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Maglev: It's baaaaack

| Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Whatever the Japanese term for “boondoggle” is, it fits the latest attempt to bring to America magnetic levitation trains, which still make no financial or practical sense — even with, as The New York Times reports, Japan's government offering “to cover several billion dollars in costs.”

That offer — as bad a deal for Japanese taxpayers as maglev always has been for U.S. taxpayers — is an indication of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's desperation to boost Japan's economy and high-tech standing. He's pitching a new maglev system that's reached a record 350 mph in tests but faces deep, familiar-sounding skepticism at home about cost and demand.

The Northeast Maglev, a Washington, D.C., company, wants to combine Mr. Abe's offer with public — U.S. taxpayers, beware! — and private funding for such a New York City-Washington maglev line. Its advisory board fittingly includes “Fast Eddie” — former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell.

Abe has offered a free guideway and propulsion system between Washington and Baltimore — about 40 miles, too little distance for record speed to mean anything. And if the rest of the line isn't built — a likely scenario — that 40-mile stretch would be merely a curiosity.

There's a reason why Northeast Corridor high-speed train proposals, maglev or otherwise, have gone nowhere since Amtrak's 150-mph Acela debuted in 2000: They fail commonsense cost-benefit tests — even with a multibillion-dollar “sweetener” from Japan.

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