The new train line to Tokyo, formally known as the "Joban Shinsen" (New Joban Line) has now been given an official name. A campaign to elicit name suggestions for the new line resulted in almost 45,000 entries, and from these, the committee selected "Tsukuba Express" as best representing the character of the new line.
Construction began in 1992 and is now proceeded at a rapid rate towards opening in 2005. The 58.3 kilometers between Tsukuba Station and the other end of the line in Akihabara (Tokyo) is projected to cost a whopping 1.5 trillion yen, which comes out to over 25 billion yen per km (probably making it the most expensive train line yet built)! A little "back-of-the-envelope" calculation suggests it would take a very long time for the trains fares to pay that off. One hundred thousand passengers a day averaging 1000 yen per ticket would generate an income of 100 million yen per day. At that rate, it would take 41 years to pay off the debt, and that wouldn't include operating costs and interests on the loans. So, obviously, this project wasn't conceived with the idea of being able to pay its own way - at least not from ticket sales. The economic payoff for the entire region, however, will be tremendous, and that is where the finances begin to make sense.
Construction of the Tsukuba Station is now well under way. It will be an underground station under Chuo Dori next to the Tsukuba Bus Center, and the line will continue undergound for some distant to the west where it will come above ground and be an elevated tract for most of the rest of the way through Tsukuba. The first station after Tsukuba will be the Katsuragi Station, just to the north of Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen and the Matsushiro area. The second station will be the Shimana Station just to the west of the Western Business and Research Park (the old grounds of Expo '85), and the last station still in Tsukuba will be the Kayamaru Station to the west of the Yatabe Branch Office.
From there, the line continues on through Ina and Moriya on into Chiba, Saitama and finally Tokyo. Seven of the stations are already existing stations on older lines that cross the new line. Passengers on the Joso Line, for example, can transfer onto the Tsukuba Express at Moriya. Likewise, travel from Tsukuba to the Tokorozawa area west of Tokyo will be greatly enhanced as passengers can transfer to the Musashino Line and get there without having to go through Tokyo. At present, it's difficult to transfer onto the Musashino Line from the Joban Line even though they intersect as there is no common station. Transfers to numerous subway and train lines within Tokyo will be convenient, with stations in Kita Senju, Minami Senju and Moto Asakusa in addition to the final station at Akihabara.
Its maximum speed is to be 130 km per hour, and thus even with 18 stops between Tsukuba and Akihabara, the total trip will take only 45 minutes. The latest in train technology will be employed to increase safety. The station platforms will have fences along the entire platform so that it will be impossible to fall off onto the tracts. A person bent on suicide can always climb over, of course, but this will make it much more difficult. Only when the train pulls up to a stop do gates in front of the doors open up and allow people on and off the train. New construction techniques will also make the ride smoother and quieter than older trains.
Needless to say, the transformation of Tsukuba into another Tokyo "bed town" is fast becoming a reality. Five specific areas of development are planned with a total growth of about 88,000 people just within those areas by 2020 (not to mention additional growth in other areas.) Three of these areas surround the stations to be built within the Tsukuba city limits with the other two somewhat more distant from the line. Work on four of these areas has already begun, and parts of these projects are to be open by the time the line opens in 2005.
The largest of the areas is the Katsuragi District with 484.7 ha. of land (mostly from what is now the automobile testing grounds). A projected 25,000 people are to be housed in this area. The Kayamaru District is the next largest with 292.7 ha., and its projected population is supposed to reach 21,000. Next in size is the Shimana - Fukudahei District with 242.9 ha. and a projected population of 15,000, with the smallest being the Kamikawaharazaki - Nakanishi District just to the west of Shimana, with 168.2 ha. and a projected population of 11,000.
The plans call for one more area of planned development in the Nakane - Konda area just to the north of the Sakura Branch Office of City Hall to be begun in 2003. It will have 189.9 ha. with a projected population of 16,000.
Needless to say, with the large numbers of new people coming in, traffic will continue to build up towards Tokyo levels. New roads are in the plans, of course, including the new expressway that will connect Tsukuba with Narita airport and then swing on around Tokyo connecting the various "spokes of the wheel" funneling into Tokyo by making the actual "wheel." This will greatly facilitate travel from one side of Tokyo to the other. (This will significantly reduce the traffic jams along the expressways in Tokyo since many of the cars and trucks on them don't want to be there anyway - they're just trying to get to the other side.) Likewise, the Highway 6 Bypass is to be extended along the Tsukuba Ushiku border to connect with what already exists in Tsuchiura to relieve the heavy congestion along Route 6 in Ushiku and Arakawaoki. Construction of the interchange between the two is already well under way.
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