Key artery’s closure blow to transport, bus firms

by Jun Hongo

Staff Writer

Travel agencies and transport companies scrambled to deal with cancellations and rerouting Monday after the deadly Sasago Tunnel accident closed off the Chuo Expressway in Yamanashi Prefecture — a major east-west artery.

“We’ve had about 100 reservations canceled since the incident occurred,” a spokesman for Nagano-based Alpico Group, which runs buses between Nagano and Tokyo 20 times per day, told The Japan Times on Monday.

“Some (who canceled) were worried about possible delays,” the spokesman said. “But others were fearful of traveling on the highway after such a tragedy.”

The Chuo Expressway, along with the Tomei, connects the greater Tokyo area with major cities in central and west Japan, including Nagoya and Osaka. It also links the capital with Nagano and Niigata prefectures.

Alpico’s buses started using alternate roads instead of the Chuo Expressway from Sunday. This added about 90 minutes to the usual travel times. A maximum two-hour delay could be expected once traffic begins to increase during the holiday season, the company spokesman added.

A spokesman for Tokyo-based Club Tourism International Inc., which runs bus tours that use the Chuo Expressway, also said many tours are facing delays.

“There isn’t anything we can do except take a different route,” he said. “This adds about an hour to our trips.”

Although Club Tourism hasn’t received any bus tour cancellations yet, the spokesman felt this was a definite possibility.

“The accident wasn’t something that could have been avoided just by being a careful driver,” he said.

A spokesman for Nippon Express Co., a major moving company, said its business has not been disrupted too much because most of its transportation involves other routes.

“But some of our delivery trucks travel on the Chuo Expressway and use the Sasago Tunnel,” he said, explaining that the carrier will consider new routes.