November 2, 2018
'Japan's Modernization Experience as a Legacy for the World' Part 3: A Steam Whistle Heard 'Round the World', 50 Years of Teaching Rail Technology

The Delhi Metro in India. Japan provided cooperation toward its construction, and the metro reportedly changed the way people live in the city.

In October 1872, four years after the Meiji Restoration, Japan's first railroad opened between Tokyo (Shimbashi) and Yokohama, a 29-kilometer stretch.

There is a song about the opening of this railway, which has become a symbol of modernization. Almost a century later, in 1964, the Tokaido Shinkansen opened, and shortly after that Japan began transferring rail technology and knowledge to developing countries. In this article, Part 3 of the series "Japan's Modernization Experience as a Legacy for the World," we take up the subject of rail.

The father of Japanese railways and the foundations of the Shinkansen

An elevated rail bridge built near the center of Tokyo in the 1890s (National Diet Library).

Masaru Inoue is known as the father of Japanese railways. Mr. Inoue was one of the Choshu Five, who clandestinely traveled to England to study its technologies and systems for the Choshu Domain before the Meiji Restoration. After they returned to Japan, they promoted rail projects with foreign experts invited from Europe*1.

Mr. Inoue hired people with experience studying abroad and focused on cultivating engineers in Japan to lay the foundations of a rail industry in the country.

After World War II, Japan accepted funding from the World Bank to build the Tokaido Shinkansen, and it went into service in 1964. The Shinkansen was the first train in the world to realize commercial operation at speeds over 200 kilometers per hour. The Shinkansen showed new possibilities of rail to a world where the automobile industry had been proliferating.

Applying the latest technology from the start: 50 years of assistance

In 1966, Japan made an ODA loan to South Korea to improve its rail equipment and began giving technical instruction to Ghana about railway tracks.

Rail engineer Yoshihiro Akiyama (now of Japan International Consultants for Transportation Co., Ltd.) proceeded to Zaire (today the Democratic Republic of the Congo) as an expert for the Project on Reinforcement of the Transportation Capacity between Banana and Matadi, which started in 1974.

The project constructed Africa's longest suspension bridge, for use by both automobiles and trains, the first full-fledged bridge across the world-famous Congo River. This bridge was constructed to improve access to a major port. At that time it was said to be impossible to use a suspension bridge for trains because trains were thought to be too heavy and likely to cause the bridge to sag. Know-how from the Honshu–Shikoku Bridge Project, on which work had just started, was applied to the bridge, and it was completed in 1983*2.

Yoshihiro Akiyama, third from right, with old friends as he revisits the Matadi Bridge in 2017. Techniques from the Honshu–Shikoku Bridge Project, on which work had just started, were applied to the construction of the bridge.

Many difficulties were overcome, and a completion ceremony was held at last. "I'll never forget the sight of the president and a vast crowd of Zairians rejoicing," Mr. Akiyama said. Whenever local stakeholders come to Japan for training on maintenance, old friendships are renewed. "Building relationships is essential to ODA," Mr. Akiyama always says.

Leveraging Japan's experiences, Mr. Akiyama later became involved in the Study on Privatization of Polish State Railways in Poland and has been actively participating in overseas rail projects for nearly 40 years.*3

Utilizing Japan's varied experiences in a way that suits a country's situation

JICA, in cooperate with Japanese Railway Experts, has transferred basic principles, new ideas and techniques accumulated from Japan’s experience to countries and regions in a way that suits their situations.

• Myanmar: Improving the service and safety of the national railway

A bridge inspection in Myanmar

Myanmar has a rail network covering some 6,000 kilometers. Facilities were not maintained appropriately, however, and had deteriorated to a considerable extent. As a result, operating speeds had declined and there were frequent accidents.

JICA has provided Myanmar with cooperation in the rail sector for more than 30 years. In recent years, JICA has provided assistance to improve track maintenance techniques and operation service, provided car-maintenance technologies for the circular railway of the metropolis of Yangon and assisted with updating its signal system. It has also urged railway employees to take steps to improve service based on feedback from users.

• India and Indonesia: Building high-frequency urban railways while emphasizing safety

The Delhi Metro under construction. There were thorough safety measures in place, including helmets, reflective vests, lifelines and steel-toe boots.

Japanese urban rail is characterized by having many lines and frequent, punctual trains.

JICA provided support for the urban railway of the Indian city of Delhi from the planning stages in 1995. Builders used safety measures including light sensors during construction. With the introduction of operational know-how, queues for boarding and women-only cars, the Delhi Metro is said to have changed the way residents of the city live.

Work began on the Jakarta Mass Rapid Transit, Indonesia's first urban railway, in 2013. The MRT was planned based on the Study on Integrated Transportation Master Plan for JABOTABEK in the Republic of Indonesia conducted by JICA. A 15.7-kilometer segment currently under construction using Japanese expertise and technology is expected to become operational around spring 2019.

• Thailand: Urban rail and station-area development carried out under a unified concept, a Japanese specialty

A conceptual drawing of the redevelopment of an area centered on Bang Sue Station. Multiple stations, office buildings, hotels, shopping centers and housing projects are part of the concept.

As the urbanization of developing countries proceeds, one aspect is getting worldwide attention: coordination among the redevelopment of metropolitan railways and station areas, urban development and development along rail lines*4. For this kind of coordination to take place, many people must be using public transportation.

With Japanese cooperation, construction is being carried out under the Red Line Mass Transit System Project. The project aims for its two lines to go into service in 2020. The project connects the 23 kilometers between Bang Sue Junction, a northern point in central Bangkok, and the suburb of Rangsit. In step with this project, JICA conducted a survey for the redevelopment of the Bang Sue area, showed examples of such redevelopment in Japan, and helped create a redevelopment concept that combines offices, hotels, shopping centers and housing.

Support for order-made rail that suits local needs and is only possible with Japanese cooperation

Mr. Akiyama said he expects future assistance from Japan and JICA to entail packages that include human resource training and the development of station areas and areas along rail lines.

JICA will continue providing multifaceted support for order-made rail projects that meet the individual needs of developing countries.

*1 According to the article " Meiji Modernizers: The Chōshū Five " by Hiroki Kashihara.

*2 The Project on Reinforcement of the Transportation Capacity between Banana and Matadi later became just a Matadi Bridge project because of the economic deterioration of Zaire and other factors, and the laying of rail lines and sleepers were not completed. The bridge remains the only real bridge across the Congo River, and the construction technology for it was later put to use in building such bridges as the 2nd Bosphorus Bridge and the Osman Gazi Bridge in Turkey, and the Irtysh River Bridge in Kazakhstan.

*3 Japanese National Railways was set up as a public corporation in 1949 and served as the primary means of transport in post-war Japan. However, because of intense competition from automobiles, airlines and other transportation for both passengers and freight, it became unprofitable in 1964. The Japanese government carried out a four-stage rehabilitation plan beginning in 1968. In 1987, Japanese National Railways was broken up into six regional passenger transport companies and one national freight company and privatized, and the various JR companies were launched.

*4 Transit-Oriented Development, or TOD. TOD is one promising method of achieving sustainable cities not overly reliant on automobiles, and it is positioned as an aspect of the "quality infrastructure" method that is a Japanese strength. (Source: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism of Japan)


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