National

Work begins on repairing Kansai airport’s bridge with an aim of restarting rail services by end of month

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Work began Wednesday on removing a heavily-damaged 2,000-ton girder on the causeway connecting Kansai International Airport to the mainland, with the aim of having railway operations on the bridge resume by the end of the month.

The girder and 3,750-meter-long bridge suffered damage on Sept. 4 when Typhoon Jebi, the most powerful typhoon to hit the country in 25 years, slammed a 2,591-ton tanker into the bridge, partially destroying road lanes and railway tracks on the structure. The causeway provides the only access to the airport built on a man-made island in Osaka Bay.

West Nippon Expressway Co., better known as NEXCO West, plans to finish removing the girder by Friday using a 107-meter-long crane ship, with the damaged part then being transported to a plant in Wakayama Prefecture to see if it can be reused.

The airport is the nation’s third-busiest and is the main gateway to the Kansai region, particularly for visitors from overseas heading for Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe.

The impact from the tanker moved the road lanes horizontally by 4 meters at one point, and the railway track by 50 cm. Train services were halted as a result of the damage and only shuttle buses have been allowed on the road.

The transport ministry said Tuesday that removal of the girder will accelerate repair efforts and lead to the resumption of railway operations by the end of this month if all goes as planned. Earlier, the ministry said train services are likely to resume in early October.

The damage from the typhoon also severely crippled the airport itself, with one of its two main runways still closed as of Wednesday. Much of the airport’s grounds had been temporarily flooded because of the storm.

On Wednesday, only 54 domestic flights and 34 international flights were scheduled to take off or land at the air hub. Before the disaster, 140 such domestic and 340 international flights took off and landed there daily, according to the airport’s operator.

Local Kansai businesses have been deeply concerned over the effects the damage will have on inbound tourism, as tourist numbers at major sightseeing spots have reportedly fallen since the disaster.

The transport ministry is trying to divert dozens of flights to Itami airport, which straddles Osaka and Hyogo prefectures, and Kobe Airport off Kobe.

On Wednesday an association comprising 10 cities and towns around Itami airport decided to accept 40 flights a day from Kansai International Airport, as requested by the ministry, an official with the group told The Japan Times. However, the flights should only operate between 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., the association requested.

Many local residents around Itami airport have complained in the past about noise pollution, so the association’s approval was required before the transport ministry could increase the number of flights there.