The 9 “E’s” of Japan’s High-Speed Rail

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Written by By Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador of Japan to the U.S.

Living here in the U.S., I have always thought that Americans have everything good. Beautiful landscapes, rich natural resources, innovative people—truly impressive.

If you allow me to be a little undiplomatic, one place where the U.S. may not be at its best is the railway. High-speed railways are what you may be lacking.

Therefore, it was encouraging to hear President Obama in his State of the Union setting the ambitious goal of giving 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail within 25 years. In Japan, where the first high–speed rail was born, an approximately 1,500 miles long high-speed rail network is in operation, carrying more than 300 million people—almost three times the total population—every year. Ever since its inauguration in 1964, it has made a tremendous contribution to connecting people, products, work and life in Japan.

I am going to explain how Japan’s high-speed rail can help the U.S. to leap to the newest and most tested of technologies. “The 9 “E’s”” is how I personally phrase it. Might I also add that “E” means “Good” in Japanese.

The 1st “E” is “Experience in Safety.” Japan’s high-speed rail, or Shinkansen, has a perfect track record of safety. For 46 years since it started service in 1964, there have been no passenger fatalities. It is the safest mode of transportation in the world. We can guarantee this “Experience in safety” to the U.S.

The 2nd is “Exactness.” The average delay time, even including periods of natural disasters like typhoons and earthquakes, is less than 30 seconds per year. This means almost all trains always run on time. The Shinkansen is the most reliable mode of transportation in the world. The U.S. people deserve and can count on this “Exactness.”

The 3rd point I would like to emphasize is “Economic Efficiency.” The trains are lighter than other country’s models. Because it is lighter, it has less rail friction, and it uses less energy. Thus, not only do the Shinkansen trains require less maintenance costs but also are more energy efficient.

The Shinkansen’s energy efficiency leads to my 4th point, “Environmental Friendliness.” Less energy use means that it leaves a smaller carbon footprint. Compared to automobiles that run on highways, the Shinkansen produces only 13% of CO2 emissions per passenger. Relative to airplanes, it emits just one-fifth of the carbon. Shifting passengers from highways and skyways to high-speed railways will bear much more “green” fruit.

The 5th feature is its “Evolving Technology.” When the Shinkansen began in 1964, its operational speed was 130 mph. It is now approaching 200 mph, while maintaining a perfect safety record, meeting more strict environmental standards, and upgrading riding comfort levels. In this sense, Shinkansen’s technology hasn’t stayed the same—it has evolved over the years.

One of the evolved technology aspects that can be applicable here in the U.S., especially in California, is its “Earthquake-proof” design, my 6th point. Japan is an earthquake-prone country. Our bullet trains must be earthquake-proof for their safe operation. The Shinkansen is protected by a technology in which, as soon as the train senses an initial seismic wave, the emergency brake kicks in before a more powerful second seismic wave reaches it, bringing the train to a safe stop. I believe that only Japan can offer this level of safety.

The 7th “E” is “Employment Creation.” The construction of infrastructure makes up 70 to 80% of the total investment in a high-speed rail project. This will be handled by U.S. based companies using U.S. labor and materials. Core system procurement accounts for 20 to 30 % of the project costs. This includes the procurement of signals, a control center, power supply facilities and rolling stocks. Japanese rolling stock and train system manufacturers already have factories in this country. As much as possible, this part will be maximized in the U.S.

When high-speed trains start operation, stable quality employment will be created which will go to the local community. This brings us to the 8th point, the “Enhancement of the Local Economy.” High-speed rail has bigger ramifications than rail service itself. High-speed trains attract more passengers and businesses. Where people gather, business opportunities emerge. Stations could be commercially developed like malls. Residential development also could be pursued. Improved access to the high-speed rail services will further attract people and businesses, affording more opportunities for development. This development will contribute to the enhancement of the local economy.

Lastly, 9th is an “Effective Financial Scheme.” The Japanese Government has already prepared an effective financial scheme that can provide long term credits to high-speed rail projects in the U.S. The Japan Bank for International Cooperation, a public corporation wholly owned by the Japanese Government, will lend support to high-speed rail projects in the U.S.

I call these features the Nine “E’s” of the Japanese High-Speed Railway. I believe that Japan’s high-speed railway has much to offer the U.S. It not only has much to contribute to the U.S. economy, job opportunities, and the environment, but also it could make for a long-lasting symbol of friendship between the two most important allies in the world.