One exception to the many HSR lines operating in the red is the privately held Central Japan Railway, which earns just under a 10% profit each year. CJR’s Tokaido Shinkansen, the oldest HSR line in the world, began operations in 1964. The Tokaido line runs 309 trains daily up to 167 mph. Every night, 3,000 workers descend on successive 12-mile sections of the Tokaido line between midnight and 6:00 a.m., according to CJR and the Japan Railway Technical Research Institute. Frequent high-speed operations require rails be replaced every 3-4 years. Wheels are constantly refitted.

At its own expense and without government funding, CJR is now building the new Chuo Shinkansen line, using repulsive superconducting magnet technology as a replacement for the Tokaido line. This maglev technology holds the train world speed record at 361 mph (581 k/hr.). Because traveling at such high speeds requires a very straight and flat right of way, the first leg of the line from Tokyo to Nagoya is fully 80% in tunnels. The 177-mile route will enable the trip to be made in only 40 minutes.

According to CJR’s Chairman, Yoshiyuki Kasai, dramatically lower maintenance means far fewer service interruptions due to track maintenance exceeding the 6-hour window. Mr. Kasai states that reduced maintenance costs and 40-minute trip times will enable them to recover the total cost of the line, despite the tunneling required.

It is a fact that wheeled train performance peaks out because of limits created by a combination of friction and troublesome dynamic forces. Maglev technologies have no speed maintenance penalty and have evolved into being less expensive to build and operate than traditional HSR, according to Germany’s Max Boegl Company. Boegl is the only company that develops and manufactures both slabtrack for HSR and composite concrete guideways for maglev.

Before Hyperloops or maglevs can be deployed in the U.S., outdated Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) policies and mindset must change. The fact that a financially sustainable, 300-mph maglev project from Anaheim to Las Vegas was thrown under the political bus for an ill-conceived and inferior train technology illustrates my point. The Las Vegas debacle was yet another example of the poorly conceived, lobbyist-driven FRA HSR proposals that cannot attain sufficient ridership to cover operations and maintenance costs.

Political hurdles aside, maglev also is not HSR technology. It requires different engineering, design orientation and unique cost estimating. There is no one currently at the FRA with true HSR experience, much less maglev expertise, which is clearly apparent from the poorly conceived HSR projects the FRA promotes.

New engineers and administrators with appropriate technology experience must be hired before the U.S. can start building true HSGT. Rather than myopically focusing on initial capital costs, life cycle and total ownership cost should be the new benchmarks for evaluating new transportation infrastructure.

Just ask the folks at CJR: they empirically know about maglev’s cost benefits over HSR… and that maglev is far beyond a nascent concept.

Thank you Mr. Musk for helping to get the conversation restarted. Now, lets talk seriously about maglev as a transportation solution that we can implement today.


Kevin Coates works as a consultant for high-speed rail and magnetic levitation (maglev) transport technology. He is currently writing a book on the policies that enable or block the success of innovative transportation technologies.