(Source: TNEM)
Central Tokyo Railways is willing to license for U.S. use, but future in America remains uncertain

The collaboration between Japan Railway Comp. (JR Tokai) (TYO:9022) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (TYO:7011) to deploy maglev bullet trains took close to four decades to produce results.  But patience paid off -- now Japan is turning heads with its upcoming Chuo Shinkansen maglev line, which will eventually connect most of Japan's largest cities.
I. The World Fastest Passenger Train
The Chuo Shinkansen line ferries passengers at a cruising speed of 505 km/hr (311 mph) -- a record for a commercial train line.  The test models have reached a maximum speed of 580 km/hr (360.4 mph) -- also a record.
U.S. trains -- most of which are run today by The National Railroad Passenger Corp. (aka. "Amtrak") -- average a speed of 110 miles per hour (mph).  That's about a third of the speed of the Japanese high-tech track.  Amtrak's fastest train -- Acela -- can only cruise at 150 mph, about half the speed of the JR Tokai maglev.

Highway travel -- the predominant form of transportation in the U.S. -- is at best about a fifth the speed of the Japanese maglev supertain.  Even aircraft travel is only about twice as fast as the supertrain; add in the time it takes to get through security, board, and taxi at the airports and the maglev bullet train may actually be "faster" than a commercial flight, with much less cost and inconvenience.
Chuo Shinkansen is expected to cut the time of traveling from Tokyo to Nagoya on current bullet trains from about 90 minutes to about 40 minutes.

L0 in action
The L0 with a three car test on Thursday [Image Source: Jun Kaneko]

A similar line in the U.S. could allow you to live in Chicago and work in Detroit with about an hour commute. You could alternatively live in Boston, but work in New York City with an even shorter commute.  It's easy to see once you start thinking about it how this line has the promise to revolutionize travel and business in Japan.
II. The Northeast Maglev Board Gets a Taste of Japanese Maglev Tech
Some U.S. leaders want to build a maglev line connecting New York City and Washington D.C., with an eventual extension to Boston.  They call the project The Northeast Maglev (TNEM).  And JR Tokai is eagerly courting this interest in a bid to offset its own costs as the first to deploy this exotic transportation technology.

At a special event, JR Tokai played gracious host to a high-profile TNEM lobbying coalition consisting of former New York Gov. George Elmer Pataki (R), former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Gene "Ed" Rendell (D), former Sen. Thomas Andrew "Tom" Daschle (D-N. Dakota), and former Transportation Secretary Mary Elizabeth Peters.

TNEM Poster 1

JR Tokai Chairman Yoshiyuki Kasai remarked, "We'd like to share the technology as a symbol of Japan-U.S. cooperation. If put into practical use, it will be an international standard that can be adopted anywhere in the world.  In the past, the United States led the way in transport technology.  Now the U.S. transportation infrastructure is in bad shape. This time, why don’t the U.S.A. and Japan lead the world together?"

Gov. Pataki was wowed by the ride's smooth ride.  Once the train reached its cruising speed he was able to stand up and comfortably walk about, enjoying views of Mt. Fuji.  He commented, "In the subway I'd need a strap, at least.  This is amazing. The future."

TNEM Poster 2

It's understandable why American consumers may be a little unenthused at rail.  On Amtrak's fastest Acelera trains, it takes roughly three hours to ride from Washington D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland.  A flight takes about an hour and 15 minutes.  But TNEM advocates say the proposed maglev could allow passengers to travel even faster, making the trip in under an hour.

III. Japan Offers to Pay Part of U.S. Maglev Project's Startup Costs

But it also wouldn't be cheap.  

Maglevs are a case study in economic tradeoffs.  As there's no friction with a metal track once the cars achieve levitation there's little wear and tear.  Thus maintenance costs for the train and track can be lower than traditional rail.  However, the initial cost of deployment is very high.

Based on the JR Tokai cost estimates for the Chuo Shinkansen line (which are about $164M USD per kilometer for non-mountain track), a similar Washington D.C. to New York City (227 mi./365 km) would cost about $60B USD.

Curren Amtrak lines travel at a third of the speed of the Japanese maglev or less. [Image Source: AP]

So far TNEM has obtained around $50M USD in funding commitments, which according to The Economist "would not even get the maglev out of downtown D.C."  TNEM would need to raise more than 1,000 times its current funding to make the dream a reality.
In order to try to sell the American public on the idea of maglev, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (Liberal Democratic Party), 59, has put his own taxpayer's money on the line to try to push a deal.  At a 2012 meeting with President Barack Hussein Obama (D), the prime minister offered to build the track for the initial 40 mile stretch that connects Washington D.C. and Baltimore.

Obama and Shinzo Abe
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shakes hands with U.S. President Barack Obama at a February meeting. [Image Source: Getty Imagers]

The American partners would still have to pay for the traincars and the station, but the track offer could save up to $6B USD.  So far, President Obama has appeared to be in no rush to take the Japanese PM up on his offer. President Obama has committed about $2B USD in federal funding to rail, but most of that funding is going to renovate traditional Amtrak lines across the country.
IV. Shinkansen Echoes
Maglev, for the uninitiated -- is the idea of floating a train up in the air via magnets to create a frictionless ride.  U.S. inventors have been dreaming of maglev for a long time as one 1905 patent on the technology shows.  But ultimately the technology only became a realistic possibility in the 1980s as low temperature magnetic superconductors began to be fully explored and harnessed.
Today JR Tokai is one of a handful of international companies chasing the dream of constructing a long maglev track.  And it's been chasing the dream for a long time.
During World War II, Japanese engineers had conceived of a radical rail technology called "Shinkansen" (bullet trains).  The idea was to use rails electrified with AC current to achieve speeds much higher than traditional fossil-fuel burning locomotives.  Work to lay rail and clear land began in the early 1940s, but by the close of the war the project remained unfinished, due to the high cost of digging the tunnels to navigate across Japan's mountainous inner terrain.

Yamanoti Line 1925
Tokyo-area Yamanoti Line pre-war in 1925

In the aftermath of WWII, the U.S. backed government of the rebuilding Japan reorganized much of Japan's rail system into a government-owned entity known as Japan National Railways (JNR).  A growing population in post-war Japan saturated this system, which quickly was running at its maximum capacity.  JNR engineers had to find a way to get passengers and cargo from city to city at a faster rate.
In 1957, the Odakyu Electric Railway -- a private rail service operating in the Tokyo area -- deployed a new train design called the Odakyu 3000 Super Express, which set a world speed record of 145 km/h (90 mph) for a narrow gauge train.  Nicknamed "Romancecars" for their two person seats that lacked the standard separating armrest, the Odakyu offerings pressured JNR engineers to step up their game.
The JNR's head engineer, Hideo Shima was inspired, according to accounts [PDF], by electric rail demonstrations at the 1955 Lille's Electrotechnology Congress in France.  Mr. Hideo convinced his boss, Shinji Sogo -- the first President of JNR -- to revive the wartime bullet train effort.  The Japanese government gave JNR the go ahead in 1958, and in 1959 having obtained funding work on the Tokaido Shinkansen began.

Tokaido Shinkansen
Tokaido Shinkansen turned heads when it debuted in 1964, shattering commercial rail speed records. [Image Source: Getty Images]

For all its success, the project mirrored one of the key struggles of the current maglev project -- it was plagued by cost overruns.  Afraid that the project would be rejected by shortsighted bureaucrats as too expensive, Mr. Shinji promised the government that the line could be built for around ¥200B, knowing that the project would actually cost over ¥400B.
The tactic worked, but by 1963 as the extent of the exaggeration became clear, Mr. Shinji was forced to resign.  Despite that, in Oct. 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen was completed just in time to support the 1964 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The PR gambit paid off.  The world marveled at the feat of Japanese engineering, which ferried passengers at a then-record 210 km/h (130 mph) aboard then bullet-nosed 0 series trains, which were initially built by Hitachi, Ltd.'s (TYO:6501) rail division.
The Shinkansen line cut the time of traveling from Tokyo to Osaka from 6 hours and 40 minutes with traditional rail to four hours.  By 1965, trains were allowed to run at slightly higher speeds, further cutting the time to 3 hours.
Emboldened by the success, JNR began the slow process of building out new lines.  At the same time it began to experiment with a bold new vision: a technology that could make the Tokyo-Osaka trip in a third of the time of a bullet train.  That technology would become known as the maglev.
V. Three Decades of Maglev
Starting in 1962 JNR engineers worked secretly on next generation rail technologies.  In 1969 the Japanese government officially announced its pursuit of magnetically levitated trains.  The JNR's Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) became a hotbed of development.
Maglev development
The Chuo Shinkansen project has been in the works for decade

In 1972 the RTRI showed off a working maglev operating on a short track, however, progress was slow.  In 1977, a longer 7 km track was constructed in the city of Hyuga in the Miyazaki province, a province on the southern island of Kyushu.  By 1980, the engineering team had changed the design of the guideway track from early "reverse T" shape to the safer, more efficient "U shape", which is still used to this day.
Since then the basically principle of the maglev -- or SCMaglev ("super conducting magnetic levitation"), as JNR dubbed it -- has remained almost unchanged.  The track is composed of two sets of coiled wire on the walls with opposite sides connected by wires underneath a guideway made of concrete.  The overall channel is shaped like a "U".

MLX 01
The MLX01, one of Chuo Shinkansen's early designs [Image Source: Univ. of Hawai'i]

The train features two superconducting magnets per side, with the polarity alternating from front to back and from side to side.  To achieve levitation the train must first use an electric motor to accelerate on rubber wheels to a speed of 30 km/h (19 mph).  At that point the superconducting magnets embedded in the train car(s) induce magnetic fields in the electrified wire coils on the track walls, which in turn take over the task of driving the train.
SCMaglev propulsion
[Image Source: JR Tokai]
Maglev principle
An animation of how induction propels the maglev [Image Source: OPUS]

The magnetic fields accelerate the train even faster until the fields are strong enough to "lock" the train in line with the side coils, at which point the rubber wheels are retracting allowing the train to levitate in the U-shaped channel.  Levitation is typically achieved at a speed of around 150 km/h (93 mph).  From there the train continues to “fly” down the track, inducing magnetic fields that propel it forward, eventually pushing it at a maximum speed.  The cruising train floats roughly 100 millimeters (3.937 inches) above the track.


The JNR was disbanded in 1987 and replaced by privatized corporations.  The Central Tokyo Railway Corp. (JR Tokai) inherited the high-speed rail project.  In 1990 it looked to move development to the main island of Honshu building The Yamanashi Maglev Test Line in the town of Aichi, near the city of Nagoya.  By 1997, an 18.4 km (11.4 mi) stretch was completed.

Yamanashi Test Line
The Yamanashi test line includes tunnels and covered sections. (Click to enlarge.)

Since the 1990s the SCMaglev system has used niobium-titanium alloy-based superconductor magnets in the train, which are cooled by liquid helium to -269 °C (4.13 K).  

A concept sketch of the rubber wheels and magnet system in the MLX01 [Image Source: Univ. of Hawai'i]

The main change in terms of design has been the introduction of a pointier "nose" on the train, a design decision that reduces drag forces that can shake or slow the train.

SCMaglev traincar nose

The Yamanashi Line also allowed JR Tokai engineers to study the best way to create tunnels for the maglev.  As the maglev train is travelling at extremely high speeds, if it encounters a major air pressure difference as it enters a tunnel, it might slow or even derail.  To prevent that rom happening engineers increased the cross-sectional area of the maglev shinkansen tunnels, over the traditional shinkansen tunnels, which are relatively tightly packed.

shinkansen v. Maglev (tunnels)

Between 1990 and 2008 the test track saw over 50,000 test runs by MLU002N and MLX01 test engines.  To test the designs JR Tokai gave away free rides on the track.  An estimated 200,000 passengers were carried on these free rides.

VI. The Finished Traincar

After tweaking the maglev traincar design based on what it learned in the 1990s and 2000s, Mitsubishi has arrived at what it believes is a finished product.  Dubbed the "L0 Series" in homage to the first generation "0 Series" shinkansen, the train is composed of aerodynamic front car (featuring the iconic "nose") followed by up to 14 full passenger cars and a stubby rear car.

The aerodynamic front car measures 28 m (92 ft), with roughly 15 m of its length devoted to the nose.  The front car seats 24, while the primary L0 passenger cars -- measuring 25 m (82 ft) each -- carry 68 passengers.  Passengers are arranged in 17 rows with two seats on either side of the central aisleway (a 2+2 configuration).  This is slightly different from the typical shinkansen that has a 6-seat per row (3+3) configuration.

L0 series train
[Image Source: James Provost/Hemisphere magazine]

The train will eventually be comprised of up to 16 cars -- at least 14 of which are full-length passenger cars.  The train will be able to haul 1,000 passengers.  The cab car has been shown to be a 24-passenger (6-row) design that will either be a stubbier version of the passenger cars, or a copy of the nosed front-car.
Tokyo to Nagoya tickets are expected to carry a ¥700 ($6.90 USD) premium over traditional Shinkansen, while Tokyo to Osaka tickets (a longer trip) will carry a ¥1,000 (~$9.90 USD) premium according to The Japan Times.  The Tokyo to Nagoya ticket -- according to The Asahi Shimbun -- will be around ¥11,500 (~$113.40 USD).
The line will use about 35 MW of peak power, versus about 10 MW for a normal shinkansen.
VII. Carrying a Nation
In August of this year, the first tests on an extension of the Yamanashi test track to 42.8 km (26.6 mi) were complete.  Now comes the critical work of expanding the existing track an additional 244 km (151.6 mi) over the next decade and a half to connect Tokyo to Nagoya.

Chuo Shinkansen route
Chuo Shinkansen route
Views of the proposed Chuo Shinkansen test route. [Image Source: TRIC/TAS]

Riding a legacy that dates back to at least the 1960s, many view the Chuo Shinkansen line as a symbolic stand for a nation looking to remain a high-tech leader.  Perhaps that's why Japan's prime minister has taken such an active role in evangelizing the line.

Once the owner of the world's fastest train system, Japan in the 1980s and 1990s saw its bullet train designs first emulated by, then surpassed by rival designers in France and Germany.  Neighboring China over the last two decades as built a vast high-speed rail of its own.  Japan's fading rail relevance has paralleled its struggles in the electronics industry as China, Taiwan, and South Korea have become more dominant.

Criticisms of the maglev line echo those of the original shinkansen.  Opponents accuse JR Tokai of understating the cost of construction.  They fear that if the line bankrupts JR Tokai, taxpayers will be left footing the bill.

Indeed, JR Tokai had originally predicted the Osaka-Tokyo maglev shinkansen would cost ¥5T ($50.9B USD) to build.  Now it says that figure will only cover the cost of constructing the line from Tokyo to Nagoya alone.  The cost of the full line linking  Japan's four largest cities (Osaka, Nagoya, Yokohama, and Tokyo) has ballooned to ¥9T ($91.7B USD).

JR Tokai has four stations planned -- one each in the Kanagawa, Yamanashi, Nagano and Gifu prefectures -- between the Tokyo and Nagoya endpoints.

Yen wide
Some fear taxpayers will be left with the bill if JR Tokai runs out of money. [Image Source: Daniels Trading]

But criticisms don't stop at the price tag.  Critics also fear that the path of the maglev line -- which cuts through the Japanese alps to obtain the shortest distance -- will not only elevate costs, but raise the risks if an earthquake strikes.  
To be fair the critics are probably right on the financial point at least.  But such criticisms appear somewhat shortsighted.  Like the Shinkansen, the maglev will almost invariably appear wasteful and exorbitant when it opens.  But in time, like the Shinkansen, the economic gains of this world-leading line may force critics to reevaluate their perspective.  After all, even the maglev's harshest critics would be cautious about criticizing the vital economic contribution of traditional shinkansen lines, tracks which were once themselves labeled a terrible boondoggle.
And like it or not there's little naysayers can do at this point.  JR Tokai is privately financing the line, staking its own future on maglev.  The Japanese government's role is limited to evangelizing the line and helping it clear regulatory challenges.  PM Shinzo's administration has actively embraced the project, giving it permission to build the line with a Dec. 2010 approval.
JR Tokai is currently conducting an environmental assessment in the Southern Japanese Alps, north of Mt. Fuji where the next stretch of track will be built.  Once that survey is done next April a thirteen year construction effort will begin, including a painstaking tunneling through solid stretches of mountain rock.

SR99 tunneling machine
An SR99 is assembled in Japan. [Image Source: Flickr/WSDOT]

An estimated 86 percent of the Chuo Shinkansen line will run through mountains, requiring numerous tunnels.  In urban areas, the maglev will travel 40 meters underground to prevent what would otherwise by deafening noise pollution.
The toughest stretch of construction is expected to be a proposed 25 km tunnel through soft mountain bedrock.  It is estimated that 9.5 million cubic meters of rock will need to be extracted by tunneling equipment.  The total track is expected to create 62.34 million cubic meters of earth, rocks, sand and mud.
Japan does have a fair share of experience in terms of tunneling.  It recently built "Bertha", the world's widest tunnel drill, which is currently being used to bore a 1.7-mile (2.7 km) highway tunnel in Washington state.

JR Tokai
JR Tokai will likely use a drill like Bertha to bore its necessary tunnels. [Image Source: Oil-Electric]

JR Tokai says it will protect the track -- which crosses four fault lines -- against earthquakes by incorporating emergency exits every 5 km and by using shock-resistant building materials, including high-strength concrete and bedrock-mounted bolts.

JR Tokai annual profit
JR Tokai -- Annual Profits (102 yen = (appr.) $1 USD)

The project may cost JR Tokai as much as ¥380B ($3.746B USD) per year.  Much of that will be drawn from JR Tokai's traditional rail income which for fiscal 2013 saw ¥199.971B ($1.976B USD) in profit.  The rest will be covered by private debt.

JR Tokai
JR Tokai's debt has been steadily falling, annually.

In March it scored a strong Aa3 debt rating from Moody's, having made significant progress in paying down loans it borrowed from Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency (JRTT).  In 2002 JR Tokai owed the JRTT ¥3.48T (about $35B USD) to ¥1.09T (around $11B USD) on Dec. 2012.
VIII. The Biggest Threat to the Maglev -- Japan's Celibacy Syndrome
The biggest threat to the Chuo Shinkansen's long-term success may not have anything to do with the technology.  Japan is facing an economic and sociological crisis in that its people are not having sex.   

Japan robot babies
Japan has tried everything -- even robot babies -- to try to convince its younger generation to procreate. [Image Source: CNN]

And it's no laughing matter.  Japan's economic growth has been driven by population growth.  Today that trend is reversing.  By 2040 the population is expected to decline to 107 million people, down from 125 million at present.  

The statistics are staggering -- nearly half of Japanese women age 16 to 24 are not interested in having sex or being in relationships. Nearly a quarter of Japanese men age 16 to 24 surveyed stated that they had no interest in having sex -- ever -- according to statistics cited by The Washington Post.  Japanese sociologists are calling this trend the "celibacy syndrome".

Japan's population
Japan's population is decreasing -- and with it Japan's high-tech prowess and buying power.
[Image Source: The Washington Post]

In 2012 Japan's working age (20-65) population -- the primary target of the Chuo Shinkansen line -- was about 73.5 million people, or roughly 58 percent of Japan's total population (127.4 million people) [source].  By 2050 Japan's total population is expected to reach 100.6 million people -- with about 53.9 million working age people.  By 2100 the population is expected to shrink to 64.1 million -- with about 34.8 million working age people.  In other words by the time Chuo Shinkansen celebrates its "golden anniversary" (50 years in operation) -- its market may be about half the size as it was when construction started.

Japan aging population
Japan's working age population is expected to shrink roughly in half over this century.
[Image Source: Japan National Institute of Population]

Professor Reijiro Hashiyama, a visiting instructor at Chiba University's economic school, at an October Japan National Press conference warned, "You can’t expect growth in demand anymore, and (JR Tokai’s) transportation capacity will be doubled.  This will be a big (financial) disaster."

In a comment to The New York Times, he adds, "If you seriously take a look at its high cost and low demand, you’ll find it makes no business sense."

JR Tokai disagrees, stating in documents that it expects a pre-tax profit of ¥70B (~$688M USD) by 2026 (when the Tokyo-Nagoya track is complete).  That's still only about 1/70th of the projected cost (which may be understated), but it also does not take into account the overall economic benefits of the bleeding edge, superspeed solution, benefits which go well beyond JR Tokai's balance sheet.

IX. The U.S. -- the Perfect Maglev Market?

The timing of the Japanese Maglev project is rather inopportune.  The Tokyo-Nagoya track isn't scheduled to be completed until 2027.  And the Nagoya-Osaka line won't be done till 2047.  By then the working age population may have decreased by as much as a third, a serious cut to the target market.

By contrast the U.S. seems a much more promising target.  The U.S. is expected to sustain roughly linear population growth over the rest of this century -- continuing a long tradition of growth.
US Population GIF
US Population by decade 1790 through 1990 [Image Source: Outrageous GIS] 

While this has at times been cited as an argument against immigration (see the helpful graph below, for example), history shows us something far different.  Historically population growth has been intimately correlated with increasing economic prosperity.  Now we're seeing the inverse correlation also holds true.  Japan's issues show us that the alternative -- a decreasing senescent population is the real crisis.

U.S. population growth
While they face a mess of bureaucratic red tape and a public animosity towards rail (and mass transit in general), the good news for the TNEM project is that the national population of working age adults is expected to sustain growth through 2060 -- even as Japan heads in the reverse direction.

U.S. Census population trends

US Census Bureau

Census Bureau statistics show a growing U.S. workforce over the next half-century.
[Image Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

But the TNEM project faces a slightly different question than Japan.  It is feasible from a demographics/sociological perspective -- but the question is whether it's being targeted at the right spot.

U.S. Census Bureau
America's workforce is growing as other countries' shrink.  
[Image Source: U.S. Census Bureau/New Geography]

New York City's population is declining, while populations in California, Texas, and the Southeast (e.g. Florida), and Mountain States (e.g. Kentucky/Tennessee) are rising.
Population trend

[Image Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

Still, given the current numbers, the Northeast corridor may be the most attractive target.  In the long run this could be connected to lines into the major population centers of the Mountain States and Southeast.
X. U.S. Maglev?  Public Private Partnership Arguably a Necessity
So it's clear that the U.S. is a much more favorite market for Maglev.  And at least one key private sector partner -- JR Tokai -- appears to be lined up.
The next big question is where to get the money for the project from.  Currently TNEM has only scrounged up $50M USD in funding commitments -- which according to The Economist "would not even get the maglev out of downtown D.C."
Based on the JR Tokai cost estimates for the Chuo Shinkansen line (which are about $164M USD per kilometer for non-mountain track), a similar Washington D.C. to New York City (227 mi./365 km) would cost about $60B USD.  TNEM would need to raise more than 1,000 times its current funding to make the dream a reality.
Such funding could come from an interstate and/or federal commitment.  The question is whether the project will generate significant public support to allow such a funding approach.
In the hunt for funding, it's wise to look to the two greatest transportation projects in the nation's history -- the transcontinental railroad system (mostly built in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s), and the interstate highway system (mostly built in the 1950s and 1960s).
These projects both resulted in tremendous gains to U.S. economic prosperity.  And both were similar in that they required both public and private support.

Transcontinental railroad
Funded by government land grants, the Transcontinental Railroad system greenlighted the growing U.S. economy in the late 1800s, allow explosive growth.

Look at the transcontinental rail case study; four of the nation's five intercontinental railroads were largely government funded.  The government essentially "paid" for these lines via taxpayer assets -- land grants.  This is often misunderstood as being merely the land that the railroad was built on, while in fact it also included extra neighboring plots for the railroad to sell to offset the cost of construction.
At the same time the private sector was critical in maximizing the return on this funding, rallying the engineering expertise and the competition (between different industry firms and railway lines) to drive the expansion.
Like the transcontinental railroad, the interstate highway system -- created primarily by the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 [PDF] -- was paid for mostly by the taxpayer.  By the 1950s the government didn't have vast tracts of land as it did in the late 1800s with which to finance the project.  So instead it turned to taxes and fees -- primarily fuel taxes -- to finance the project.
Iowa highway
The interstate highway system was the last major advance in U.S. transportation. [Image Source: Iowa Pathways]

About 70 percent of the funding used to construct the interstate highways came from fuel taxes [source].  Currently fuel taxes are about 18 cents per gallon on gasoline and 24 cents per gallon for diesel.  Of this about 15/22 cents respectively go to the highway system with a little less than 3 percent goes to mass transit.

Federal Highway system
The federal highway system was built and maintained by fuel taxes. [Image Source: Dupont]

The private sector played a lesser role in funding the interstate highway effort, though some are calling for more public-private partnerships to cut costs and reduce inefficiency of highway maintenance.

XI. Potential Presidential Candidates May Prove Supportive of TNEM

Historically the most feasible, proven route to funding TNEM or similar projects would appear to be to boost fuel taxes -- possibly to 36 cents per gallon -- and push that money to mass transit.  The cost impact to the consumer could be offset by removing obstructionism to shale oil extraction and to oil pipeline construction.

The problem is that America's political spectrum is increasingly opposed to public-private partnerships (PPPs) on a federal level.

In that regard TNEM's greatest hope may lie in former N.Y. Gov. Pataki and 
former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd "Christie" Whitman -- a TNEM boardmember who was unable to make the trip.

Former Gov. Pataki has close ties to former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while former Gov. Whitman is a trusted ally of Gov. Chris Christie (R) -- among the respective front-runners for the 2016 Presidential nominations for the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively.

Sen. Clinton has already worked with the Japanese maglev proposal, meeting with 
Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in Jan. 2011 to discuss the idea.

Hilary Clinton
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (L) meets with Japan's foreign minister to discuss the maglev project. [Image Source: AlterNet]

Gov. Christie may be a tougher sell.  While a relative moderate who has expressed enthusiasm for some public-private partnerships, his biggest involvement in mass transit wasn't a supportive one -- he killed a plan to build a rail tunnel to New York in 2010.  

Of course this might have merely been due to the nature of that proposal which came at a time when the state was strapped for cash.  Gov. Christie claimed the U.S. 
Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) had lied in its estimate, stating that New Jersey would only shoulder 14.4 percent of the costs ($12.4B USD).  Gov. Christie claimed his own officials' estimate was that the FTA funding would only cover about 30 percent of the project, with new Jersey being left to foot 70 percent of the bill -- billions more.

More recently he has expressed support for another mass transit project -- a light rail line dubbed "PATH" -- although critics say that support may be conditional, based on a plan to lure new airline business into the state.

Chris Christie
Influential northeast Gov. Chris Christie (R - New Jersey) recent softened his stance on rail, supporting the PATH light rail project. [Image Source: AP]

Either way, it seems the TNEM board seems well positioned to try to make the case for maglev to top candidates in 2016.

Sources: The New York Times, The Japan Times, JR Tokai [tech brief], [2012 annual report]

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