Maglev & ‘Merica


A U.S. company, The Northeast Maglev, wants to radically speed up train trips between New York and Washington, using made-in-Japan magnetic levitation, or maglev, technology. The Japanese government supports the project, which would bring the two cities within an hour of each other by train.

  • What is Maglev?

    Maglev technology uses powerful magnetic forces to lift train cars several inches above a concrete guideway. Other magnets along the guideway use alternating positive and negative charges to propel the train forward at speeds of 300 miles per hour (500 kilometers per hour) or more.

  • What are the plans for Japan?

    Central Japan Railway Co., which operates the original bullet train, or Shinkansen, between Tokyo and Osaka, last week received a government green light to build a maglev line from Tokyo to Nagoya and, eventually, onward to Osaka. The project’s estimated cost is nearly $90 billion.

  • And for the U.S.?

    The Northeast Maglev wants to bring the technology to the crowded Northeast Corridor of the U.S., linking Washington to New York, with stops at Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and two airports.

  • What kinds of journey times are we talking about?

    New York to Washington would take about an hour, a little more than one-third of the time that the fastest Amtrak train now takes. That’s about the same as the projected Tokyo-Osaka time.

  • What are the hurdles?

    Politics and finances. Gridlock in the U.S. extends from the roads into the halls of government, so getting big infrastructure projects into motion is extremely difficult. And while Japan has pledged to provide $5 billion in financing, that’s only a small fraction of the total cost of a New York-Washington maglev line, which would run into the tens of billions.

  • When could this happen?

    Assuming the project clears these hurdles – and that is a big if – the backers want to complete the first phase, from Washington to Baltimore, by 2024. That’s three years before the projected entry into service of the Tokyo-Nagoya maglev line.

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