On Tuesday, the Central Japan Railway Company took U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood on a 312-mile-per-hour test run on its experimental MLX01 maglev, the world’s fastest train, which can top out at 361 m.p.h.
Japan’s interest? A piece of America’s economic stimulus, of which a $14 billion portion has been earmarked for a rehabilitation of the nation’s rail network.
The United States’ interest? High-speed, intercity rail for a sprawling, car-hungry nation.
According to a New York Times report, Japan has long kept its bullet train technology to itself. But a declining domestic market, a growing rail race with China and new opportunities abroad (read: the U.S.) have forced officials to revisit that strategy.
It’s China versus Japan in the global arms race to outfit nations with high-speed rail, and the question is who can successfully scale fast enough.
First, a recap: the Obama administration has pledged for the development of 11 high-speed rail lines throughout the country. (See the full map here, from an earlier SmartPlanet post.)
Of those lines, Japan is particularly interested in the $1.25 billion planned for Florida, to link Tampa and Orlando.
According to the Times, 22 companies are gunning for the contract, which covers a distance of 84 miles.
Central to the bid is the aforementioned maglev train. Short for “magnetic levitation,” the train uses powerful magnets to float the train above the track, cutting down on friction.
(No, you won’t board a floating train. It starts on the ground, then levitates at high speeds.)
The problem? Maglev systems are pricey, to the tune of millions of dollars.
Japan’s concern: that it will lose the rail arms race if it can’t scale the tech beyond a 12-mile track.
The competition is steep. Canada’s Bombardier, Germany’s Siemens, France’s Alstom and the U.S.’s General Electric and Lockheed Martin are all major players.
The U.S. isn’t the only interested party in JR Central, by the way: Vietnam is negotiating 975 miles of high-speed rail to link north and south.