CRYSTAL KUA / CKUA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Mayor Mufi Hannemann, with senior adviser Paul Yonamine, rode Japan’s Yurikamome rail yesterday.
Mayor sees potential in elevated train like Japan’s
Hannemann tours the system of a potential rail transit bidder
TOKYO » Mayor Mufi Hannemann and other city officials spent yesterday morning riding the waterfront rail transit system known as the Yurikamome line, named after a black-headed gull that swoops above the Tokyo waterfront.
Tokyo-based Sumitomo Corp., which is interested in building a rail system in Honolulu and has been courting the city for months, hosted a tour of the central operations center for the fully automated train system. The last phase of the 10-year-old Yurikamome rail line is under construction on an artificial island in Tokyo Bay.
"I was very impressed. Sumitomo obviously built a great system here," said Hannemann, who met with Sumitomo President and Chief Executive Officer Motoyuki Oka. "The way they went about it, the criteria that they set, are many of the things I was looking for."
The 8-mile Yurikamome line is the first of three rail systems that Hannemann is touring this week in Japan.
His administration is trying to determine the best mass-transit system for Honolulu after he and the City Council approved a 0.5 percent general excise tax surcharge to help fund such a project. The new tax will be levied beginning January 2007.
Rail is his first choice, Hannemann said. One of the reasons the mayor said he likes the Yurikamome line is that it runs along an exclusive elevated track, and not on the ground, avoiding traffic congestion.
"I think they raised some interesting points of why you need to go elevated," Hannemann said.
Yurikamome's Tadatoshi Watanabe told the group that going above ground level is also safer, because it prevents accidents with vehicles.
Sumitomo has constructed complete rail systems or delivered trains for several projects in Asia and on the U.S. mainland, including the "people mover" system at Washington's Dulles International Airport and Los Angeles County's light-rail system.
The mayor noted that one criticism of an elevated system is that "you block view plains with this monstrous thing that you're looking at."
But Tokyo transit officials said there was an unexpected benefit for riders.
"Now that it's elevated, a lot of the users, they feel that they enjoy the views from the train itself," Watanabe said through an interpreter. "People who have a little more time, they can enjoy the view and ride the Yurikamome system."
Hannemann said he also liked that the project came in on time and on budget, and that five years after the line started up in 1995, the project started to turn a profit.
Annual revenues are $83 million, while the cost to operate and maintain the system is $35 million, according to transit officials.
When the project started, people wondered whether it was going to meet initial ridership projections of about 29,000 trips a day, but that number has grown to around 80,000 a day, officials said. Each train consists of six cars that can carry 352 people.
The Yurikamome line also has rubber wheels rather than steel, which cuts down on noise and vibration.
The mayor said he liked the idea that the project came about as a result of cooperation between the public and private sectors, with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government constructing part of the infrastructure and Yurikamome Inc. providing the equipment.
The Yurikamome line offers a good example, Hannemann said, of how development sprouts around rail stations. Hannemann's group got off at the station in Shiodome, a once-underdeveloped section of Tokyo that is now booming.
If the 6-foot-7 Hannemann had one slight complaint about the system, it was that he had to stoop a bit when he stood up in the train cabin.
The Yurikamome Rail Transit Line
» Opened in 1995
» Cost $1.6 billion to construct
» Elevated, fully automated system
» Line runs 8 miles from the center of Tokyo at Shimashi to Ariake on the artificial island of Odaiba.
» Each train has six cars with a normal capacity of 352 passengers
» Average speed is 40 mph
» Daily ridership is at about 80,000
» Operated by Yurikamome Inc., with two-thirds ownership by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the remainder by 12 private banks