Central Japan Railway Enters Competition for U.S. High-Speed Market

» JR Tokai, offering the Shinkansen N700 trainset and associated technologies, hopes to win the right to run trains in Florida.

With President Obama heading to Tampa on Thursday, speculation about how high-speed rail grants will be distributed is aimed directly at Florida. The state hopes to capitalize on its recent decision to invest millions in a commuter rail system for the state’s central areas to attract up to $2.5 billion in federal dollars to fund the construction of an electrified fast train system planned for the Tampa-Orlando corridor. Now, a Japanese company is interested in cashing in.

If the President does hand the state a check, Florida will be the first in the nation to offer its population true high-speed rail built in a dedicated corridor. Potential constructors and operators are lining up just in time. Back in September, French national rail operator SNCF proposed major investments in Florida, California, the Midwest, and Texas, becoming the only company to respond with detailed plans for service to Congressman John Mica’s (R-FL) 2008 request for proposals. Earlier in January, Amtrak suggested that as the only current American high-speed rail operator, it had unrivaled experience to offer.

But Central Japan Railway Company‘s (JRC) decision to form an American subsidiary called U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail (USJHSR) in cooperation with a venture capital firm is the clearest sign yet that the fight for control over the Florida line will be a battle of industry titans. The interest of foreign firms in the project assuages any doubts over whether the U.S. is well-suited for high-speed operations.

Also known as JR Tokai, JRC began operations in 1987 following the privatization of Japan’s railroads and it is now the country’s largest operator of high-speed trains, or Shinkansen. JRC carries an average of 409,000 daily passengers on 323 daily trains. The company is investing tens of billions of dollars in a new maglev corridor between Tokyo and Osaka to supplement the existing Tokaïdo route between the cities. But the Japanese market is virtually saturated as there are few opportunities for passenger growth in transport — even the new trunk line will attract few new passengers.

Investing in U.S. operations, then, could be lucrative in growing the company’s revenues. The Japanese Senior Vice Transport Minister, Sumio Mabuchi, has been active in pitching Japanese technology to Washington. And as of last week, JRC replaced bankrupt Japan Airlines on the Japanese Nikkei Average, signaling that the stock market sees a future in the company.

USJHSR, run from an office just blocks from the White House, stated that it sees the Florida route as the most promising for new service in the U.S. A subsidiary, called U.S.-Japan Maglev, will market JRC’s magnetic levitation-based trains to authorities planning corridors like the one between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, though there is clearly less of an interest in that expensive technology.

In the bidding for operations and construction on Florida’s line, JRC may have some advantages over other competitors. Unlike the French SNCF, the Japanese company is offering a complete systems integration package in developing the line, including a proprietary train, the N700-I Shinkansen. SNCF has relied on Alstom to design and produce its high-speed trains — this separation would mean Florida would have to bid separately for trains and operations if it picked the French company for the latter. Unlike Amtrak, JRC is operationally profitable, meaning that problems elsewhere wouldn’t affect trains in the state; similarly, JRC’s reliability record is the gold standard, with average delays within seconds on major routes.

The N700-I trains JRC plans to offer to states like Florida are very similar to the N700 trainsets introduced in 2007 in cooperation with JR West that now make up about one-third of JRC’s high-speed fleet. The vehicles are the least energy consuming per seat-mile of all high-speed trains, likely including Alstom’s upcoming AGV, mostly because of their high capacities, which can reach up to 1,323 on a 16-car train. For the American market, JRC plans to offer trains that may include as few as six cars.

If used in the appropriate conditions, the N700 could be faster than its competitors because of its quick acceleration: it only takes the train 180 seconds to reach 170 mph on the way to a 205 mph top speed. Unlike Siemens’ Velaro or Alstom’s TGV, though, these Japanese trains cannot reach what has become the new standard: 220 mph.

JRC’s entry into the American market could result in a lobbying brawl to win the construction, operations, and train provisioning contracts once states like Florida have assembled adequate financing to implement their high-speed plans. It could also mean more jobs, as current federal law stipulates that vehicles bought with government aid be built in the U.S. Companies winning the right to supply the trains for American high-speed corridors will have to build them in the States — exactly the message an underemployed nation needs to hear right now.

32 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • The N700 tilts and has fast acceleration, which would make it an ideal candidate on the Northeast Corridor. It was designed for the Tokaido Shinkansen, which was built in the early 1960s for 200 km/h top speed and is essentially a legacy line by now. On greenfield HSR systems, I’m less sure the N700 is better than the Velaro or Zefiro.

    The Japanese models for very high speed are not the N700 and do not tilt. There’s Fastech 360, which is about to be used on the Tohoku Shinkansen but at a top speed of 320, and there’s the Kawasaki export model you blogged about on the Infrastructurist whose name I forget.

  • By the way, the 409,000 daily passenger figure is only for the Tokaido Shinkansen – the legacy network gets an extra 1,050,000. So JR Central has extensive experience with low-speed rail, based mainly on its Nagoya commuter rail network. It has a lot to teach American agencies on matters such as schedule coordination and feeder lines.

  • Steve

    They may be proposing to use their Japanese trainsets “off-the-shelf,” but I have serious doubts that they would be allowed to operate in the US. Our crash standards are FAR higher than those in Europe and Asia due to our larger & heavier freight trains – hence our enviously strong freight rail industry. I’d imagine that the FRA would require significant strengthening and redesign, altering the hp-per-ton and reducing the acceleration of these trainsets. I would hope the lessons from the introduction of the Acela are well heeded on the new systems!

  • dist

    Yes, japanese HS rolling stock is more capacitious than its western counterpart because they offer a 3+2 seats formation. They also are wider (except for the E3/E6 Series that have the capacity to run on the normal narrow gauge network) than an AGV or a TGV set (~3.3m vs 2.9m).

    This configuration is rather special and:
    1/ I’m pretty sure that such a wide train will not be able to fit on, let’s say, the French HSNetwork.
    2/ The question is then to know wether it’s possible for the N700 to run on the existing American network.
    3/ Which leads us to another design dependant question, will the HSNetwork allways segreagted from other traffic or will they have to share tracks.
    4/ Last but not the least, 3+2 seats configurations are not liked in Europe (and I’ll bet it’s the same for the US) and nobody has such made and marketed such a train for a HST. You will also have to compute comfort and body & seat width that are acceptable on the American market and see if it fit the N700 design. You may well end up with the same train and a smaller pay load. By the way, what’s the need to cram up 3+2 seats configuration when you are going to run 6 cars train consists?

    For me this question of passenger comfort will be very important because it’s will be the biggest and ultimate advantage of rail over cars and planes.

  • dist

    @Steve

    Crash standards in the US are a pain in the ass and not at all viable. If I remember correctly the figures, trains are deadlier in the US than in Europe or Japan.

    I hope the FRA will one day understand that heavier doesn’t mean less dangerous… in fact the important factor is not how you can survive a crash (and the idea of surviving a +300kph crash is a bit stupid) how not to crash.

    All the existing HSNetwork are very safe. The TGV, which as seen some HS crash, never had to account for a death. The Shinkansens never had to report any injuries.

    The ICE crash of Eschede was spectacular and awfull but even a heavy armored trains will not have change a thing… or maybe if you force people to wear a safety bellt while riding trains. But you have to be sure that the carriage won’t crumble and explode under the crash pressure.

  • dist

    erratum:

    I forget to correct my sentence, it should have been:
    “All the existing HSNetwork are very safe. The TGV, which as seen some HS derailments, never had to account for a death. The Shinkansens never had to report any injuries.”

  • Caltrain’s simulations comparing FRA-compliant and off-the-shelf trains look at collisions with US freight trains, not European ones. The off-the-shelf models still do better at all speeds higher than those of a bicycle.

    The US crash standards were instituted as an alternative to positive train control, which all lines hosting passenger trains in the US will have by 2015 anyway. But even on a PTC-less line, compliant trains are less safe.

  • Brandi

    I for one am giddy for the announcement on Thursday. I just want the money to start flowing. I don’t care who operates Florida’s line but they better allow for through routing and joint ticketing with Amtrak and airlines to make people utilize the service. On another note, these Japanese trains do look quite sexy with their duck bill fronts. Shake your tail feather!

  • Max Wyss

    @Steve: The philosophy behind the crashworthyness standards in the world and in the US differ fundamentally. The US creates “crashworthyness” by deadweight; the world creates crashworthyness by design.

    About six weeks ago, there was an accident in the Netherlands, where a Stadler GTW (that’s the vehicles several places in Texas ordered) had an unpleasant encounter with a truck (some pictures at http://www.kevinevers.nl/aanrijding81209.htm ). Yes, the GTW is seriously damaged, but there was no damage to staff or passengers.

    The question is, whether the high speed network will be isolated or not. Considering what is currently available in the US, it will end up as a totaly newbuild anyway, so the question of isolating appears less critical.

    One of the reasons why the TGV crashes ended up less serious than one could have expected can be found in the design of the TGV as an articulated train. This design reduces the tendendy to jackniving and turning over.

  • Jay

    I share Brandi’s sentiments, though I’m concerned about the price tag, as well as future funding. If the Congress changes hands, and a different political party becomes the majority, what happens when if it is decided that these “high speed trains” do not get the funding and investment they require ?

  • Mason Hicks

    Steve (@10:25,on Jan 25) refers to the FRA Crash survivability standards, and rightly so. This is a huge derailer (please excuse the pun) for high speed rail in this country. As long as trains are operating without fail-safe positive train control, with in-cabin signalling as is the standard for most European systems, we will be forced to require unreasonable crash-survivability standards, and we will continue to have this issue.
    I refer to my comment in response to Yonah’s earlier posting “Amtrak…the only current American high-speed rail operator” (if you would please forgive the many typos..) where I referred to the need for a nationwide format for high speed rail. This issue needs to be on USDOT’s, FRA’s, and FTR’s radar, and I have thus far seen no indication that it is. AMTRAK and US-HSR need to be leading this discussion. I believe that as long as we are even considering placing HSR in conventional ROW, and even private ROW in some cases, we will never have true HSR. I wasn’t able to attend US-HSR’s October event. I was in the process of moving to France at the time. I hope that crash survivability standards vs. ptc was a big issue there.
    Yonah, again; Great job! I see this conversation kind of went off topic, but it is imperative that this discussion occur.
    BTW: I’ve always thought that the N700 was a ridiculous looking contraption. the small passenger windows are not very inviting (airliner-like), and let’s not even talk about that nose. Also let’s please not mention Maglev, ever again.

  • JackRussell

    I guess the Florida thing baffles me. The two cities aren’t that far apart, and there isn’t much in either one that I would really want to go and see.

    Now if this is a southern anchor for what would eventually be HSR all the way up the East Coast, that would be another matter.

  • Mike

    Note that JRC did not exactly say that Orlando to Tampa is “the most promising for new service in the U.S.” At least not in the article that Yonah linked this quote to. What they actually said is that Orlando to Tampa is among the most promising markets for Shinkansen equipment. I take this to mean that as a relatively simple, inexpensive project, it can get funded and constructed — and start purchasing trainsets — quickly. This is different from saying that Orlando-Tampa HSR will attract a large number of riders, that it will turn an operational profit, or that it will support world-class service frequencies.

  • David Jaša

    Yes, japanese HS rolling stock is more capacitious than its western counterpart because they offer a 3+2 seats formation. They also are wider (except for the E3/E6 Series that have the capacity to run on the normal narrow gauge network) than an AGV or a TGV set (~3.3m vs 2.9m).

    Good point. They aren’t efficient because of smart design of trains. They’re efficient because of wide loading gauge, permitting carbody widths of 3400 mm.

    Last but not the least, 3+2 seats configurations are not liked in Europe (and I’ll bet it’s the same for the US) and nobody has such made and marketed such a train for a HST.

    3+2 seat configuration isn’t widely used in Europe because it’s not liked, but because the cars are too narow to accomodate 5 seats and corridor comfortably. Depending on bogie lenth and tilting capabilities, european high speed trains are roughly 2800-2950 mm wide – even narrower than Japanese 1067mm and mini-Shinkansen rolling stock. Note that Sapsan service in Russia that runs Velaro trainsets widened to 3250 mm also features 3+2 seating.

  • Jay, I think there is some bipartisan support for high speed rail actually. I mean the Republican Governors in California and Florida support it for example. I mean I do think there is likely going to be a lot less money if congress changes hands but I think that once the few systems that are funded by this first $10.5 Billion are up and running that other states that did not get a share of the first pie will want their own.

  • Schwarzenegger supports HSR on paper, but in practice he postponed 1A twice. It was supposed to be voted on in 2004, but Schwarzenegger postponed it to 2006 and then 2008. He also starved the authority of funds.

    However, John Mica and Ray LaHood are both legitimate HSR supports.

    By the way, the Velaro RUS trains have 2+2 seating, not 2+3. The Velaro CN trains have 2+3 seating.

  • DBX

    3+2 trains in Japan are quite wide. 3+2 in Europe is a totally different story; a normal sized human doesn’t fit in the seat. In the US, quite a number of commuter operators use 3+2. e.g. SEPTA, MARC on single deck equipment. But long distance is all 2+2. Our rail cars are more or less the same size as the Japanese ones which is to say quite a bit wider than European ones.

  • This is very exciting, truly the best thing we can do is get a true high speed train on the ground and have people taking it and talking about it, I don’t go below Washington DC because its too warm, but hell I might visit Florida just to take that train. When people in Florida start talking to their friends back in New England about how wonderful it is, pressure will start building, its only a matter of time.
    Bravo and may the best company win!

  • No love for CA? They could totally be playing up their prowess when it comes to seismic safety.

  • David Jaša

    DBX: thanks for correction, my info was outdated then. However, the Chinese and Russian Velaros are of the same carbody width of 3265 mm compared to 2950 of standard Velaro, so the point still stands. European 200m trainsets accomodate 400 seats in real world trainsets (and up to 550 in 2nd class only configuration), while CRH3 (chinese Velaro) accomodates 550 seats – the same as TGV Duplex trainset, while CRH2 (chinese E2 Shinkansen) has 600 seats and Japanese double-deck E4 trainset has 800 seats.

    Passenger cars in North America are 3000-3200 mm wide. Going for wider loading gauge to allow 3+2 seating seems to me as a low-hanging fruit in terms of energy efficiency and delaying need for double-deck trainsets while every corridor except NEC will have to be built brand-new anyway.

  • Andrew in Ezo

    3+2 seating is not a given- the interiors can be configured in any way the operator desires. Yes, the windows are small (but much bigger than airline windows) on the N700, but I didn’t notice the difference much when actually sitting inside, like I did three weeks ago on a Nozomi service between Shin-Osaka and Tokyo. Anyway, these trains are for getting people for point A to point B, fast. If you want big windows, take the Coast Starlight and sit in the lounge car. As for the nose, I don’t understand all the fuss (same thing Euros have about sliding doors vs. their plug doors)- the nose is designed to reduce boom in narrow Japan-spec tunnels. The nose can be restyled (“prettified”) for N.A. conditions.

  • The 10-car, 2+2 Velaro RUS has 600 seats, and has a bistro. At full size, it would have a little under a thousand.

    A full-length single-deck TGV train has 750 seats, but that comes from the locomotive-trailer configuration; newer trains, including the AGV, use multiple units and have seating in all cars.

  • Max Wyss

    @Mason Hicks:

    > BTW: I’ve always thought that the N700 was a
    > ridiculous looking contraption. the small
    > passenger windows are not very inviting
    > (airliner-like), and let’s not even talk
    > about that nose.

    Actually, that nose is among the best you can get when it comes to aerodynamics and aerodynamic noise. As the Japanese high speed lines cross quite a few high-density (for US standards anyway) residential areas, the noise emission regulations are quite strict. And at speeds above 200 km/h, aerodynamic noise is the biggest component of the total noise.

    The windows look small, but they look to me having a similar height as the Amfleet cars (I will stand corrected if I happen to be wrong on this).

    @Alon Levi: the N700 does not tilt. It may have an active suspension which can compensate the leaning outwards in curves, keeping the vehicle within the loading gauge.

  • Mason Hicks

    @Max Wyss)I was merely making a personal opinion comment on the trainset’s asthetic. I didn’t intend for it to be considered an analysis. Having said that I will point out a weakness that I see in that like the German ICE, none of Japan’s HSR trainsets are of articulated construction. Dist referred to the ICE crash of Eschede. I think it was 1998? I have heard it suggested that had that been an articulated TGV, and not an un-articulated ICE, we might not have even seen the event on the news. The TGV has had several complete derailments, one at near full operating speed, with few or no injuries. The Eschede disaster was at the very least, made significantly worse due to the fact that the train was conventionally coupled, and it experienced mutiple, near-instantanious jackknifes. Had it been of articulated architecture, it probably would’ve done a much better job of staying in line. Of course, I believe the Eschede train hit a bridge pier, and an at-speed impact with concrete is not a small deal, but it did so after the first car decoupled from the lead locomotive; still possible with current TGV sets but not with the soon-to-be operational AGV. I would like to see US HSR standards incourage, if not mandate the use of articulated train architecture.

  • The N700 does tilt – about 1-2 degrees, but it’s still a tilt.

  • Max Wyss

    @Mason Hicks: I agree that the N700’s aesthetics are something to get used to (but that happens all over the place).

    One of the main reasons why the Japanese high speed trains as well as the Velaro-types are not articulated is because they have distributed drives. In fact, there are not many types of vehicles coming to my mind where a driving truck is located under an articulation (and the ones coming to my mind are light rail vehicles as of today’s understanding). The AGV is therefore a very new development.

    Another reason why articulation is not the first choice is the axle load, which in France is limited to 17 t. This is also a reason why the elements in a TGV are rather short. At the time of the ICE 1, all the “add-on stuff” requested by the DB got the cars to be too heavy. The next reason for individual cars is the possibility to change the consist in a train set. The ICE 1 can be found between 10 and 14 cars long, depending on the service they are used (and the availability of cars). The ICEs are, however, not conventionally coupled, and can be separated only in the workshops.

    The axleload issue may probably be the reason to kill articulated high-speed trains in the US, unless there will be a considerable rethinking of the regulations; the train may simply get too obese.

    What made Eschede to the real disaster was that the car which derailed hit the pillar of a bridge which made the bridge collapse, and fall onto the moving train. The cars ahead of the one which derailed remained completely unharmed. Also note that this did NOT happen on a high speed line, but a conventional line.

    I don’t have access to the reports about the disaster right now, but if I remember correctly, the wheel broke about 2 km before the truck got deviated on a switch of an interchange between the tracks and derailed the car. And then, that pillar of the bridge was about 200 m or so later. The lead power unit got torn off the trainset after the impact with the pillar.

    That means that the train has been stable on regular track, and it was an irregularity which caused the disaster.

    The cause of the derailment could as well happen with an articulated trainset, and it could not be excluded that an articulation could have gotten far enough outside of the loading gauge to hit the pillar of the bridge.

    About US standards for high speed trains, I really hope that they do follow existing standards (be it Japanese, be it French, be it German), instead of inventing their own ones; this can save a considerable amount of money, and would give some assurance that the system works (although surprises are always possible, see the breakdowns of the Eurostar TGVs this winter).

  • Appears that California is getting about $2.5 Billion, Florida about $1 Billion, Illinois, $1.2 Billion, and Ohio, North Carolina, Washington are going to get about $.5 Billion each. Guess they let the news out early. I loved Obama’s quote about high speed rail in the SOTU.

  • J

    I dont give a damn who runs the train as long as I can purchase my tickets at amtrak.com. It would be madness if every HSR line required knowing the operating company, and if going from Miami to Tampa required going through two different agencies.

  • Tran Duc Anh Vu

    This does not make sense, because trains are all on air cushion now and are much faster than conventional trains. The U.S. should buy the German Maglev.

  • Jake Jacobson

    GO JAPAN! I’ve never gone wrong riding Japanese trains best in the world if you ask me! If we are going to to this we need to do it right. JR all the way.

  • IBRAHIM ALY

    THE MEGLEVEL TECHNOLOGY IT GREAT BUT IT IS VERY EXPENSIVE AT THIS ERA THAT WHY GERMANY STOP CONSTRACTION FOR NEW MEGLEVEL TRAIN LINE HOWEVER IF WE CHANG THE TECHNOLOGY APLICATION THE FUTURE WILL BE PROMISSABLE

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