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JR Central may build maglev tunnel without Shizuoka Pref. gov't approval

A prototype magnetically levitated train is seen in this file photo taken in Tsuru, Yamanashi Prefecture, on April 21, 2015. (Mainichi)
The Oi River system is seen near its headstream in Aoi Ward in the city of Shizuoka on Aug. 2, 2018. (Mainichi)

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Central) is considering going ahead with the construction of the Shizuoka Prefecture section of a tunnel for the high-speed magnetically levitated (maglev) train without signing an agreement with the prefectural government, a company executive said.

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu, who is demanding that JR Central sign an accord to take measures to prevent the tunnel work from decreasing the amount of water in the Oi River, is in sharp conflict with the railway operator.

However, the company fears that if the start of the construction of the Shizuoka section of the South Alps Tunnel is further delayed, it could adversely affect its plan to begin operations of the maglev line between Tokyo's Shinagawa and Nagoya in central Japan in 2027.

"We can't hold talks as long as the governor sticks to his position that all water (that could build up in the tunnel) must flow back (into the river). We'd like to explore the possibility of going ahead with the work without signing an accord," a high-ranking official of JR Central told the Mainichi Shimbun.

An 8.9-kilometer section situated in the middle of the about 25-kilometer South Alps Tunnel will be built in the city of Shizuoka and just beneath the upper reaches of the Oi River.

JR Central estimates that the volume of water flowing in the Oi River will decrease by up to 2 metric tons per second because of the excavation work to build the tunnel, and plans to return an amount of underground water equal to the actual decline back to the river using pumps and conduits.

However, the Shizuoka Prefectural Government, which is affected by a shortage of water in the Oi River almost every year, is demanding that all the underground water in the tunnel flow into the river.

On the other hand, JR Central is sticking to its position that it cannot return all the underground water into the river because the volume of water inside the tunnel will be more than the decrease in the river flow.

During consultations with the prefectural government, the railway operator offered a compromise plan to flow a larger amount of underground water into the river than the amount of decreases during periods of low water levels. However, the prefectural government rejected the proposal.

In August, the Shizuoka Prefectural Government set up a panel of experts to estimate the amount of river flow that would decrease as a result of the construction of the tunnel.

The governor has not signed an agreement on water decrease countermeasures with JR Central on the grounds that he will make a final decision based on the results of studies being conducted by the panel.

JR Central has already signed a contract for the tunnel work. Since an accord between the railway operator and the local body is not based on law, the company can technically go ahead with the construction work without an agreement with the prefectural government.

However, Shin Kaneko, president of JR Central, told a regular news conference on Aug. 30, "We'd like to make efforts to win understanding from those who have the right to use water from the river."

Superconductive maglev trains will travel at a maximum speed of 500 kilometers per hour and connect Tokyo with Osaka in about an hour. The construction work for the Shinagawa-Nagoya section of the maglev train line began in 2014 and services on this section are expected to start in 2027. The line will be extended to Osaka by 2045. However, JR Central is aiming to bring forward the extension schedule by up to eight years, according to the company.

(Japanese original by Toru Kuroo, Nagoya News Center)

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