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U.S. should avoid rail standards that limit Japan

(Bloomberg News circulated the following story by John Hughes and Angela Greiling Keane on April 30, 2010.)

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. should avoid adopting standards for high-speed rail safety that would bar Japanese companies from competing for American projects, Japan’s Transport Minister Seiji Maehara said yesterday.

The U.S. needs to be flexible because European crashworthiness requirements for high-speed trains are different from those in Japan, Maehara told reporters in Washington after meeting lawmakers and regulators.

Maehara, speaking through an interpreter, said he was told by U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar that U.S.-adopted standards “will be fair to many competitors.”

Central Japan Railway Co., which owns Japan’s largest maker of bullet trains, and Hitachi Ltd. are among Japanese companies that are considering export sales, including to the U.S., where the Transportation Department has distributed $8 billion among 31 states to develop U.S. high-speed rail.

Most of the money will go to develop or lay the groundwork for 13 high-speed rail corridors across the country.

Maehara said that in addition to Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat, he met Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Corrine Brown of Florida.

Florida received $1.3 billion to help build high-speed passenger-train service while California got $2.3 billion. The two states were the biggest winners in the federal rail subsidies sharing rail grants from the U.S. economic stimulus package.

Japan plans to back one bidder per project in the U.S. to help trainmakers compete with European, South Korean and Chinese companies that are less hindered by domestic competition.

Japan State Backing

JR Central will receive state backing for a bid to build high-speed rail in Florida and for a magnetic-levitation line in Baltimore. East Japan Railway Co. will get assistance for high- speed rail tenders in Chicago and California, Maehara announced on April 27 before he traveled to Washington.

Amtrak’s Acela trains, made by Alstom SA and Bombardier Inc., operate between Washington and Boston at a top speed of 150 miles per hour and an average of about 83 miles per hour (134 kph), including time spent at stops and slowing for curves. That compares with Central Japan Railway Co.’s Shinkansen “bullet trains,” which travel at 168 mph, and Societe Nationale des Chemins de Fer Francais, the French state railroad company, which can run TGV trains at 200 mph.

LaHood had a “productive” meeting with Maehara, according to a statement from the agency. The talks covered U.S. high- speed rail, Toyota Motor Corp. recalls and LaHood’s pending visit to Japan, according to the statement.

LaHood, Toyota

Maehara said LaHood told him the U.S. is not singling out Toyota in enforcing safety standards and the recalls “should not hurt the wonderful relationship between the two countries.”

Both nations should share auto-safety information and recall information, the minister said.

Maehara this week said Toyota, which has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for defects that may cause unintended acceleration, didn’t hide faults that led to the recalls.

“I don’t believe they covered up the details,” he told reporters April 27 in Tokyo. “I want Toyota to fulfill its responsibilities in the U.S.”

Friday, April 30, 2010

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