A Japan-led maglev train project on the U.S. east coast has yet to make progress even 10 years after the countries' leaders discussed the topic, amid mounting challenges such as construction costs and regulatory clearance.

Central Japan Railway Co., a leading developer of the superconducting maglev, promoted its readiness to help build a transportation system that would connect Washington and New York in one hour, one-third of the current travel time for Amtrak's Acela express train, during an event last month in Manhattan.

Koei Tsuge, chairman of JR Central, told the audience that upon completion of the so-called Northeast Corridor project also including stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore, "a super mega region will be formed, which will definitely have a large economic effect and a positive impact on people's lives."

Central Japan Railway Co. Chairman Koei Tsuge speaks during an event promoting the company's maglev train system technology in New York on Feb. 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

JR Central operates conventional bullet trains in a wide area of Japan's Pacific coast covering Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, and is building the country's first maglev line between Tokyo and Nagoya, where the company is based.

The region to be connected by the Northeast Corridor project has some 17 percent of the U.S. population and its combined annual gross regional product is approximately 525 trillion yen ($3.9 trillion), according to JR Central, which is almost the annual real gross domestic product of Japan.

In 2013, then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and then President Barack Obama discussed the feasibility of a maglev project in the United States during their talks. Caroline Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Japan at the time, boarded a test-run train at a facility west of Tokyo the following year.

Abe also pitched the project to Obama's successor, Donald Trump, during their talks in 2017.

Tsuge said JR Central has offered to provide its superconducting maglev technology, which enables trains to run at a speed of 500 kilometers per hour, free of charge.

Wayne Rogers, CEO of Northeast Maglev LLC, a U.S. proponent of the project, told the New York event that the addition of new high-speed train system servicing the region "can help Amtrak reduce bottleneck overcapacity." The embattled Amtrak would then be able to direct its resources to improving aging tracks and facilities.

Many questions remain unanswered, however, such as how to finance the construction costs and whether the Japanese maglev vehicles will be able to clear U.S. safety regulations.

A JR Central official admitted the project seems like a "pipe dream" unless there is remarkable progress.

According to those involved in the project, the initial investment in the building of tracks, stations and other facilities alone is estimated at up to $15 billion, with the total construction cost including train manufacturing certain to be far higher.

About 70 percent of the line will be in underground tunnels and Northeast Maglev aims to open the first section, a 65-kilometer span between Washington and Baltimore, by 2035.

Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a member of the advisory board of Northeast Maglev, described the project as "real" and "practical."

Former New York Gov. George Pataki speaks during a promotional event for Japan's maglev train technology in New York on Feb. 22, 2023. (Kyodo)

A financier said, however, "Private companies in the United States tend to view passenger rail in the U.S. as unprofitable so it will not be easy to attract investors."

In addition, the test cars used on JR Central's Yamanashi Maglev Line, a test-run site in Japan's Yamanashi Prefecture, do not meet safety standards imposed by U.S. regulatory agencies. Any effort to introduce the technology for a train line in the United States would require deregulation.

The Japanese government has budgeted a total of 1.4 billion yen for research on the Northeast Corridor maglev project's feasibility. The U.S. process of compiling an Environmental Impact Statement for the project began in August 2016.

While estimating a construction period of up to 10 years for the section of the line between Washington and Baltimore, Northeast Maglev said the future time frame is less predictable.

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