure investments will be made, including the high-speed train,” Abe said at a press conference.  Japan is one of the world’s leaders in maglev train technology.

Read: Trump may need Japan, China to rebuild US  

CNBC, citing government sources, reported on February 3 that Tokyo has pulled together an investment package for Trump that could generate 700,000 US jobs and help create a US$450 billion market. The proposal is in line with Abe’s strategy of promoting Japanese high-tech exports overseas.

CNBC’s government sources said Japan is proposing to invest 17 trillion yen (US$150 billion) in public and private funds in the US over 10 years. Some of the money is intended to jump-start high-speed railway development in the northeastern US, and the states of Texas and California. Funds are also earmarked to renovate subway and train cars.

In addition to trains, the five-part infrastructure package includes technology partnerships with Japan covering cybersecurity, robotics and space exploration.

Japan trains?

Some consultants in the railway industry said Japan is not necessarily the best provider of high-speed rail networks for the US market and that there are other hurdles to deal with.

“While the Japanese have the longest and most in-depth experience in high-speed rail research and development, their knowledge of the difficulties in implementing high-speed passenger rail in the US is sadly lacking,” said Washington-based transport consultant Kevin C. Coates.

Coates also said the US$120 billion Amtrak proposal to deliver high-speed rail to the Northeast Corridor is based upon incremental improvements over a long period of time.

“For less than that amount of money, a new 300+ miles per hour elevated and tunneled maglev system could be built in less than 10 years between Boston and DC — and, not necessarily with Japanese technology,” Coates said.

The consultant, who has worked on various rail projects in the US, said what is needed are radical new policies for implementing high-speed passenger rail systems to bridge “middle distances” in the US.

“Until we see a coordinated effort to do this at the federal level, high-speed rail will remain a distant dream for even our grandchildren and their children,” Coates said.

Decades of neglect

The Trump administration’s interest in high-speed rail follows decades of political controversy and neglect of the US rail system.

President Obama apportioned US$8 billion in his 2009 US$831 billion stimulus package for rail improvements. The money was aimed at jump-starting the construction of US high-speed rail systems.

But the plan largely collapsed after Republican governors in Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida and other states who opposed the stimulus on ideological grounds returned the money.

Part of the appropriation is being used for preliminary construction of a high-speed rail network linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. But the project is stalled because of funding shortfalls, technical and right-of-way issues.

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