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Impressions of Japan by Paul Tetlaw, Chair, Transform Scotland - Edinburgh meeting on 4 November 2008

Mr. Tetlaw began his presentation by giving a brief overview to Transform Scotland. Transform Scotland is the national sustainable transport alliance that campaigns for a more sensible transport system, one less dependent on unsustainable modes such as the car, the plane and road freight, and more reliant on sustainable modes like walking, cycling, public transport and freight by rail or sea. It is the only organization working across all areas of transport and it's membership includes transport operators, local authorities and other organizations with an interest in sustainable transport.

Mr. Tetlaw then turned to his 19 day tour of Japan and the impressions he got during the tour. Japan is a country that whilst embracing modern developments, still has a great respect for it's traditions. Travelling around the country was very easy by rail and the Shinkansen high speed trains form the backbone of the country's rail network. This network now covers some 1,500 track miles. In addition, there is an extensive network of 3' 6" lines, all operated by Japan Railways.

Japan consists of four main islands plus a number of smaller ones. The island of Honshu is the largest and is approximately the same size at Great Britain. With a population of around 98 million in total, Japan has an average population density of 700 per square mile compared with Britain's 600 per square mile. The areas in and around the main cities have a higher population density, whilst the countryside has a much lower figure.

Japan is a country of culture and traditions and whilst much of the conurbations are modern, with high rise developments there are areas where traditional Japan comes to the fore. Even in the cities, traditional customs are observed, such as the wearing of traditional dress. The Japanese are also keen of their heritage and their ancient capital is a world heritage site. They are also keen on their parks and gardens.

One of Japan Rail's Shinkansen trains.d

One of Japan Rail's Shinkansen trains.

© Paul Tetlaw 2008

One thing that Mr. Tetlaw said was noticeable was that everything was spotlessly clean and even the railway embankments were kept in pristine condition. Children were also well behaved and that included school children. Even the gardens have their own "cleaners" to keep them clean and tidy.

Looking at the railways, Mr. Tetlaw said that it was noticeable that the plat forms were spotlessly clean and that bins for recycling were provided at most stations. Stations announcements were in both Japanese and English, mainly in the Tokyo area. People queue in an orderly fashion to board trains and there are special markings permanently on the platforms to tell you, not only where your train will stop, but where each coach will stop.

There is an intensive service with trains every 10 minutes and a train can be turned round in about 15 minutes ready for it's next journey by a large team of cleaners and staff. All stations are provided with detailed maps of the station and surrounding areas, including details of nearby hotels, many of which are owned by then railway companies. At Kyoto station, a new, modern shopping development has been built around the station and this demonstrated the commitment to integrating transport with other land uses.

Apart from the Shinkansen, the rail network is a 3' 6" gauge system. The railways were privatised in the 1980's. Around 70% of the rail network is run by Japan Rail, with the remainder being operated by a number of smaller, private companies, some of which are provided with some state subsidies to provide some services. Japan Rail is split into 6 regional companies. The Shinkansen operates at speeds of up to 200 mph and the latest trains are used on the Tokyo area services. Many of the stations facilitate interchange with the 3'6" network and stations are of airport terminal quality.

A modern tram and an older local train at an interchange.d

A modern tram and an older local train at an interchange

© Paul Tetlaw 2008

In addition to the railways, there are also light rail systems, including tramways in various cities and Mr. Tetlaw looked briefly at some of these, pointing out that there has been investment in these systems with modern high quality rolling stock on a number of lines. There is also interchange with the railways and a short walk from a station will take you to the tram stop. Steam trains also featured in Mr. Tetlaw's visit to Japan, and some small railway companies operate steam trains on their lines as a tourist attraction and usually at weekends. There is a great interest in these trains and he showed photographs of avid enthusiasts lining up to photograph the trains.

Mr. Tetlaw also briefly looked at buses, taxis, ferries and cable cars, all modes of transport that he sampled during his trip. He pointed out that buses usually met trains facilitating interchange or were used as feeders to the railways. Taxis also provide an important transport service, and a photograph taken by Mr. Tetlaw showed taxis all neatly lined up at a station.

Active Travel is also widespread in Japan and people use bicycles extensively for commuting and leisure pursuits. Interestingly, cyclists and pedestrians share the same paths and pavements and this does not appear to cause any problems. Mr. Tetlaw showed a number of examples of large numbers of parked bicycles at stations, or other locations and there was even a multi-story bicycle park. To finish his presentation Mr. Tetlaw looked at Hiroshima and the museum dedicated to the effects of the dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945.

There was a question and discussion session and many questions were ably answered by Mr. Tetlaw. The discussion also covered a wide range of topics and drew comparisons between Japan and the UK with some of those present contrasting the various railway operations illustrated by Mr. Tetlaw with current UK practice.

Further information on Transform Scotland can be found on their website at www.transformscotland.org.uk and information on Japan Rail can be found at www.japanrail.com/

The Scottish Region would like to thank Mr. Tetlaw for addressing the meeting and Edinburgh City Council for providing the accommodation and refreshments.

Report by John Fender.

 

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