Local Railway "Crisis of Survival" -How to Maintain "Regional Transportation" -March 11, 17:54

"I can't leave a route with few passengers as it is ..." In


January, the words spoken by the top management of JR West in an interview spread the ripples.

It was perceived that JR would finally start a drastic review of the deficit routes in the regions.


What is happening now in the "legs of regional movement" that are spread all over Japan?


And what is necessary for the survival of local routes?


The interview team thoroughly covered the situation in each area.


(NHK Local Railway Problem Coverage Group)

Ripples of JR West Top Interview

An interview with the top management of JR West broadcast by NHK on January 2nd of the year.



President Kazuaki Hasegawa cut out the following about regional routes that continue to be in a difficult situation.

President Hasegawa of JR West


"Unable to leave routes that are rarely used as they are due to difficult management ..."

And he strengthened his vocabulary and continued like this.

President Hasegawa of JR West


"It is very difficult to continue as a business while continuing to be in the red. It is very difficult


to turn a profit on a route with a" transportation density "of less than 2000 people in any form. There is also a way to

"


convert to a bus", and I would like to ask you to think together about rebuilding regional transportation in a new era. "

President Hasegawa had the impression that he was a "manager who chooses words carefully" at a regular press conference once a month.



President Hasegawa clearly stated that the problem of the deficit route, which had been postponed so far, was "difficult to turn a profit in any way" and "considering including conversion to a bus", causing ripples to the people concerned. It has spread.

"Border of discontinued line" Impact of over 50%

What is the "transport density" explained by President Hasegawa?



"Transport density" is important data for railway management, showing the average number of people transported per kilometer per day.



At the time of the privatization of the former JNR 35 years ago, the boundary between whether to discontinue the deficit local lines was "transportation density of 4000 people".



This is a map showing the JR lines with a "transportation density of less than 4000 people".

The "yellow line" is for routes with less than 4000 people, and the "red line" is for routes with even lower transport density of less than 2000 people.



It can be seen that routes with less than 2000 people, which President Hasegawa explained, "It is difficult to make a profit in any way," are spreading all over the country.



Then, how many lines are there in the whole country at the "border of discontinued lines"?

This is a graph showing the ratio.

Lines with less than 4000 people accounted for 36% of the total in 1987 when the former Japanese National Railways was privatized to JR, but the number of local railway users decreased due to the declining population and expanded to 41% in 2019. did.



And the number has increased further because the movement was suppressed by the corona wreck.



Last year, in 2020, it was 57%, which was more than half of the JR routes nationwide.



Routes with less than 2000 people have expanded to 35%, and routes with less than 200 people have expanded to 4%.

To the limit of "business model" to make up for the deficit

However, the problem of local deficit routes must have been pointed out for some time.



Why has the discussion of a drastic review started now?



Railway companies, especially JR, which has been privatized from the former Japanese National Railways, are strongly required to play a role as public infrastructure.

For this reason, we have established a business model in which local routes, which are the "foot of regional movement," are kept even if they are in the red, and the deficit is supplemented by the profits earned from the Shinkansen and urban areas with many passengers.



However, due to lifestyle changes such as the establishment of remote work due to the influence of the new corona, demand for railways has decreased even in urban areas.



JR West's financial results are expected to reach a maximum of 116.5 billion yen in 2021, following the final deficit of 233.2 billion yen in 2020.



In other words, it has been pointed out that the loss of profits in urban areas due to the corona disaster has pushed the limits of the existing business model and made it difficult to maintain a deficit route.

JR West executive


"10 years' worth of changes have come at once in Corona.


Now, there is no future unless we rebuild regional transportation .


It is time to seriously face what we should do in the future."

Local routes that are indispensable for daily life

Local routes whose survival is in jeopardy.



However, there is strong opposition to the discontinuance of railways, which has supported the movement of the region for many years.



Rei Washizawa, a second-year high school student living in Otari Village, Nagano Prefecture, in a heavy snowfall area dotted with large-scale ski resorts.

Every morning, Mr. Washizawa uses the JR Oito Line, which connects Nagano and Niigata prefectures.



I take the first train of the Oito Line from Kita-Otari Station, which is the nearest station 2 km away from my house, and go to a high school 40 km away.

Mr. Washizawa can attend high school now because of the Oito Line.



There are around 10 high schools along the line, and there are many other students who go to school.



However, the number of Oito Line users is steadily decreasing.



JR West operates a 35.3km section connecting Itoigawa Station in Niigata Prefecture and Minami-Otari Station in Nagano Prefecture.

You can enjoy the scenery of the four seasons from the train window and it has been loved by railroad fans such as "Riding iron" and "Taking iron", but the transportation density of this section last year was only 50 people, 20 minutes at the peak. It has fallen below 1 of.

"Discontinued" talks Local governments along the railway line are repulsing

In an interview at the beginning of the year, JR West mentioned that top management was reviewing the deficit route, including the conversion to buses.



On February 3, we announced that we would start discussions on the future of this "Oito Line" with local governments along the line.

However, immediately after this announcement, there was a fierce opposition from local governments along the line.



It is said that he felt that the word "discussion on the future" on the JR side could be "conversion to a bus" or "discontinued line", which is an unrecognizable factor for the locals.

Mayor Ushikoshi, Omachi City, Nagano Prefecture, Chairman of the Association of Local Governments along


the Line I am aware that there is


, but the starting point of the discussion is how to make the best use of the Oito line, and it is not the story of "there is a shift to the bus."

Mr. Washizawa who goes to school on the Oito Line.



Right now, my parents drive me to the nearest station, but if the line is discontinued, I have to send it to another station, which is 8.5 kilometers away, which is more than four times the current line, which increases the burden on my parents. It will be.

Rei Washizawa


"It is understandable that the railway must be abolished as the number of users decreases.


However, if there is even one person using the railway in the area, it will be discontinued. I don't want it, and even if the number of people using it decreases, I think it should be left. "

Along the Oito Line, there is Hakuba Village, which was also the stage for the jump competition of the Nagano Olympics, and it is a route that is often used by tourists during the ski season.



Rei's father, Yoshikazu, works at a ski resort along the line, but is worried that the village's tourism industry will decline if the line is discontinued.

Mr. Yoshikazu Washizawa


"Because it is a village made up of tourism, there is a concern that it will be difficult for tourists to come to


. I think there is also a need to travel on local routes after Corona.


Now it is in the red .

Although it is a route, I want you to continue operating even in small details without cutting off the weak. "

The country also started to consider the sense of crisis

"Local routes nationwide are in a critical situation ..."



On February 14, about 10 days after the announcement of the "discussion" on the Oito Line, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism held a study group on the renewal of local routes and regional transportation. I launched it.

At the beginning of the first meeting, Mr. Atsushi Uehara, Director General of the Railway Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, said in front of the participating experts and railway operators, "Due to the influence of the new Corona, etc. The structure has stopped working. I have to say that some lines are in a critical situation. "



Most of the meetings were closed to the public, but executives and experts from the railroad operators who attended said, "It is difficult to maintain the railroad as it is." It is important to improve convenience. "



Railroad operators have difficulty maintaining local deficit routes.



There is a strong impatience that the national government must now take measures to maintain local public transportation with the help of the national and local governments before the deficit lines are closed one after another by leaving it to the business operator. It is.

Professor Takeuchi, Tokyo Woman's Christian University, Chairman of the National Study Group


"I would like to derive the optimal strategy, not just" abolition "or" survival ", and find a desirable user-oriented solution


. We will ask the government to support us in order to implement it.


Since it is the current situation that we can not stand by leaving it to the railway operator, if we can find a better answer by sharing information with each other and understanding how much each other can do. thinking about"

Announcement of income and expenditure of JR West "unusual"

Two days after the establishment of the national study group.



JR West has moved again.

In particular, we have announced a policy to disclose the income and expenditure individually for "line sections (= certain divisions of lines)" with "transportation density of less than 2000 people", which is considered to be a strict guideline for profitability.



This is the first time that the income and expenditure has been disclosed since the company was established.



By making the condition public, the aim is to have local governments along the railway line "take it as my own."



In the future, we would like to announce the income and expenditures of the 30 target lines one by one and proceed with discussions including conversion to bus routes.

JR West executives


"No longer can we survive this situation with the company JR West alone, and we no longer have the physical strength to postpone discussions on the deficit route


. Then, I wanted to share the sense of crisis that JR alone would not be able to maintain local routes with local governments along the railway lines. "

How to maintain?

Regional movement

How can we maintain a “regional movement foot”?

The case of Toyama City is a hint.



In 2006, 16 years ago, Toyama City took over the discontinued JR Toyama Port Line and introduced the LRT, a tram that incorporates the latest technology.

The business started as a third sector funded by Toyama City and local railways, and the city paid about 1.7 billion yen for initial capital investment and about 150 million yen for maintenance costs every year.



In addition to setting up four new stations and increasing the number of trains, there is also a unique service that you can use for free if you buy a bouquet in the city.

For those who purchased a commuter pass over the age of 65, we made efforts to improve convenience, such as using a flat rate of 100 yen in the city center during the day.



As a result, the number of passengers in 2019 has more than doubled just before the discontinuation of the line by JR.



Currently, the management integration with the local railway has reduced the city's cost burden to about 80 million yen every year.



Masashi Mori, who was the mayor of Toyama at that time.



He recalls that it was necessary to switch to a new transportation network for future users.

Mayor Morimae, Toyama City


At the resident briefing session for the launch of the LRT, there were many harsh opinions such as "A car is enough from now on. Do you even use taxes?"


However, the aging of the population is progressing .

, Many people will not be able to drive a car anymore. They


have complained that they have to change the city for the sake of future citizens. Of


course, there are harsh opinions about putting taxes on the railroad business .

Don't hesitate to try to convince. I think the


municipality must sweat and create a forum for discussion and discuss who will bear the cost. "

An initiative in which the local government bears part of the costs that have been relied on by railway operators to maintain the foothold of regional movement.



In addition, there are some lines that have been avoided from being discontinued by the "upper and lower separation method" in which the local government owns the railroad tracks and land, and the local government and the business operator bear the costs. ..

Is it the maintenance of the railroad?

Is it a shift to a new shape?

It has been 11 years since the Great East Japan Earthquake.



The abolition of railways has become a serious debate even on routes in the affected areas that were seriously damaged by the earthquake.



In addition to the 35th anniversary of the privatization of JNR, this is also the 150th anniversary of the opening of the first railway in Japan.



The railway was born from the wishes of our predecessors who wished for the development of the region, supported people's lives and economy, and has a long history.



However, it is also true that lifestyles have changed dramatically from the time of opening, and social conditions have changed significantly.



Will we continue to maintain the railway?



Or should we shift to a new form of public transport?



Based on the discussions at the study group, the national government wants to set the direction by July, but the answer derived from the discussions of railway operators, the national government, and local governments along the railway lines is our daily life. It is likely to have a big impact on.


Kohei Inoue

, Reporter, Social Affairs Department


Sayaka Yamada

, Reporter, Social Affairs Department

Economic Department Reporter


Taichi Yokoyama

NHK Osaka reporter


Yukiyoshi Yoshida

Osaka Bureau Reporter


Kosuke Mihashi

Nagano Bureau Reporter


Shintaro Makino

Keywords: