December 4, 2016 7:00 am JST

JR Tokai fears high-speed US rail projects could get trumped

Dallas-Houston, New York-Washington lines face more uncertainty

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took a test ride on this train at JR Tokai's Central Yamanashi Maglev Test Line in Tsuru, Japan. (Getty Images)

NAGOYA -- Central Japan Railway is involved in two high-speed rail projects planned for the U.S., but a pair of looming hurdles could slow things down -- just when things seemed to be moving forward.

Obtaining the funding for a privately financed high-speed rail between Dallas and Houston has always been a huge challenge.

Now the unexpected victory of President-elect Donald Trump could make the Texas project even more difficult. It could also dampen federal support for the publicly funded magnetic levitation, or maglev, line planned for the U.S. East Coast.

JR Tokai, as Central Japan Railway is commonly known, pressed forward on both projects under the Democrat administration of Barack Obama. But now that a Trump-led Republican administration is moving into Washington, the Japanese company has begun to redouble its public relations activities in an effort to keep both projects on track.

The rail project in Texas is spearheaded by the U.S. company Texas Central Partners (TCP), and all aspects of the project -- from fund procurement to construction to maintenance -- will be conducted privately.

JR Tokai expects to export a Japanese style bullet train system for the Texas project, and its Dallas subsidiary High-Speed-Railway Technology Consulting (HTeC) will serve as the intermediary, providing design and construction support.

But TCP seems to be having difficulty procuring the $12 billion needed for construction expenses alone. The company is amassing the funds slower than expected, and the start of operations has been pushed back a year to 2022.

Against this backdrop, HTeC opened its local offices to the press on Thursday. Company president Keiichi Kagayama admitted that 2017 would be a pivotal year, but resolved to get on with business. "We've finally reached the base of Mt. Fuji, and the mountain we need to climb is looming before our eyes," he said.

Meanwhile, JR Tokai is bedeviled by a new problem in the form of President-elect Trump.

JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge said he does not expect Trump to have much of an impact on the Texas project. For one thing, the venture will not be subject to federal budget constraints because it is privately funded. Also, Trump has said he will aggressively invest in infrastructure, which gives the company reason to be optimistic. "Things will progress nicely," predicted the manager of the company's Overseas Rapid Railway Project C&C Business Office.

However, Trump's 'America first' rhetoric could make it difficult to use a completely Japanese system for the Dallas-to-Houston rail line.

As for the planned maglev line on the East Coast, as a public project, it may never see the light of day without federal support.

One silver lining is that influential Democrats have been involved in the public relations effort for that project in the past. So JR Tokai just needs to keep at it. "We need to properly vocalize the benefits of the project so it is not impacted," explained Tsuge.

Following the Trump victory, JR Tokai Chairman Emeritus Yoshiyuki Kasai made a number of visits to the office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, accompanied by people involved in the U.S. high-speed rail projects.

JR Tokai needs to keep up with the politicking or Kagayama may end up looking at the mountain but never making the climb.

(Nikkei)

Central Japan Railway Co.

Japan

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