JR East Remains Interested In Building California HSR
One of the less noticed parts of the infamous LA Times article about the SNCF suggestion to bypass the population centers of the Central Valley was this short tidbit that JR Central, one of the operators of the Shinkansen bullet trains in Japan, had also dropped out of the bidding to build and/or operate high speed rail in California:
Under the authority’s management, cost and ridership estimates have fluctuated wildly. The project’s ability to lure private investors remains uncertain, the route through the eastern Central Valley has ignited a legal war with the agricultural industry and some experienced operators, such as the Central Japan Railway Co., have lost interest in the project.
The Japanese firm, which runs the famous Shinkansen bullet train, turned its attention elsewhere when the authority decided to save money by sharing track in major urban areas with freight and passenger trains.
We’ve already looked at the flaws in the SNCF proposal and used that to push back against the LA Times’ argument that the rejection of SNCF’s proposal was a sign of problems with the HSR project. We can also do the same to this claim about Japanese interest in California HSR.
JR Central, cited above, is only one of the six operators of the Shinkansen trains. In 1987 the Japanese government privatized Japan Railways, creating six regional companies to operate trains (including the Shinkansen). JR Central may not be interested, given that urban track sharing is not part of their operating philosophy. But neighboring JR East, whose services include the Tokyo area, are still very interested in California high speed rail:
A consortium that includes East Japan Railway Co. will emphasize the excellent safety record and reliability of the shinkansen network as it seeks to take part in California’s planned high-speed rail system, JR East Chairman Satoshi Seino said.
Seino made the remark Wednesday in Philadelphia on the sidelines of a world congress on high-speed railways after California’s state assembly approved initial construction costs for the rail system.
“Japan stands a good chance of winning the order by emphasizing the Japanese shinkansen network’s early recovery from the (March 2011) Great East Japan Earthquake, its on-time services and low accident rates,” Seino said.
Those remarks, coming last Wednesday, are further evidence that many HSR experts and builders see the California system as quite viable and sensible, despite what the LA Times’ Ralph Vartabedian thinks.
Seino also suggested that we shouldn’t be counting out SNCF just yet:
Seino also called for stronger support from the Japanese government to better compete with France and other rivals.
My guess is that SNCF is still going to be a very interested party in building California high speed rail, along with Spain’s RENFE as well as other potential builders and/or operators. With the state legislature showing continued political support for the project, that will help encourage private investors and other countries to have confidence that the project will indeed happen, in turn getting them to increase their level of interest and commitment to participating in it.