Urban Railway Systems — It’s Time To Promote Them Abroad


Rail Update Japan

After all, Japan is a railway superstar!

Japan, a railway superstar… One could sense this at the International Transport Forum held recently in Leipzig, Germany, where the theme was “Seamless Transport.” The summit was practically a Davos think tank forum for transportation, a place where top executives of private companies met with academics and decision-makers. They came from different backgrounds but had the same message, a message expressed by Peter Ramsauer, Germany’s Minister for Transport, Building and Housing: railways, airports and other transportation modes need to be linked together in an integrated fashion to achieve a truly effective public transportation system.

Hearing this, one might think of how Japan has done just that.

One of the panelists, Satoshi Seino (Chairman of JR East), described how Japan’s railways, although traditionally rivals with one another, have worked together to launch through services on each other’s tracks, permit passengers to use the same IC card on lines operated by different companies, and even display alternate routes used by a rival’s line when their own trains run late. Delegates found this most impressive.

Access to airports in Japan is generally thought to be somewhat inconvenient, yet Nic. Nilsen, the Managing Director (CEO) of the airport serving Oslo, Norway, said access to that airport is not as good as what one sees in Japan. He made this point, even though a railway line has been constructed from the city’s central station to the new airport.

When one talks about rail transport in Japan, the Shinkansen generally becomes the focus of conversation, but at the forum JR Central’s Chairman, Yoshiyuki Kasai, said, “The Shinkansen track linking Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka provides convenient transfer points to subways, private railway lines and bus routes in major urban centers, making for very effective public transportation networks overall.” This indicates the tremendous potential of urban railways.

Urban rail systems in Japan are safe and run on time. This gives them the ability to help the world solve its transportation problems. The question is, how can they be used to do that?

Actually, there is a boom in urban railway development going on in emerging countries in Asia, like Vietnam and India.

Before, motorized traffic in those countries tended to be mainly motorcycles, but as incomes rose people began buying cars. Severe road congestion is the result. To reduce congestion, urban railways are needed more than buses.

In Vietnam, Hanoi has plans for six railway lines. Two are being promoted with yen loans, and one is presently being studied by a public-private partnership (PPP) that includes Japan’s Keihan Electric Railway. If the expertise Japan’s private railways have built up in trackside development is applied in such cases, urban railways will become even more appealing.

Now is the time for Japanese enterprises to expand such efforts and promote their business.

It’s important to play up the Shinkansen in foreign markets, but in many of those markets sales activities should focus on urban rail transport systems, even though they may be less “exotic” than the Shinkansen. I believe this is a strategy for new growth.

(Jun’ichi Abe, Yomiuri Shimbun Editing Committee Member)

This article is an extract from the opinion column Ippitsu Keijo, which appeared in Japanese in the May 6, 2012 issue of a major newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun. We thank the publisher, Yomiuri Shimbun, for granting us permission to present the article translated under the auspices of JORSA.


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