Some 10 years after its opening was originally envisioned (and who knows how many billion yen over budget!) the long-awaited Tsukuba Express is finally to become a reality. Practice runs are already taking place along the line and work on the stations will soon be finished.
Originally planned to be up and running by the mid 1990's, difficulties in procuring land rights, etc. delayed the beginning of construction until Oct. 1994. Costs also ballooned, with the final bill coming to 940 billion yen. That's over 16 billion yen per kilometer! Even with the projected 290,000 passengers per day (most, fortunately, not coming all the way to Tsukuba), it will take several decades to recoup the cost from passenger fares alone. The economic benefits, of course, will spill over into numerous related businesses that are being built up along the way. The building boom that has been going on in Tsukuba rivals that which was done in the period leading up to the 1985 Expo World's Fair. It remains to be seen, however, just how much of that business will remain in Tsukuba, as opposed to things flowing into Tokyo. After all, not only will it be easier for people to come shopping in Tsukuba, but it will be a lot easier for "Tsukubans" to take advantage of the vastly more numerous opportunities in Tokyo.
The exact schedule has not been announced yet, but the general schedule is as follows: The first train will leave Tsukuba at 5:07 am, with the last one from Akihabara to Tsukuba leaving at 11:30 pm (arriving in Tsukuba at 12:27 am). During the peak morning rush hour, 6 trains will be leaving Tsukuba per hour, with an additional 10 leaving from Moriya (the main mid-way station). During the day, only 4 per hour will depart Tsukuba, and then during the more lengthy evening rush hour, it will be 5 per hour (plus another 7 that come out only as far as Moriya). On weekends and holidays, the number during mid-day will remain the same, but there will be only 5 during the morning and 4 during the evening periods.
The chart below gives the names of the 20 stations in Japanese, along with the station numbers and the places the 3 types of trains stop at. The following is a list of the station names with their associated number: 01 Akihabara; 02 Shin Okachimachi; 03 Asakusa; 04 Minami Senju; 05 Kita Senju; 06 Aoi; 07 Rokumachi; 08 Yashio; 09 Misato Chuo; 10 Minami Nagareyama; 11 Nagareyama Central Park; 12 Nagareyama Ootakanomori; 13 Kashiwanoha Campus; 14 Kashiwa Tanaka; 15 Moriya; 16 Miraidaira; 17 Midorino; 18 Banpaku Kinen Koen; 19 Kenkyu Gakuen; 20 Tsukuba. The "kaisoku" (express) skips 11 of the stations and makes the trip in a quick 45 minutes. The "kukan Kaisoku" (partial express) only skips 4 stations and takes 52 minutes. The first train from Akihabara and the last train each way stop at all 20 stations and takes 57 minutes.
Each train is to have 6 cars, but as they will be fully automated, there will only be the one driver on board. All of the stations will have barriers along the platforms that prevent anything or anyone from falling onto the tracks. These barriers open up only when the train has stopped and its doors are about to open. Including the Moriya trains, there will be about 180 trains per day each way. That means a total of 2160 cars total per day. Thus in order to reach the predicted average of 290,000 passengers per day, that comes out to an average of 134 people per train car! Of course, some get off part way and are replaced by others, but that still sounds awfully crowded especially during peak times. My prediction is that the 290,000 passengers per day will prove to be a bit of an exaggeration.
The cost of a ticket for the entire length is to be 1,150 yen, which is only slightly more than for a similar distance on the Joban Line. There will be a 40% discount offered for regular commuters and a 60% discount for students commuting to schools. Transfers to other lines are as follows: at Moriya to the Joso Line; at Nagareyama Ootakanomori to the Tobu Noda Line; at Minami Nagareyama to the Musashino Line; at Kita Senju to the Joban Line and Tobu Isesaki Line, as well as to the Hibiya and Chiyoda Subway Lines; at Minami Senju to the Joban Line and Hibiya Subway Line; at Shin Okachimachi to the Oedo Subway Line and at Akihabara to the Yamate, Keihin Tohoku and Sobu Lines along with the Hibiya Subway Line. Those will all require separate tickets, however, and so if you're going to, for instance, Tokyo Station, you'll have to fork over a separate amount for the Akihabara-Tokyo portion. As that would be one ticket on the Joban, that will increase the difference between the two when your destination is a JR station (or via a JR station). Thus, if you live about as close to the Joban as the TX stations, the Joban might still be your best bet.
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