Railway services to typhoon-hit Kansai airport resume ahead of schedule

Kyodo

Railway services to Kansai International Airport resumed Tuesday, restoring the main transport link to western Japan’s primary international gateway two weeks after a powerful typhoon ripped through the region.

West Japan Railway Co. (JR West) and Nankai Electric Railway Co. restarted their services to the airport early in the morning. About 80 percent of users of the airport, which sits on a man-made island in Osaka Bay, arrive by train.

Typhoon Jebi, which made landfall in the country’s west on Sept. 4, caused a tanker ship to break away from its moorings and sent it crashing into the sole road and rail bridge connecting the airport with the mainland. The incident caused major damage and stranded an estimated 8,000 passengers and staff at the airport.

The storm also brought high tides that flooded one of the airport’s two runways and the No. 1 terminal building, which typically services about 400 flights daily.

JR West said damage to the railway was less significant than expected, and that it had been able to complete work on the line ahead of its initial plan to reopen Friday — when the No. 1 terminal building will also be fully restored and flight services there are scheduled to return to normal.

The resumption of train services brought relief to airport users and workers at the facility.

“I used the train after learning about its restart. It’s more convenient than a bus and I arrived here early,” said Tomoya Nishida, a 21-year-old university student from Matsubara, Osaka Prefecture, who was heading to Kyushu.

A 65-year-old worker at the airport, who had to commute by bus to the facility following the storm, welcomed the early restart, saying the train is faster and allows him to “stay at home 30 minutes longer.”

But it is expected to take several months before the road on the bridge is restored. While three lanes were unaffected by the tanker collision, they remain mostly off-limits and only special vehicles such as limousine buses are allowed to use them.

Operators on Monday terminated the free bus service between a railway station on the mainland and the airport. While it takes five to six minutes to get to the airport by train, the bus takes 15 to 20 minutes on average and passengers often could not board due to congestion.

Kansai airport has attracted a growing number of foreign passengers in recent years, particularly from China, South Korea and Southeast Asian countries, as the hub has been expanded for budget airlines.