Chuo Shinkansen will be ‘a national project’

first_imgAs JR Central prepares for a stock market listing in October, President Yoshiyuki Kasai tells Murray Hughes that the Chuo Shinkansen superconducting maglev line will only be built as a strategic national project,WHEN THE Great Hanshin earthquake struck the Kobe region of Japan on January 17 1995, services on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen were badly disrupted. While JR Central’s Tokaido Shinkansen did not suffer serious damage to its structures, services were affected because of the disruption to through operation on the Sanyo Shinkansen. One result was serious disruption to the government’s plans to list both JR West and JR Central on the Tokyo stock market. While JR West has now passed that milestone (p307), JR Central is the last of the three JR companies on Honshu to remain state-owned.When I asked JR Central President Yoshiyuki Kasai how far preparations had progressed towards privatisation, it was clear that a firm timetable has been set: ‘We believe that we shall be listed in October’, he said. ‘We have top priority among all the government corporations to be moved into the private sector.’ Kasai felt ‘that the stock market in Tokyo will not improve, but I understand that listing will take place as scheduled.’Kasai had no regrets about being third in the queue of the mainland JR companies. ‘It is very fortunate that the others were ahead of us – they have experienced big fluctuations in the stock market, and we are lucky we don’t have that problem.’Kasai said that listing would not produce great advantages to his company: ‘any profit that we could make would all be used to pay off the debts of the former national railway through JNR Settlement Corp.’ But he felt that there would be some positive benefits: ‘we can prove to the general public that JR Central is sound and healthy in terms of its management foundations, that we are sound enough to be listed. Generally speaking, there will be a financial improvement, but JR Central is so well known that it will be hard to improve our reputation.’Maglev plansWhile preparations move ahead for the transfer to the private sector, Kasai has under his control what is arguably Japan’s most ambitious infrastructure project – the superconducting maglev line that he believes will one day form the Chuo Shinkansen over the inland route between Tokyo and Osaka.Kasai expects to receive confirmation that magnetic levitation is technically feasible as a passenger-carrying mode in 1999. Assuming that the engineers at the Yamanashi test site (p299) agree, I asked Kasai what the likely cost of the Chuo Shinkansen would be if it were built as a maglev line, and how that would compare with the price of a conventional steel-wheel steel-rail shinkansen.’The construction cost of the experimental maglev line is a kind of development cost’, said Kasai. ‘It is slightly higher than the cost of building an experimental steel-wheel shinkansen line, but we expect that the price of building a line for commercial operation will fall as development progresses. There are significant benefits in operating at the speed of 500 km/h, and in terms of maintenance we believe that maglev has advantages because of its non-contact nature. The steel-wheel steel-rail railway has reached a state of near perfection, so I do not think that a major breakthrough is possible.’Kasai said that ‘with the Nozomi and Series 500 we can of course make improvements in peripheral technologies, but a real breakthrough can only come through novel technology. So we believe it is important to use our resources to allow the budding of new technologies which will grow, flower and bear fruit in the 21st century.’Kasai believes that the Chuo Shinkansen is ‘strategically important – if we rely solely on the Tokaido Shinkansen, which is an essential tool of the Japanese economy, it remains highly vulnerable, as proved by the Great Hanshin earthquake.’Pointing out that ‘the Tokaido Shinkansen cost about ´400bn to build’ (at the time of construction), and that ‘revenue has covered costs from the earliest days’, Kasai describes the line as ‘unprecedentedly profitable’, but warns that ‘all the benefits and profit we can enjoy are used up repaying JNR’s debt’ – currently ´5500bn.Kasai suggests that JR Central’s managerial freedom in constructing the Chuo Shinkansen will be minimal. Warning that completion of the route ‘would not generate a dramatic rise in the number of passengers for JR Central’, he says ‘supply capacity will increase, so there will be little internal benefit – the Chuo Shinkansen cannot be a profit centre for JR Central.’ This is why he believes the line ‘should be constructed based on national economic perspectives as a national project.’Kasai says that ‘half the passengers now using the Tokaido Shinkansen will transfer to the Chuo Shinkansen, and they will represent two-thirds of all the Chuo Shinkansen traffic.’ He feels it is vital that ‘both corridors need to be managed together in such a way that both are in black figures.’So there is no question of making construction of the Chuo Shinkansen a commercial proposition in strict profit terms? ‘That’s right’, said Kasai. ‘When we look at the world’s infrastructure – airports, ports, highways – there are no profitable infrastructure investments so far apart from the Tokaido Shinkansen. They are all national projects.’If the Chuo project was being treated as one of national importance, had a target date been set for the line to be built? ‘No’, came the reply, ‘construction would depend on future economic growth, budget constraints and the decision-making capability of a future government. Although the project is important for national economic security, my understanding is that we are not in a very favourable state at the moment.’Kasai cited the history of the Tokaido Shinkansen. It was approved by the Diet in 1939, and construction work continued until 1942 before the war caused it to be abandoned. ‘Work resumed in 1959, and because so much was done pre-war, the line took less than five years to complete. A major project may take 10 to 20 years to plan, another 10 to build, and 20 to 30 more years may be needed to recover the cost. So we have to have a long-term perspective for railway projects – and I cannot give you a precise answer.’I asked Kasai when the remaining 25 km of the experimental Yamanashi test guideway would be completed. He believed that ‘confirmation of the practicality of using maglev for regular operation can be obtained on the 18·4 km priority section, but the remaining 25 km is necessary for long-term endurance tests, and a decision to build it will be made after considering the results of the experiments on the priority section.’ CAPTION: The 18·4 km priority section of the 42·8 km experimental maglev line in Yamanashi prefecture has been completed. Kasai says that the remaining 25 km will be needed for long-term endurance tests, and a decision to build it ‘will be made in consideration of the results of the experiments on the priority section’CAPTION: JR Central President Yoshiyuki Kasai with Railway Gazette International Editor Murray Hughes after a test ride on the Series 300XCAPTION: Experience gained with JR Central’s record-holding 300X experimental train will be translated into the design of the future Series 700 units. A Series 100 set passes the test train at MaibaraChuo Shinkansen sera un ‘projet national’Alors que JR Central se prépare à être coté en bourse en octobre, le Président, Yoshiyuki Kasai, explique à Murray Hughes que la ligne supraconductrice à sustentation magnétique Chuo Shinkansen sera construite un jour comme un projet stratégique national, apportant avec elle la sécurité économique d’une artère de transport autre que le Tokaido Shinkansen entre Tokyo et Osaka. Kasai pense que tous les essais nécessaires pour confirmer la faisabilité technique du projet peuvent être effectués sur le tronçon prioritaire de 18·4 km de la voie expérimentale dans la préfecture de YamanashiChuo Shinkansen wird ein ‘staatliches Projekt’ seinNun, da JR Central die Zulassung an der B?€?rse im Oktober vorbereitet, teilt Präsident Yoshiyuki Kasai Murray Hughes mit, daß die Chuo Shinkansen als Magnetbahn eines Tages als ein strategisches staatliches Projekt gebaut wird, das zur Tokaido Shinkansen die wirtschaftliche Sicherheit einer alternativen Verkehrsader zwischen Tokio und Osaka gewährleisten soll. Kasai ist der Ansicht, daß alle notwendigen Tests zur Erstellung der technischen Machbarkeit auf dem bereits fertiggestellten 18·4 km langen Abschnitt der Versuchsstrecke in der Yamanashi-Präfektur durchgeführt werden k?€?nnenChuo Shinkansen ser? un ‘proyecto nacional’JR Central se prepara para su salida a la bolsa en Octubre. Su presidente Yoshiyuki Kasai conversa con Murray Hughes sobre la línea de superconducción por levitación magnética Chuo Shinkansen, la cual ser? construida como proyecto nacional estratégico, suministrando la seguridad económica que proporciona gozar de una segunda arteria de transporte alternativa al Tokaido Shinkansen entre Tokyo y Osaka. Kasai cree que todas las pruebas necesarias para confirmer la viabilidad técnica del proyecto se podr? n realizar en la sección prioritaria de 18·4 km ya completada de la vía experimental en la prefactura de Yamanashilast_img

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