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Japan Railroads and Subways
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    Railroads were long the most important means of passenger and freight transportation, ever since they were established in the late nineteenth century, but from the 1960s they were rivaled in usage by road transportation (see Roads , this ch.; table 22, Appendix). The relative share of railroads in total passengerkilometers fell from 66.7 percent in 1965 to 42 percent in 1978, and to 29.8 percent in 1990. By contrast, automobiles and domestic airlines were carrying ever-larger shares of the passenger traffic in 1990 (see Civil Aviation , this ch.; table 23, Appendix).

    At the heart of Japan's railroad system is the Japan Railways Group, a government-subsidized group of eight companies that took over most of the assets, operations, and liabilities of the government-owned Japanese National Railways in 1987. Initially, the companies remained in the public domain, but privatization began for some of the companies in the early 1990s. There were six passenger companies: the East Japan, West Japan, and Central Japan railroad companies, which operated in Honshu, and the Kyushu, Shikoku, and Hokkaido railroad companies, which operated on the islands for which the companies were named. In addition, the East Japan Railway Company, since the opening of the Seikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido in 1988, also provided express service to Sapporo. Similarly, the Central Japan Railway Company started serving Shikoku after the 1990 completion of the Seto-Ohashi bridges, a system of seven bridges linking Honshu and Shikoku. The six companies had 18,800 kilometers of routes (mostly 1.1-meter track) in use in the late 1980s. About 25 percent of the routes were in double-track and multitrack sections, and the rest were single-track. In 1988 about 51 percent of the six companies' 1,000 locomotives were diesel, and the rest were electric. Another company, Japan Freight Railway Company, owned its locomotives (295 diesel and 569 electric locomotives in 1988), rolling stock, and stations but hired track from the six passenger companies. It ran fewer trains on less track than Japanese National Railways freight service did before its demise but at increased revenues and higher productivity. The eighth company, the Shinkansen Property Corporation, leased Shinkansen ("bullet" train) railroad facilities--including 2,100 kilometers of 1.4-meter gauge highspeed track--to the passenger companies on Honshu. Some of the Shinkansen electric-powered trains operated at speeds up to 240 kilometers per hour.

    Another nearly 3,400 kilometers of routes, mostly 1.1-meter gauge, were operated by major private railroads and by what are known in Japan as third-sector railroads--new companies, financed with private and local government funds--which absorbed some of Japanese National Railways' rural lines. There were twenty-seven private and third-sector companies in 1989.

    What remained of the debt-ridden Japanese National Railways after its 1987 breakup was named the Japanese National Railways Settlement Corporation. Its purpose was to dispose of assets not absorbed by the successor companies and to execute other activities relating to the breakup, such as reemployment of former personnel. The demise of the government-owned system came after charges of serious management inefficiencies, profit losses, and fraud. By the early 1980s, passenger and freight business had declined, and fare increases failed to keep up with higher labor costs. The new companies introduced competition, cut their staffing, and made reform efforts. Initial public reaction to these moves was good: the combined passenger travel on the Japan Railways Group passenger companies in 1987 was 204.7 billion passenger-kilometers, up 3.2 percent from 1986, while the passenger sector previously had been stagnant since 1975. The growth in passenger transport of private railroads in 1987 was 2.6 percent, which meant that the Japan Railways Group's rate of increase was above that of the privatesector railroads for the first time since 1974. Demand for rail transport was improved, although it still accounted for only 28 percent of passenger transportation and only 5 percent of cargo transportation in 1990. Rail passenger transportation was superior to automobiles in terms of energy efficiency and of speed in longdistance transportation.

    In addition to its extensive railroads, Japan has an impressive number of subway systems. The largest is in Tokyo, where the subway network in 1989 consisted of 211 kilometers of track serving 205 stations. Two subway systems served the capital: one run by the Teito Rapid Transit Authority, with seven lines (the oldest of which was built in 1927), and the other operated by the Tokyo metropolitan government's Transportation Bureau, with three lines. Outlying and suburban areas were served by seven private railroad companies whose lines intersected at major stations with the subway system. More than sixty additional kilometers of subway were under construction in 1990 by the two companies. As of 1989, there also were full subway systems in Fukuoka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Sendai, and Yokohama. Hiroshima and Kobe had light rail systems, and Osaka, in addition to its subway, had an intermediate capacity transit system (rubber-tired motor cars running on concrete guideways). Like Tokyo, all of these cities also were well served by public and private railroads.

    Data as of January 1994

    NOTE: The information regarding Japan on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Japan Railroads and Subways information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Japan Railroads and Subways should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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