Atlantic Cities

Tokyo’s High Speed Rail Network Gains Momentum on the Global Stage

For travelers and locals alike, an efficient public transportation system is the difference between easy access to local services and the community or a frustrating slog through traffic congestion by car or bus. In Tokyo, the Tokaido Shinkansen—the world’s busiest high-speed rail line—speaks to how an effective public transit system is positioned to empower dynamic and healthy communities through creating massive efficiencies. 

Of greater Tokyo’s 35 million residents, the majority choose advanced high-speed rail transportation over cars for in-country travel. This translates into billions fewer car trips each year. Further, the newest bullet trains on the Tokaido Sinkansen have reduced energy consumption by 32 percent and improved energy efficiency by 51 percent as compared to older models. 
 
Besides reducing local and global greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable technology, the speed train system benefits the regional economy. Central Japan Railway Company, or JR Central, operates the Tokaido Sinkansen and employs more than 17,000 individuals. Compare this figure to Amtrak which serves the entire United States and employs around 19,000 people, and it’s evident that JR Central creates an impressive number of jobs in just one region of a geographically small nation.
 
Tokyo’s high-speed rail network has achieved impressive milestones with respect to livability, beyond the obvious benefits of shorter travel time for 391,000 riders a day. The rail system has reduced automobile traffic and increased passenger safety. To date, there have been no fatalities or injuries on the Tokaido Shinkansen. And since populations have settled within walking distance of mass transit hubs, a greater sense of community has evolved. JR Central works with local governments to create public space in front of railway stations and to build new stations as density along the rail line grows. The company also upgrades existing stations to meet city codes for the safety and comfort of elderly and disabled passengers. 
 
These are scalable outcomes that can easily translate to major metropolitan areas around the world, improving quality of life while making strides to reduce global carbon emissions. 
 
Taiwan, China, and England have taken note of Japan’s successful high-speed mass transit system, and are among the first nations to adopt Tokyo’s high-speed train technology, yielding economic gains for Japan. Currently, the technology is being marketed to other countries including Brazil, Vietnam and the United States, where California voters recently approved billions of dollars in funding for a high-speed rail network connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles.
 
“California [will] be the first state in the nation to build a high-speed rail system to connect our urban centers,” said Dan Richard, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, at a press conference. “This plan will improve mobility for commuters and travelers alike, reduce emissions and put thousands of people to work while enhancing our economic competitiveness.” 
 
Rather than rest on past successes, Tokyo is planning even more innovations in high-speed rail systems, including the magnetic levitation or MAGLEV train, which is drawing attention worldwide. At Japan’s 2014 International High-Speed Railway Conference, speed freaks and environmentalists alike will get a first-hand taste of MAGLEV travel. 
 
According to one official, “[The conference] will [provide] an opportunity for participants to experience the Superconducting MAGLEV which, running at a speed of up to 500 kmh, will give them a glimpse into a new age of high-speed rail,” not to mention a new era for global sustainability.   
 
 
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