Maglev train delay possible as tunnel negotiations bog down

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Negotiations between the Shizuoka prefectural government and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) over the construction of a tunnel for the linear Chuo Shinkansen line are becoming more and more tangled.

Negotiations between the Shizuoka prefectural government and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) over the construction of a tunnel for the linear Chuo Shinkansen line are becoming more and more tangled.

 The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry held a study meeting Monday with senior officials from JR Tokai and Narita International Airport Corp. to discuss possible solutions to resolve the situation, but they failed to come up with any good ideas.

 While the project aims to open a section between Shinagawa Station in Tokyo and Nagoya Station in Nagoya in 2027, it is becoming a real possibility that the target year will be postponed.

 At the start of Monday’s meeting, the chief of the land ministry’s Railway Bureau, Satoru Mizushima, said, “In order to develop transportation infrastructure necessary for Japan’s growth, I would like you to have a productive discussion about how to build a relationship of trust with local communities.”

 The purpose of the meeting was to seek solutions for the issue of the section that passes through Shizuoka Prefecture by looking at the case of Narita Airport, which has continued to hold dialogue with local residents for many years over issues such as land acquisition and noise.

 Shizuoka Prefecture, for its part, is bewildered by this move. On the day of the meeting, a senior official of the prefectural government who heard about it questioned the ministry’s stance of comparing the tunnel construction issue and Narita Airport equally, as the latter case involved people taking extreme positions and eventually developed into a conflict.

 Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu has refused to give a green light to construction of the about 9-kilometer-long section in Shizuoka Prefecture, citing a potential decrease in the amount of water in the Oi River as a result of the construction.

 Negotiations between Kawakatsu and JR Tokai have failed to produce an agreement for more than two years. In October, the ministry, the prefectural government and JR Tokai agreed to create a three-party consultative body under the ministry’s initiative, but the situation overall is at a standstill.

 JR Tokai President Shin Kaneko has not changed his position, saying at a press conference on Dec. 4, “We will make all-out efforts to get the construction done by 2027, although that is a short construction period.”

 In order to start the service in 2027, many officials believed that it would be necessary to reach an agreement on the start of construction within 2019. However, the agreement will inevitably be delayed until next year, according to a source close to the central government. “We must decide to postpone the start of the service at some point,” the source said.

High-speed rail rival

 The linear Chuo Shinkansen train, which JR Tokai is trying to turn into a business, is the world’s only superconducting maglev train technology that has reached the level of being put to practical use.

 JR Tokai aims to offer as a commercial service maglev Shinkansen trains running at the speed of 500 kilometers per hour. Globally, China has a strong presence in the field of high-speed rail, and Japan is emphasizing its maglev train technology to compete with it.

 In China, which had previously lagged behind in this area, state-of-the-art high-speed railways have been rapidly constructed. It has been about 15 years since their introduction, and China’s high-speed railway network is nearly 10 times as vast as Japan’s Shinkansen network.

 Looking at speed, a type of maglev train in Shanghai linking Shanghai Pudong International Airport and the suburbs runs at a speed of up to 430 kilometers per hour. Japan and China are rivals competing in the export of high-speed railway technologies.

Japan’s maglev train technology is almost completed, and it is being considered for exportation to places such as the United States.

 However, to export the technology fully, it is necessary to prove a high degree of safety and operations through actual commercial services. To that end, the delay in the opening of the linear Chuo Shinkansen line will deal a blow to Japan.