The World's Fastest Train Could Be Headed to Washington

A magnetic-levitation (maglev) train passes at Central Japan Railway Co.'s Yamanashi Maglev test line, in Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.

A magnetic-levitation (maglev) train passes at Central Japan Railway Co.'s Yamanashi Maglev test line, in Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan.

Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg
  • Transport Secretary says need to increase U.S. rail investment
  • Foxx urges rigor in study on building maglev line in U.S.

The U.S. wants to study the feasibility of building a Japanese-designed magnetic-levitation train line between Washington and Baltimore as part of a plan to upgrade the transportation network in the world’s largest economy.

The government, which on Saturday announced $27.8 million in funding for a maglev study, wants to build a stronger passenger rail system, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in an interview Monday in Tokyo.

Anthony Foxx
Anthony Foxx
Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

“One of the things this study helps us do is to figure out what the true cost picture of maglev is,” Foxx said. “To this point most of the estimates have been back-of-the-envelope, and there needs to be some rigor applied to that under our study models.”

Northeast Maglev LLC says it would cost $10 billion to build a 500 kilometer (311 mile) per hour maglev line to whisk passengers on the 40-mile trip between Washington and Baltimore in 15 minutes. The world’s fastest train broke its own record earlier this year with a run of 603 kilometers per hour.

“It’s fascinating technology,” said Foxx, who rode the maglev Sunday in Tsuru, Japan. “It’s an example of great innovation happening here in Japan.”

Government backing

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said the Japanese government may provide financing to support Central Japan Railway Co.’s bid to provide the technology for a U.S. line. That’s part of wider government efforts to help Japanese trainmakers compete with Germany’s Siemens AG, France’s Alstom SA, Bombardier Inc. of Canada and China’s CRRC Corp.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga met with Foxx on Monday and discussed building a maglev in the U.S. Suga said Japan wanted to help build what would be a symbol of cooperation between the two countries, according to a statement from the government.

Maglev trains rely on magnetic power to float the cars above the ground, eliminating the friction of steel tracks. The trains start off running on wheels -- the kind used on F-15 fighter jets -- until they’re going fast enough for the magnets to kick in and create lift.

Northeast Maglev is led by former transportation officials and executives. A Washington-Baltimore starter line eventually could be extended to New York, putting the biggest U.S. city within reach of the capital in 60 minutes by train. The line would be built by Baltimore-Washington Rapid Rail, an affiliate of Northeast Maglev.

A Japan Railway maglev train
A Japan Railway maglev train
Photographer: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg

“In the U.S., part of our challenge is just getting the level of investment up so we can speed up travel times,” Foxx said. “We have a very serious proposal in Washington now to reduce the overall investment in passenger rail in the U.S. We’ve got to get over that hurdle.”

JR Central, the Nagoya-based rail operator that owns the maglev system in Japan, got approval last year to build a maglev line linking Tokyo and Nagoya, the country’s third-largest city, to open by 2027. The plan will cost 5.5 trillion yen ($44.5 billion), including trains, which the company plans to fund itself.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE