OSAKA – Like Chicago, the American city it is most often compared to, Osaka is a major train junction connecting eastern and western Japan. With the last bit of a new shinkansen route now decided and plans moving forward for a new municipal line that will zip visitors from Osaka’s bullet train station to Kansai airport much quicker than before, the city hopes it will become ever-more convenient for tourists to stay in town for a while before heading off to Kyoto, Ishikawa, Hiroshima or Tokyo.
Earlier this month, the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition finalized plans for the last section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line from Kyoto to Shin-Osaka Station. The line, expected to be completed midcentury, will link the Sea of Japan coast city of Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, with Shin-Osaka Station in less than 1½ hours.
The leg from Kanazawa to Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is expected to open around 2022. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who represents a Fukui district it will stop in, and her supporters hope the route between Kanazawa and the city of Fukui will open before the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 to allow residents to hop on the Hokuriku bullet train to Kanazawa and then board the Nagano bullet train for Tokyo, a trip that would take hours less than is currently the case with regular express trains.
The Kyoto-Shin-Osaka Station route was the last piece of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line to be decided, following the setting of the route between Tsuruga and Kyoto. The Hokuriku bullet train will be able to take passengers from Kanazawa to Shin-Osaka Station in about 80 minutes at a cost of around ¥8,700. Currently, a Japan Railway express train makes the run in about 2½ hours at a cost of around ¥7,000.
The next step is to conduct an environmental impact assessment and finalize where the new stations will be built. Both projects begin next month and are expected to be completed by around 2022. Assuming there are no problems and that financing is available, construction of the Tsuruga-Shin-Osaka route would then begin around 2031 after about a decade of preparation, with the line opening by around 2046.
“Routing the last leg of the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line through the southern part of Kyoto Prefecture will bring economic benefits to the region,” said Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada earlier this month. He strongly backed the final choice.
News that the Hokuriku bullet train line to Shin-Osaka was decided came at about the same time the city of Osaka announced plans for the Naniwasuji Line, which will run from a new station on the north side of JR Osaka Station to Kansai airport. The trip currently takes just over an hour on the fastest JR train. From the new station to the airport via the Naniwasuji Line, it will take 40 minutes.
Planning for the Naniwasuji Line began almost three decades ago. When it will open depends on how quickly financing is secured. With construction costs estimated at ¥400 billion, how much of the financial burden should fall to city taxpayers, and how much to JR and other railways that will benefit from the line is expected to be the subject of contentious debate.
“The number of visitors to Osaka is increasing and businesses are becoming more interested in the city. The Naniwasuji Line is critical for the north-south flow of traffic,” said Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura last month.
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