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Japan's 'supreme' bullet train aims to impress Texas with speed

JR Tokai eyes Dallas-Houston project by clocking 360 kph on test run

JR Tokai's N700S shinkansen train prepares for a test run Thursday in Shiga Prefecture, Japan.

TOKYO -- Central Japan Railway, also known as JR Tokai, on Thursday granted journalists their first test ride of the company's newest shinkansen bullet train, which clocked in at speeds topping 360 km per hour, breaking the all-time record for the rail operator.

The real audience for the demonstration, however, was the stakeholders of a privately constructed high-speed rail line in the U.S. state of Texas connecting the cities of Dallas and Houston.

For now, the N700S -- the "S" stands for "supreme" -- is due to debut in Japan in July 2020, coinciding with the Tokyo Summer Olympics. Thursday's test run began at a station in Shiga Prefecture, with the train beating the previous record of 330 km per hour at 11:49 p.m. Shortly thereafter, an interior monitor indicated the N700S achieved the speed of 362 kph.

"We were able to demonstrate [the N700S's] exceedingly high traveling performance," said Masayuki Ueno, deputy director-general of JR Tokai's shinkansen operations division.

Texas Central Partners, which is spearheading the construction of the 385 km Dallas-Houston corridor, is racing to raise as much as $15 billion to fund the project. But it remains to be seen if the company will break ground on the project this year, as planned. JR Tokai, which will provide the technology, believes the test run will provide the publicity needed to secure the funds.

The monitor inside the N700S shinkansen shows the bullet train attaining the speed of 362 kph.

It is not unusual to see trains in Europe operate at over 300 kph. France's TGV tops out at 320 kph, while in China, there are bullet trains running at speeds of 350 kph.

But JR Tokai caps operating speeds of its Tokaido shinkansen at 285 kph, due to the several curves and slopes along the heavily traveled Tokyo-Osaka line. Thursday's press availability was meant to show that shinkansen can run just as fast, if not faster, than rival high-speed rail systems.

While sister company East Japan Railway, or JR East, is pursuing projects in India and Southeast Asia, JR Tokai is focusing its attention and resources on the U.S. The rail operator has set up a wholly owned subsidiary in Texas responsible for providing technical support and negotiating orders.

"There are a limited number of regions that have the funding capabilities and legal systems that can afford stable operations," said JR Tokai President Shin Kaneko.

The N700S was developed with the goal of landing international customers. Because the train utilizes standardized carriage designs, it can come in various lengths. Thus, the N700S will run with 16-car formations in Japan, but is expected to operate with eight carriages in the U.S.

Transportation in America continues to be dominated by automobiles, though the success of the rail project in Texas could trigger a sea change toward rapid public transport. That would present an opportunity for JR Tokai to export its magnetic-levitation rail technology to the U.S. as well.

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