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High-speed trains in U.S. may not be too far off

| Wednesday, May 12, 2010

TOKYO -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood rode a 312-mph, magnetic-levitation train here Tuesday -- stoking optimism that Japan may be able to sell the technology overseas.

"We are right at the beginning of an opportunity for American cities to be connected by high-speed trains," LaHood said after his 27-minute ride at a test track in Yamanashi, west of Tokyo. "I'm delighted with this opportunity to really experience all the technology."

Maglev trains float above the tracks and are propelled by magnetic currents.

LaHood visited the Central Japan Railway line as renewed U.S. spending on railways revives optimism about maglev projects, including a possible link between Washington and Baltimore.

The proposed line, costing about $5.8 billion, would cut the 40-mile journey to 18 minutes and could be extended to New York and Boston, according to a Maryland Department of Transport-backed group promoting the project.

Japan has pledged to support JR Central's bid to build the Washington-Baltimore line, possibly including loans from a state-owned bank.

President Obama has approved $8 billion in federal funds for conventional and high-speed projects across the country.

Japan's backing for maglev sales is part of wider U.S. efforts to help trainmakers compete with Germany's Siemens AG, France's Alstom SA, Bombardier of Canada and China South Locomotive & Rolling Stock Corp. in the United States.

LaHood said the United States would look at opportunities for maglev trains. He declined to comment on government backing for the Washington-Baltimore line.

"The only thing we ask of manufacturers -- whether it's maglev or other technologies - is to build factories in America and hire American workers," he said.

The Baltimore-Washington line has been studied since 1994, according to the Federal Railroad Administration website. The line was expected to begin as early as this year, according to a timeline on the website.

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