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2014年5月 8日 (木)

(社説)リニア新幹線 早めにブレーキを

May 07, 2014
EDITORIAL: Maglev Shinkansen project not something to be rushed
(社説)リニア新幹線 早めにブレーキを

Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) on April 23 submitted its final assessment report to the government on the environmental impact of the new maglev bullet train service, scheduled to start in 2027 between Tokyo's Shinagawa and Nagoya.

The report was compiled with unprecedented speed. It was drawn up less than a month after the governors of seven prefectures along the new Chuo Shinkansen Line gave their feedback on JR Tokai's draft report issued last September.

Why the great haste?

"We did not act in haste," insisted JR Tokai President Koei Tsuge.
Be that as it may, the final report leaves too many questions unanswered.

For instance, it gives effectively no consideration to the huge volume of displaced dirt that will result from the civil engineering work, other than to perfunctorily note that JR Tokai will "repurpose part of the dirt."

And with regard to concerns voiced by the Shizuoka prefectural government about a possible landslide at the proposed dirt dumping ground, the report dismisses the threat and refuses to accommodate the latter's request for changes in the plan.

The report also rejects the Nagano prefectural government's request that the tracks through Oshika village be laid through a tunnel rather than on a bridge for safety reasons.
JR Tokai's reason for rejecting the change was that it would "delay the project's completion and also produce more displaced dirt."

The report does, however, show some improvement over last year's draft report. For instance, JR Tokai promises further studies on the impact on local wildlife.
Also, for the first time, it came up with estimates of greenhouse gas emission increases at the time the service starts. This should have been discussed in the draft report. Anyway, better late than never.

Under Japan's environmental assessment system, local governments are no longer in a position now to formally voice their opinions to JR Tokai. This makes the responsibility that much greater for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the Ministry of Environment, both of which will examine the report. We expect meticulous work from them.

Tsuge said he wants construction to begin as early as this autumn to ensure that operations start on schedule in 2027. Expectation has been voiced that an early start of this service will stimulate the nation's economy. And since JR Tokai is footing the entire bill, which is in excess of 9 trillion yen ($88.6 billion), the company obviously wants to avoid any added expenditures or delays.

But unlike the Tokaido Shinkansen project that needed to be completed in time for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, there is no social justification for setting 2027 as the target year for the completion of the new maglev Shinkansen project. Moreover, winning the understanding of residents along the service route, who will be affected in varying degrees, is indispensable to the project's success. JR Tokai must not be stingy with the time this will require.

The project will involve digging really deep under central Tokyo and building unprecedentedly long tunnels through the high-altitude Akaishi mountain range, known as the Southern Alps. There may well be unforeseen developments requiring JR Tokai to rework its plans.

We recommend that the company not be obsessed with the target year and be always aware of the importance of applying the brakes early, so to speak, and re-examining the project plan.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been strongly in favor of extending the service route beyond Nagoya to Osaka right from the start, has come up with a proposal to fast-track the project by getting the government to extend an interest-free loan of 3.6 trillion yen to help JR Tokai cover the construction costs for the extended section. But considering the time needed just for the assessment of environmental impacts of the Nagoya-Osaka stretch, we doubt that fast-tracking will be technically feasible.

The bigger the project, the more thorough the planning must be. Getting JR Tokai to understand this is the responsibility of politicians.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 5


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