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2014年9月 7日 (日)

社説:リニア建設 本当に進めて大丈夫か

September 06, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Editorial: Time still left to review maglev line
社説:リニア建設 本当に進めて大丈夫か

Plans to build a magnetically levitated (maglev) bullet train line that will eventually connect Tokyo and Osaka have moved a step forward with Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Central) applying to the land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister for permission for construction.
JR Central plans to begin operations on the Maglev Chuo Shinkansen Line between Tokyo's Shinagawa Station and Nagoya in 2027 and extend the line to Shin-Osaka Station by 2045. The line would cut the journey between Tokyo and Osaka down to one hour.

If permitted, the large-scale project will finally get under way 41 years after the central government mapped out its basic plan.

However, questions remain over whether the project should be given the green light without a review.

JR Central intends to fully foot the costs of the project, which are expected to total approximately 9 trillion yen. Critics have expressed concern as to the profitability of the "super-superexpress" line.

If the maglev train line were to threaten the company's management, it would not just be a problem for JR Central alone, but could force the national government to use taxpayers' money to bail out the company, since the project is of a highly public nature.

Nevertheless, the Diet has failed to hold comprehensive deliberations on the project and there has been no full-scale national debate on the issue. This is the biggest problem. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism should not easily allow the project to go ahead as if it has been decided in advance.

The maglev train line project aims mainly to make up for a capacity shortage on the Tokaido Shinkansen Line between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, decrease the traveling time on this section, and secure an alternative route for the Tokaido Shinkansen in case the line is affected by a powerful earthquake.

However, some have expressed doubts and concerns over the project, not only with regard to the line's profitability but also over safety and its impact on the environment.

The construction of a tunnel passing through the South Alps is expected to present a challenge, and the entire project could be substantially delayed because of this. JR Central has recently revised upward the estimated costs of the construction on the line between Tokyo and Nagoya by 93.5 billion yen from the figure the company had announced five years ago. Considering uncertain factors such as the work period, the price of construction materials, personnel expenses and interest rates, moreover, there is no guarantee that the costs won't increase any further.

The company has admitted that the Maglev Chuo Shinkansen Line project will be unprofitable even if unexpected increases in expenses are disregarded.

"The maglev line alone will never pay," JR Central Chairman Yoshiomi Yamada told a news conference in September last year when he was serving as its president.

JR Central apparently intends to use profits from the Tokaido Shinkansen Line to make up for deficit generated by the maglev train line, but it remains uncertain whether the company can increase or even maintain the current level of demand as the population is decreasing and aging. It is extremely difficult to predict what Japan will look like 31 years from now, when the construction work on the line to Shin-Osaka Station is expected to be completed.

There have been numerous examples of large-scale projects in which operational costs snowballed from their initial estimations. For example, the Honshu-Shikoku Bridge Expressway has cost 3.8 times its initial estimate. Lessons should be drawn from reckless projects based on overly optimistic forecasts for demand.

If an alternative route is necessary for the Tokaido Shinkansen in case of a Tokai earthquake that could hit the line, it does not have to use a maglev train system, and the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line could be used as an alternative route. The project should be considered as an issue that affects the whole nation. It is not too late to launch in-depth debate now to review the project.

毎日新聞 2014年09月06日 02時30分


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