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Tsukuba Express Progress Celebrated

Author:Author unknown, Issue: May 2002, Topic: Trains

The final campaign for bringing to completion the long-awaited train line to Tokyo was officially begun at Tsukuba International Congress Center on April 24, as approximately 40 dignitaries gathered on stage before more than 1000 guests. Gov. Hashimoto began the string of congratulatory speeches that included many local, prefectural and national government politicians. The climax to the almost one hour of speeches, however, were two 6th grade children from local schools who read their compositions about their dreams for the future. Both stressed how the Tsukuba Express will broaden their horizons, allowing them easy access to numerous sites in Tokyo and beyond. It will also allow "city folks" in Tokyo easy access to the "rural pleasures" of Mt. Tsukuba and its environs. One child added that his dream was that a great theme park like Disneyland would also be built to attract people to the area.

Following a brief ceremony with the traditional "kusudama" ball that spills out its contents of a banner along with lots of streamers, confetti and balloons as it opens up, the audience was treated to a celebrity presentation. The guest was Daniel Kahl, a well-known foreign "TV talent" whose imitation of the Yamagata accent has particularly endeared him to the Japanese. Kahl first came to Japan from his native California as a 17-year-old high school exchange student. He later spent part of his college study in Japan as well before coming back a third time as an AET teacher in Yamagata. He said he really fell in love with the Tohoku area (which was no doubt enhanced by his falling in love with one of the locals who became his wife!), and that is how he came to master the local dialect and make it his trade mark.

Kahl's hour-long message had the audience spellbound, as it was both very entertaining as well as thought provoking. The core of his message was to encourage local people to take pride in their city as it further develops around the new train line. He pointed out that the Japanese virtue of "kenson" (humility) can become a negative thing when taken too far. While commending the virtue of humility in general, he pointed out that Japanese etiquette calls for a whole range of expressions that literally translated would be considered the ultimate in self-depreciation in western societies. People will introduce their family members with "This is my 'baka musuko'" (stupid son) or my "gusai" (foolish wife), etc. - something that would likely result in a slap across the face in America! When people are given a gift, the standard phrase is "Tsumaranai mono desu ga" (This is just a worthless thing) - even when the gift is really valuable. And when it comes to talking about one's hometown, people will almost invariably say, "Nani mo nai tokoro desu" (There is nothing there). "When interacting with someone, it is good to lift that person up through appropriate expressions," he said, "but you needn't put yourself down in the process." Basically, he was saying to treat others well, but in doing so, there is no need to treat yourself as trash.

A variety of colorful pamphlets and other literature concerning aspects of the new train line were given to all who attended. Some of the interesting facts presented include the projected total cost, which comes out to 1.05 trillion yen, or about 8 billion US dollars. For the 58.3 km of line, that works out to about $137 million per kilometer! As to where that money is coming from, a corporation was established that borrows the money from national and local coffers as interest-free loans. This money is then repaid from the revenues generated from operating the trains. Presumably the cost of a ticket will be approximately the same as the equivalent distance on other lines, or something a bit over \1000. One wonders how many years it would take to pay off 1.05 trillion yen. If we presume a net profit of \500 per passenger trip (which may be a bit generous) that would take 21 billion individual trips. The literature claims that 327,000 people are expected to use the line daily (roughly twice as many people as live in Tsukuba!), but even with that generous estimate (admittedly, people all along the line will be using it, and that is many times the population of Tsukuba), it comes out to about 88 years. Whatever the actual figures turn out to be, it is obvious that it would take many years to pay off from ticket sales alone.

Some other interesting facts are that like the Joban Line, the electrical system used to run the motors will be switched mid-route. From Tokyo out to Moriya, the system will use the standard 1500 volts of DC current, but from there to Tsukuba, it will be changed over to 20,000 volts of AC current. The reason for this seemingly strange set-up is that on the backside of Mt. Tsukuba in the town of Yasato, there is a sensitive observation station for the earth's magnetic field, and the "normal" DC current system would interfere with its operation.

The 58.3 km route is to take 45 minutes, with the maximum speed of the train being 130 km/hr. There will be 20 stations including Tsukuba and Akihabara, with 4 stations located within the Tsukuba city limits. After leaving the underground station at Tsukuba Center, the line will surface to the west of Nishi Odori and swing through what is now the Japan Automobile Research Institute testing grounds. Katsuragi Station is to be developed there, along with a whole new section of the city. After that, the line crosses over Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen a few hundred meters west of the Tokodai intersection and heads south to the next station of Shimana a couple of kms. south of Tsuchiura-Gakuen Sen. The last station in Tsukuba will be Kayamaru near route 354 a couple of kms. west of the Yatabe Branch Office. All of these areas along the route will have substantial developments of new housing and businesses.

In conjunction with this development, the new expressway is under construction that will run more or less perpendicular to the Joban Expressway and connect Tsukuba directly with Narita Airport as well as going across to Saitama to complete a circular route around Tokyo. This project, however, will take much longer to complete as much of the land is not even purchased yet. As anyone who has tried to drive to somewhere on the other side of Tokyo knows all too well, the expressways serving the greater Tokyo area all run into the heart of Tokyo with nothing going around the crowded city. This, of course, is a major reason for the jams on the expressways leading into Tokyo, as many of the cars and trucks in the long lines are just trying to get to the other side of the city to proceed along their merry way. Thus, developing bypasses around the city will take a considerable amount of the traffic away from central Tokyo, where the drivers don't want to be anyway. The present situation is like have a wheel with only the spokes and no rim - not very efficient at carrying the traffic along.

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