JR West chief gives blessing to Obama-Kyoto extension of Hokuriku Shinkansen Line

by

Staff Writer

A plan by West Japan Railway Co. to the build an extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line between Obama, Fukui Prefecture, and the city of Kyoto has emerged as the front-runner in a tightly contested race, after the railway firm’s president gave it his blessing.

However, with July’s Upper House election looming — and local leaders in Kansai all grappling to get the train to pass through their electoral districts — JR West’s preference may be but one factor in any final decision.

Three possible routes between Tsuruga and Shin-Osaka were under formal review by a ruling project team. These included one that would bypass the city of Kyoto entirely, one that would go to Maibara, Shiga Prefecture, and one that would have to travel down the western shore of Lake Biwa to Kyoto, where passengers could change to the Tokaido Shinkansen.

However, citing those routes’ rising costs and seeking one that would maximize passengers, JR West began informally discussing a fourth option.

On Tuesday, the company announced this option as its preferred one.

“We want the line to go through Kyoto Prefecture before extending to Osaka, and the foundation of the plan is for the train to pass through Kyoto Station,” said JR West President Seiji Manabe. His announcement sparked different reactions among local leaders.

Shiga Gov. Taizo Mikazuki, whose prefecture would be bypassed under the new plan, expressed concern, noting that JR West had yet to provide construction cost estimates for the plan.

Mikazuki also noted that Tuesday’s announcement had come despite most Kansai prefectural governors — as well as the mayors of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe — having all backed the Maibara route in 2013.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada was also apprehensive since the Obama-Kyoto route would not extend the line to Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, on the Sea of Japan coast.

Yamada has already begun soliciting local support in northern Kyoto for a Tsuruga-Kyoto route that would extend the line to Maizuru and then pass through seven prefectural cities and towns. The Kyoto Chamber of Commerce is also leaning toward this plan.

The envisaged Maizuru route, however, lacks details — especially as regards associated costs.

Still, much of this route lies within the electoral district of Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki, which could influence discussions within the ruling party’s project team in the coming months.

The team hopes to whittle the proposals down to at least two final candidates before the Upper House election. What happens after that, though, remains unclear.