Skip to main content

Japan wants to sell its super-fast levitating trains to the US

Japan wants to sell its super-fast levitating trains to the US

Share this story

If you buy something from a Verge link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.


Former US politicians have visited Japan for a ride on a train that uses magnetic levitation to travel at 315 mph. As cities around the world consider the introduction of maglev trains, the Japanese government hopes the American group's experience of the journey — a test ahead of Japan's planned introduction of a new high-speed maglev train line between the cities of Tokyo, Nagoya, and Osaka — will encourage American companies to invest in the expensive technology for deployment in their own nation.

The Americans on the train were on the advisory board of The Northeast Maglev, a company that is aiming to build a US line linking Washington DC to New York via maglev train. The New York Times reports the journey time between the cities would be reduced from three hours — via the US' current fastest train, Amtrak's Acela — to one hour on the new maglev line. Motherboard reports that the journey time between Washington DC and Baltimore would be a scant 15 minutes.

The journey between New York and Washington DC would be reduced from three hours to one

Construction is due to begin on the Japanese maglev line next year. It will stretch from Tokyo in the east to Nagoya in the center of the country by 2027, and on to Osaka in the Kansai region by 2045. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has become a champion for the planned train line, saying "it truly is a dream technology" in a speech at the New York stock exchange in September. But as Abe talked maglev up abroad, back home in Japan he has faced criticism for the cost of the project as its budget spiraled to an estimated $112 billion. The cost is particularly prohibitive for an economy and population still in decline: the New York Times notes the number of Japanese citizens is set to decrease from 127 million to around 105 million by the time the line is extended to Osaka, meaning the maglev might not have the passengers to make its construction worthwhile.

The Japanese government has offered to help pay for about 40 miles of the US route

But if Abe's government can sell magnetic levitation to the US, it might well justify the expense. Abe showed his commitment to promoting maglev technology in a meeting with President Obama in which he offered to sweeten the deal for the Washington to New York train by putting several billion dollars of taxpayer money on the line. The New York Times reports Abe offered to provide the maglev guideway and propulsion system for the first 40 miles of the route, between Baltimore and Washington, free of charge.

That investment would certainly bring the creation of an American maglev closer to fruition. A train between New York and Washington DC may well be quicker and easier than flying the route, but The Economist reports that the $50 million raised so far in private capital by The Northeast Maglev group "would not even get the maglev out of downtown DC."