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2008年10月31日 (金)


2008/10/31--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 30(IHT/Asahi: October 31,2008)

EDITORIAL: Maglev Shinkansen plan


Plans for the magnetically levitated (maglev) Chuo Shinkansen by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) are starting to move forward. The company submitted the results of its survey to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, saying it is possible to build the railway in a straight route through the Southern Japanese Alps.


JR Tokai will now look into technical and economic viability and advance procedures to obtain approval. The company plans to start construction within two to three years and open the line in 2025.


The superconductive maglev train, which holds the world speed record in rail travel at 581 kph, is a product of advanced transportation technology. In the envisioned commercial operation, it will link Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 to 50 minutes, traveling at a maximum speed of 500 kph. There are also future plans to extend the line to Osaka.


The construction cost between Tokyo and Nagoya is estimated at 5 trillion yen. JR Tokai said it will cover the entire cost by itself without relying on government subsidies.


Since 1987, when the former Japanese National Railways was broken up and privatized, none of the JR companies has built a Shinkansen line on its own. Although JR Tokai has a solid financial base with its lucrative Tokaido Shinkansen service, building the maglev line on its own would show the positive results of privatization.


The potential economic effects of the maglev train service are enormous. If the major urban areas of Tokyo and Nagoya are directly linked and the line is extended to Osaka, the three cities could form a single economic bloc that includes Kansai.


If Tokyo and Osaka can be linked within an hour or so, air travelers could shift to the maglev service, allowing Haneda Airport in Tokyo to increase the number of international flights and strengthen its role as the gateway to Tokyo by air.


In 2025, the Tokaido Shinkansen Line will be over 60 years old. If the line's operation is suspended due to major repair work or disasters such as earthquakes, the maglev line would serve as a bypass.


The world's first superconductive maglev technology is expected to revitalize Japanese industries. Countries around the world are taking a new look at railway services, which are more energy-efficient than transportation by airplanes and cars. Already, there is an investment rush. The maglev project can lead the move.


Although the project may be undertaken by a private company, railways have a major impact on national life, the economy and society, and are highly public in nature.


The government and related organizations must properly check the validity of the plan and advance it with the consent of the public as well as related local governments.


We urge JR Tokai to listen to the views of users, local governments and the business world and establish a forum to discuss the problems from various viewpoints, such as traffic and industrial policies.


Local governments, including Nagano Prefecture, are intent on bringing the line and building stations within their jurisdictions. Japan has a bitter history of allowing politics tied to special interests to interfere with railway construction.


What kind of railway network will befit Japan in the 21st century? We urge the parties concerned to discuss how the development of the country and domestic industries should be from a broad perspective.


Of course, since this is a challenge that uses new technology, there are many concerns.


Can safety be secured? Will the technology really have no negative effect on the health of passengers and residents who live along the route? What about the impact on the environment of the Southern Alps?


And at a time when the population is declining, can the line really be profitable?


Although JR Tokai says it will cover the construction cost by itself, much of the funds will come from fares paid by passengers. If the plan fails, it could cause great damage to the nation.


In order to make the dream come true, JR Tokai is responsible for dispelling such concerns and winning public understanding.



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