Mystery train

October 27th, 2009 by Philip Brasor & Masako Tsubuku

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The view west from Shin Kamagaya Station

The most expensive railway in Japan is the Hokuso Line, which runs for a mere 32.3 km between the Keisei Takasago Station in eastern Tokyo and the Inba Nihon Idai Station in Chiba Prefecture. If you travel from one end of the line to the other it takes 34 minutes and costs ¥870, which comes out to about ¥27 per kilometer.

Of course, many factors go into determining train fares and most of them have to do with the local situation. The main factor is demand, which is why you usually find higher fares in the deep countryside, where the sparse population can’t always support regular railway service. However, the Hokuso Line connects a fairly well-populated section of western Chiba to the capital via the Keisei and Keikyu railways, so why is it so much more expensive that other lines in the area?

Several weeks ago, Chiba Governor Kensaku Morita and the mayors of the municipalities served by the Hokuso Line asked the new land minister, Seiji Maehara, to reduce the fare through subsidies. Morita has already had some success in this area by getting the land ministry to reduce the toll on the Aqualine bridge-tunnel route that connects Kanagawa Prefecture to Chiba Prefecture in fulfillment of a campaign pledge. At present, student commuters on the Hokuso Line are eligible for locally subsidized discounts, but that plan will end in March.

Morita and the mayors want some kind of permanent discount for all patrons, and they think the land ministry should pay for it.

The Hokuso Line is a so-called third sector concern operated by the Chiba New Town Railway, a subsidiary of Keisei, which will use the line as part of the route for its new version of the Narita Skyliner, which debuts next year. The new express will take only 36 minutes to get from Nippori to Narita Airport.

According to various train-geek blogs, the reason for the high fare is essentially bad planning. The Hokuso Line, which is entirely elevated, was originally built to service a residential development project called Chiba New Town. When it was proposed back in the 1960s, the New Town was projected to attract 340,000 people. However, the population of the development area never exceeded 80,000.

Morita has suggested that the reason the development project didn’t succeed is that the fare was set too high. He believes that if the fare is low enough, more people will move into the area and make a thriving community that will put the railway into the black. But by the same token, some people think that once the Keisei limited express, which will follow the same route as the Skyliner, opens, more people will move into the Chiba New Town area because a faster train will be available. (The Skyliner won’t stop anywhere between Nippori and Narita.)

This is a classic chicken-egg conundrum: Hokuso Railway says it can’t reduce the fare unless more people use it, and the local government says they can’t promise more users until the fares are cut. As usual, the national government is called in to solve the problem.

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5 Responses

  1. I am sure you can go shorter distances for more money.
    For example, in Sakai, Osaka, to go from Sakai Higashi to Komyoike, a distance of just 15km… it costs 480yen… that’s over 30 yen per KM..
    of course, one part of that journey is on a completly private rail line…

    Or, you could travel the 22.4 km from Izumi-Otsu to Kansai airport for a mouth-watering 650 yen! Which also works out to close enough to 30 yen per KM… On a train that is regularly taken by many everyday!

  2. Please do more research before posting something like “The most expensive railway in Japan”. Anthony has given some examples, and also please look at the Hokushin Kyuko, also a third-sector-railway, in Kobe. It is only 7.5 km long and connects the networks of Kobe City Subway and Kobe Dentetsu. Fare for a single ride is 350 Yen (used to be 430 Yen until 1999), so that makes a staggering 46 Yen per kilometer.

  3. Yes, more research was called for. People who have a stake in the Hokuso Railway issue tend to refer to it as the most expensive train line in Japan, but apparently it has more to do with political hyperbole than anything else. Saying “Nippon-ichi” is guaranteed to attract attention.

  4. I live on this line! On the Wekipedia, Hokuso-line is declared as the most expensive line.

    I go to Ginza once a week to take French class and my train fare is 2400 yen round trip. You can buy two nice turtle necks at Uniqlo! My husband and I go see a move, boon it will cost us like 10,000 yen. It is brutal.

    Since Narita Sky Access will start the service July 17th this year, they decided to give 5% reduction in fare. I hope lots more people will live along this line.

    It is quiet and lots of nature and we love it!

  5. Well Hokuso IS the Most expensive. Research should be done on your side guys.
    Sure for the full ride it cost “only” ¥27 per kilometer. But if you go from “Shiroi” to “Chiba New Town” it will cost you ¥370 for only 6km, wich mean ¥61 per kilometer.

    I live on the Hokuso line, and my “teiki” is more then ¥40,000 per month.

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