April 12, 2014 2:46 am JST

Japanese railway operator to offer maglev tech to US for free

NAGOYA -- Central Japan Railway does not plan to charge licensing fees in the U.S. for technologies for its maglev train, aiming to promote the system for a proposed high-speed rail line between Washington and Baltimore.

     The railway operator, known as JR Tokai, hopes to have its magnetic-levitation train chosen for the U.S. government's plan to connect the capital and Boston with a high-speed line spanning about 730km. The proposed 60km link to Baltimore is seen as the first phase.

     To help defray the expense, the Japanese government intends to finance half of the estimated construction cost of 1 trillion yen ($9.75 billion) through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation.

     JR Tokai's maglev train uses proprietary technology that keeps the train about 10cm in the air with a magnetic force between onboard superconducting magnets and ground coils. This enables stable operation at a speed of 500kph. The Japanese railway operator would usually charge licensing fees to recoup development costs.

     JR Tokai aims to bring a maglev line connecting Tokyo and Nagoya onstream in 2027. Construction is slated to begin this fiscal year, with the company to pay the full estimated 5.4 trillion yen cost. Plans call for extending the line to Osaka by 2045. JR Tokai is set to cover the 9 trillion yen cumulative cost of all this construction. If the U.S. adopts the same technology, JR Tokai would benefit from economies of scale.

     Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has made increasing infrastructure-related exports a pillar of its growth strategy. Abe pushed Japanese maglev technology when meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in February 2013. Abe will also take U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy on a maglev train ride Saturday at a test site in Yamanashi Prefecture.

     Major players including Canada's Bombardier, France's Alstom and Germany's Siemens are racing to win orders for high-speed rail projects in Europe and Asia. Japan's rail-related exports would get a boost if its maglev technologies are selected by the U.S.