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Robert Trigaux

Tampa-Orlando high speed rail: Bullet train competitors already hit fast track



BulletrainShinkansenJapanaAP Wake up and good morning. While Florida's still figuring out how to pay for the high-speed Tampa-Orlando rail line that the Obama administration just supported with a $1.25 billion down payment, foreign high-speed rail companies are targeting Florida as a huge potential client.

For starters, Japan's Central Japan Railway Co. says it will join rivals in competing to develop the high-speed railway line in Florida. The former state-owned firm -- possibly in partnership with General Electric -- is looking to expand sales of super-fast train systems overseas and a railway line connecting Tampa, Orlando and, ultimately, Miami is one of the most promising targets for its platypus-billed "Shinkansen" bullet trains (AP photo) (more details here from the company) because the route would be exclusively used by high-speed trains. That means it would not depend on running on existing tracks used by slower trains.

A Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail link would result in a 45-minute train ride (I do not think that includes the time of interim stops, like Lakeland, if any). The entire project would cost $3.5 billion to finance. A decision on the successful bidder is set to be decided later this year.

YoshiyukiKasaicentraljapanrailwaybullettraingroupAP Here's Yoshiyuki Kasai (photo, right), chairman of the consulting firm JR Tokai representing Japan's bullet train, speaking at a news conference in a Reuters story:

"I expect competition for the contract to be fierce in Florida. We will be the last to join the bidding, but I believe our Japanese system will be the most suitable for the line."

Here's a tidbit I have not seen elsewhere. Kasai, quoted in the Wall Street Journal, says they "the (high speed rail) cars in America and operate a factory in Florida." (We'll supply more details as they emerge on this angle.)

Kasai did not say which other firms were competing for deal, although JR Tokai's global rivals include Canada's Bombardier, Germany's Siemens and France's Alstom. In the United States, General Electric and Lockheed Martin Corp. are also pursuing contracts.

In a Wall Street Journal article, Kasai (who got his master's degree in economics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1969) is already taking swipes at global competitors, notably French firms looking to export their own high-speed railway systems. Stated Kasai:

"In France, if a train is five minutes late, then it's just on time. In Japan, if it's one minute late then it's late. In 45 years of operation, we have had 4.5 billion passengers and zero casualties as a result of a train accident."

U.S.-Japan High-Speed Rail, the consulting firm working for JR Tokai, also said that lines between Las Vegas and Los Angeles could be candidates for the company's products. Here's the complete Reuters story.

-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist

[Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 11:27am]


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