Tokyo’s future railway lines

In January 2000, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport released a detailed study on how the Tokyo mass transit network could be expanded over the next 15 years. (Japanese text is here.) Many of the ministry’s suggestions have since been fulfilled, including the completion of the Oedo Line, Saitama Rapid Railway, Tsukuba Express, Nippori-Toneri Liner and Fukutoshin Line. But there are still a number of lines which have yet to be finished, and here are the most likely candidates to be built:

  • Narita Airport Railway
    Under construction – opening in 2010

This is probably the best-known railway project under development in the Tokyo area, as it has been on the drawing board for about 25 years (roughly since the cancellation of the planned shinkansen to Narita) and is finally under construction. It provides a more direct route from central Tokyo to Narita Airport by extending the existing Hokuso Railway line through the outskirts of Narita City. The line is expected to make the Skyliner journey about 15 minutes shorter (36 minutes from Nippori as opposed to the current 51 minutes).

  • Tohoku Line (Re-)Extension
    Under construction – opening in 2013

This extends the Takasaki Line and Utsunomiya Line, which currently terminate at Ueno, southward to Tokyo Station. There will be no stops at the stations in between (Okachimachi, Akihabara and Kanda). The main goal is to draw traffic away from the Yamanote and Keihin-Tohoku Lines, which are both really overcrowded in this corridor. (Joban Line communities are also lobbying to extend their service to Tokyo Station, but this would be logistically more difficult.)

This line actually used to exist but was cut off in 1973 so that the Tohoku Shinkansen could be extended to Tokyo Station over the Tohoku Main Line’s right-of-way. Opening the connection again will allow through service with the Tokaido Line, similar to the existing connection between the Sobu and Yokosuka lines. The main obstacle is (as you might expect) local citizens’ groups, who are calling on JR to “stop the heat island” (whatever that means). Despite their protests, JR started construction earlier this summer and plans to build the line over the next five years (i.e., really really slowly).

  • Yurakucho and Hanzomon Line Extensions
    Proposed for construction by 2015

The Yurakucho Line extension would run from Toyosu to Noda City in Chiba Prefecture, following a roughly northward course through Sumiyoshi, Oshiage and Kameari in eastern Tokyo. The Hanzomon Line extension would follow a similar course (perhaps even using the same tracks) up to Yotsugi, but track off toward the east to terminate in Matsudo.

A few bedroom towns in Chiba and Ibaragi are lobbying to have these extensions built, but Tokyo Metro cut off its construction budget with the Fukutoshin Line project and is not officially planning to extend any other lines, at least for now. I really hope they get around to this, though, because the Joban Line is inhumanely overcrowded during rush hour, even with 15-car trains.

  • Sobu-Keiyo-Keisei Connector
    Proposed for construction by 2015

This would be a line from Shin-Urayasu on the Keiyo Line through Funabashi Station on the Sobu Line to Tsudanuma Station on the Keisei Line, hooking up the three main Tokyo-Chiba railway lines. The main purpose is to divert traffic from the overcrowded Sobu Line onto the less popular Keiyo Line; the main carrot for doing this would be through service with the Rinkai Line (and, by extension, the Saikyo Line), allowing direct service from Chiba to the major terminals on the west side of Tokyo.

This plan is apparently still on the drawing board, but sounds pretty promising given all the development going on around the Chiba waterfront. It would probably be good for foreign visitors to Disneyland and Tokyo Big Sight as well.

  • Asakusa Line spur to Tokyo Station
    Proposed for construction by 2015

The Asakusa Line runs parallel to the JR trunk lines that serve Tokyo Station, but stays a few blocks away inside the financial district. The plan is to build a Y-shaped spur off of the west side of the Asakusa Line which would connect the line to an underground platform at Tokyo Station.

Most significantly, this would open up a new direct route from Tokyo Station to both Haneda and Narita Airport, potentially putting Keisei and Keikyu in even more direct competition with JR for airport-bound passengers. There is some speculation (e.g. among Wikipedia) that the Tokyo government may build additional passing tracks on the Asakusa Line to allow for high-speed direct trains between Haneda and Narita, which would likely become more necessary as regional international flights are moved from Narita to Haneda.

  • Kan-nana and Kan-hachi Lines
    Proposed without a deadline

These two lines would go through the outer wards of Tokyo at a radius of about 10km from the city center, roughly following the paths of Kan-nana and Kan-hachi Streets. The major stops along this route would include Haneda Airport, Futako-Tamagawa, Ogikubo, Tobu Nerima, Akabane, Nishi-Arai, Kita-Ayase, Kameari, Aoto and Kasai-Rinkai-Koen.

The lines would provide train service to huge under-served portions of suburban Tokyo, but would likely be difficult and expensive to construct because of their length. There is also doubt regarding how this line would compete with the proposed Yurakucho and Hanzomon extensions, which would follow a similar routing in east Tokyo. I would vote in favor of these lines since I now live near the proposed corridor, but we’ll have to wait and see whether any funding comes out to build them.

7 thoughts on “Tokyo’s future railway lines”

  1. Nice post, Joe. That’s the first I’d heard of real consideration of a line through the western wards of the city. A line following Kanpachi-dori is long overdue – the area is now moving from being suburban to urban and still there is no North-South line in the area. It’s currently kind of a pain to get between the area around Ome-kaido and the area up around the Seibu-Shinjuku line, for instance. There are buses, but a train line around there would be well-used and would cut many commutes down by more than a few minutes.

    I’ve never really understood the excitement over the Fukutoshin line within Tokyo – it relieves some crowding on the Yamanote, perhaps, but it fills nothing like the need presented by the glaring gap on the West side that would be filled by a Kanpachi or Kanana line.

  2. “I’ve never really understood the excitement over the Fukutoshin line within Tokyo”

    Ofcourse,you don’t Garrett.Because you live in (presumably)in Tokyo.But here in Saitama,everyone cheers with joy.Now you can go to Shibuya from Tokorozawa on one train ride.It actually help tp ease the rush hour too.

    I’m not so sure about K7/K8 lines.There are some boom towns in places like Hikari-dai in Nerima and ofcourse in Futako Tamgawa for decades,but do they need to connect with each others?

    Shinkansen to Narita was an idea when Ishihara was the minister of transportation.I read Financial Times reporter arguing about how come you can get minuite by minuite shinkansen ride to Osaka,yet must wait 35 minuites for the next NEX train in Narita.

  3. Personally, what baffles me about the Narita Shinkansen concept is that they wanted to make it completely separate from the other shinkansen in Tokyo–it was going to use the platforms which are now occupied by the Keiyo Line, which would mean a lengthy hike to change to any other line.

    What would really make sense would be a spur off the existing Tokaido or Tohoku lines, so that direct high-speed trains could run from Narita to every major city in Japan. That would not only be a boon for business in Tokyo, but it would also really build international business in the harder-to-reach provinces.

    Even Osaka is a pain to reach from NRT; you have to either wait around for the single flight to Itami (assuming your incoming flight arrives early enough to allow the connection), or take the NEX to Tokyo and haul all your crap to the Shinkansen on the other side of the station. And forget about KIX — the frequent flyer message boards I read always have some questions like “How can I get from Kansai to Narita?” and the only good answer is “with great difficulty.” Kind of aggravating that the two major international airports in this country should be so inaccessible from each other.

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