October 18, 2014 6:08 am JST

High hopes for economic lift from Tokyo-Nagoya maglev train

TOKYO -- The government has given the green light for construction of a maglev train line between Tokyo and Nagoya, a project expected to stimulate the economy by deepening the tourism and business ties between the two cities.

     Central Japan Railway, or JR Tokai, plans to begin construction as early as next spring. Once the magnetic-levitation trains begin running in 2027, travelers will be able to make the trip in just 40 minutes or so, compared to 88 minutes on existing shinkansen bullet trains. The basic plan for the high-speed link was drawn up in 1973.

     "This dream project has finally started to move forward to realize the technologies that Japan takes pride in," said JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge at a news conference Friday. 

Warm welcome

According to estimates by Mitsubishi UFJ Research and Consulting, the maglev line will boost the value of production in the six prefectures that the trains will serve by 290 billion yen ($2.7 billion) and consumption by 180 billion yen a year. And during construction spanning more than a decade, orders for various materials and other activities could have a production inducement effect reaching 10 trillion yen, according to head researcher Yoshito Kato.

     Local governments that will be have stations on the line are welcoming the project on expectations of economic benefits. The city of Sagamihara in Kanagawa Prefecture anticipates the creation of 10,000 jobs. In Iida, Nagano Prefecture, a hotel operator will spend 1.2 billion yen to construct a seven-story annex by spring 2015.

     Plans call for the maglev line to be further extended to Osaka by 2045. The travel time between the three big cities of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka would be reduced to about an hour, making commuting an option for students and workers.

     "This has the potential to drastically change the economy and society," says Hiroo Ichikawa, a professor at Meiji University.

Opening up exports

Countries around the world, especially emerging nations, are launching high-speed rail projects. Germany's Siemens and other global corporations are looking for opportunities to market maglevs, which are seen as the next generation of high-speed rail.

     JR Tokai's maglev uses superconducting magnets. Cars are suspended about 10cm above the track, so there is virtually no friction. The company, which aims to have its train travel at 500kph, anticipates demand for its system for use in long-distance rail projects.

     Meanwhile, Siemens and others use a technology employs normal conducting magnets. This approach uses less electricity but can achieve top speeds of only around 400kph. It is used in the maglev line in operation in Shanghai. Competition between the different formats will likely intensify.

     The technology using superconducting magnets has never been adopted in a commercial high-speed rail system. A Transport Ministry official says the latest approval of the project means that the government has endorsed JR Tokai's technology. The company and the government will work together to pitch the technology for use in a proposed high-speed rail link between Washington and Boston.

     If the technology is implemented abroad, "The larger market can be expected to push down costs since cars and parts can be produced in larger quantities," said JR Tokai's Tsuge.

(Nikkei)

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