What About Japan?

OK, this is going to be a short post, but I have to mention something that has bothered me for a long time: What about Japan?

Every time I see transit in other places discussed as models for Vancouver, Japan is never mentioned. Sure, there are major differences. Sheer population, for one. History, for another (the Romance Car, pictured above, is now 50 years old).

Rail-based transit in Japan has been around for nearly 100 years, and was never decimated like it was in North America (except I'm sure it must have required some rebuilding after 1945). And what better place to study than one where nearly 20 times the daily ridership of the SkyTrain line passes through one busy station, like Tokyo's Shinjuku Station? The entire system simply astounds in its level of service. Should not the best systems in the world serve as examples to be followed?

The main thing I'd like to see brought here is the trains themselves. The GVRD region seems to be stuck with limited options: if it's light rail, it will be a streetcar. If it's heavier, it will be SkyTrain, or even the West Coast Express. Anyone who has been elsewhere in the world, however, will tell you that SkyTrain is a toy train. It looks pretty, but does not have the simple functionality and carrying capacity of lines elsewhere in the world. Look at how SkyTrain was built to only have 4-car trains in most cases, or in some places 6-car trains.

The new Interurban should be built like commuter rail in Japan:

  • use a standard, popular 'medium' gauge track and cars to keep costs down and ensure parts are widely available
  • electricity provided by overhead 'trolley' lines
  • the line could thus be run at grade, elevated, or underground, with lower safety risks
  • at grade crossings would not pose a problem
  • drivers and conductors in each train
  • all stations to have ticket gates and less emphasis on armed security
  • riders pay based on how many stops they are travelling; not 'zones'

The new Skytrain might be a close relation, but I've not seen it yet. I believe a rail system like the Odakyu Line could be a great solution for ground-based commuter rail in lower-density areas like the Fraser Valley.

The Odakyu Electric Railway is the company that runs the line, and develops land at the stations: shopping malls and mixed residential/commercial areas. Translink is already looking at this kind of revenue model, and it has a long history (think of the streetcar suburbs).