• Kyodo News

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Use of the Tokaido Shinkansen Line fell 14 percent from May 1 through Wednesday compared with a year ago as the H1N1 swine flu outbreak and a decline in business trips brought fewer passengers, Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) said Thursday.

If the downtrend continues for the rest of the month, the rate of decline will break the monthly record of 13 percent set in February 1995 after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, it said.

In April, the average number of passengers fell 11 percent from the year before.

Ridership was already falling before the flu epidemic erupted earlier this month, but now many schools are canceling trips because of the outbreak.

The bulk of the flu cases are being reported in western Japan, particularly Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, where the Tokaido Shinkansen Line serves as a key link to Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

JR Tokai President Masayuki Matsumoto told reporters he is expecting business to pick up from this point.

“We heard that the spread of the new flu infections has subsided in the Kobe area (in Hyogo),” said Matsumoto, adding that the pace of decline is expected to slow.

On Thursday, the mayor of Kobe said he sees H1N1 infections subsiding in the port city.

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