Japanese consortium suggests high-speed passenger train in Pa., not Md.

December 28, 1991|By Pei-Tse Wu | Pei-Tse Wu,Journal of Commerce

NEW YORK -- A group of 23 Japanese companies seeking to hasten the development of high-speed passenger railroads in the United States is asking the Bush administration to support a joint U.S.-Japanese effort to design and build the first system in Pennsylvania rather than the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

The group, which includes some of Japan's largest industrial conglomerates and banks, contends there is sufficient need for such a system in the United States to ease already clogged urban transportation networks.

It is requesting public financing from both the U.S. and Japanese governments to build the magnetic levitation, or maglev, trains, which can travel at speeds approaching 300 mph.

"Further research is needed before commercialization, and funding is needed each step of the way," said Takashi Uehara, general manager of the New York office of Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan Ltd.

Mr. Uehara leads the group, which calls itself the U.S.-Japan Project Development Group but has no American members.

Two commercially viable maglev technologies currently exist. They were developed by Transrapid International of Germany and the Japanese Railway Technical Research Institute.

The U.S.-Japan Project Development Group said it favors neither technology and is merely trying to push forward commercialization in the United States.

Although Mr. Uehara said the group's members have no interest in even helping to build the prototypes, he acknowledged that they would be interested in building and financing the trains and tracks when they are commercialized on a wider scale.

Many of the group's members certainly would appear to be able to contribute to and profit from a mass high-speed rail system in the United States.

They include Toyota Motor Corp. of North America and Nippon Steel USA Inc.

The Japanese group's request for funding comes at a time when the Bush administration has just committed $750 million over six years toward developing a maglev prototype based purely on U.S. research.

"What [the Japanese group] could be doing at this stage of the game escapes me," commented E. Wayne Thevenot, an officer of Maglev USA, a group of U.S. companies working to develop a maglev prototype.

Because of the $750 million appropriation in the recently approved surface transportation bill, Mr. Thevenot doubted that Congress or the Bush administration would be interested in funding or supporting a research and development effort based on foreign technologies.

Maryland is competing with four states -- Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida and Washington -- for a maglev prototype.

A group of about 150 Maryland executives met last April to outline plans for a system between Baltimore and Washington.

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