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Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010
Aomori draws closer
Super-express trains began running directly between Tokyo and Aomori on Dec. 4 after the Tohoku Shinkansen Line extension from Hachinohe to Shin-Aomori — both in Aomori Prefecture — opened. The fastest run links Tokyo and Aomori in about three hours and 20 minutes, about 40 minutes less than before. In March 2013, bullet trains doing 320 kph will start running between the two cities, further shortening the ride time by some 15 minutes. Tokyoites' image of a faraway Tohoku is about to disappear.
Full Shinkansen services between Tokyo and Aomori come 38 years after the government decided on plans to extend the super-express train line beyond Morioka, Iwate Prefecture. The 1970s' oil crisis and a dearth of funds delayed bullet train line construction. Now, new lines are set to open one after another. In March 2011, full services will start on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line. Bullet trains will run between Nagano and Kanazawa from fiscal 2014. And the Tohoku Shinkansen Line will extend from Shin-Aomori to Shin-Hakodate, Hokkaido, in fiscal 2015.
The central and local governments concerned should do their best to ensure that bullet train services contribute to economic and cultural development of local areas, including promoting tourism. Local governments can increase the number of visitors by creating various types of cultural activities. Efforts also must be made to improve access to tourist assets in the countryside from Shinkansen stations.
New Shinkansen services could also have negative effects. For example, some people may opt to shop in major cities instead of in local cities or towns. Local governments need to work out viable urban development plans.
With the start of full Tohoku Shinkansen Line services, however, the 96-km East Japan Railway line between Hachinohe and Aomori has been downgraded to a third-sector line. Local people are already complaining of higher fares and a less convenient train schedule. The prefectural government should provide enough money to ensure that the line serves commuters well and enables efficient transport of farm produce.