Published by Railfuture

Railwatch is the quarterly magazine of Railfuture, which is free to members.

Non-members can subscribe to Railwatch, receiving it by post.


Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Comfort, speed and service

Letter from Japan by Chris Packham

Think of Japanese railways and three images come to mind, bullet trains, clockwork punctuality and white-gloved staff squeezing commuters into the last available space.

In fact the people pushers are not a common sight, but overcrowding is a way of life in the Tokyo and Osaka conurbations.

Trains are the life blood of these areas and are full every day from early morning to late at night. They are frequent and punctual but not comfortable.

Most have a Tube-style ambience with bench seats and few or no toilets. They are used on journeys of up to two hours during which passengers may have to stand for over an hour.

On main lines you can beat the crush - at a price - by using Limited expresses which are reservation only and twice as expensive as local trains.

Tickets are bought from machines, the fare being found from a route map. You can buy a low-value ticket and pay the balance of the cost at your destination. In that case, you either put the extra money in a fare adjustment machine or pay the inspector at the barrier. Tickets are not checked on local trains but you must have one to get through the automatic barriers.

Transfer tickets to other railway companies can be bought from ticket machines or train conductors for many, but not all, journeys.

Fares on the JR companies - privatised from the old Japanese national railways in the 1980s - are higher than those of other operators, and are about the same as in Britain.

The table below shows the options I have when I go to Tokyo. The Odakyu Limited Express offers the best balance of cost, comfort and speed, with reclining seats, ample leg room and hostess refreshment service.

Most new rail construction is on the Tokyo underground where a new loop line is being built and three other lines are being extended. An impressive feature of the underground is that most lines carry direct trains from surface lines at one or both ends - CrossRail style.

Several companies are adding extra tracks where possible and remodelling junctions to increase speed and capacity. The railways and Tokyo local government aim to offer commuters enough room to read a newspaper at rush hour.

The aim is very ambitious, if not impossible. Tokyo commuters will have to make do with their slim paperbacks, comic books and Walkmans for the foreseeable future.

OperatorTrain TypeTimeSingle fareComfort
JR EastLocal90min£6.50*
Limited express60min£12.00**
Limited express70min£8.00***
JR CentralShinkansen bullet train40min£14.00***

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

[Issue 76 Index]

[Railwatch Home] [Prev Issue (75)] [Railwatch Issues] [RIS Progress Reports] [Next Issue (77)] [Railfuture Home]

Rail users are encouraged to join Railfuture to help us campaign for a bigger and better railway - membership for individuals is just £20 per year

Railfuture is an independent, voluntary group representing rail users in Britain with 20,000 affiliated and individual members. It is not funded by train companies, political parties or trade unions, and all members have an equal say.

Railfuture campaigns for cheap and convenient rail services for everyone; better links for buses, bikes and pedestrians; policies to get more heavy lorries on to rail; new lines, stations and freight terminals. In short, a better rail service and a bigger rail system for both passengers and freight.

Railfuture is pro-rail but not anti-road or anti-air. However, we campaign for a switch from road and air to rail. We do not interfere in the running of the railway - we campaign for the quality and range of services provided, not how they are delivered. We are the only champion of all rail users.

Railfuture is the campaigning name of Railfuture Ltd.

A not-for-profit Company Limited by Guarantee.

Registered in England and Wales No. 05011634.

Registered Office: Edinburgh House, 1-5 Bellevue Road, Clevedon, North Somerset BS21 7NP (for legal correspondence only).

All other correspondence to 14 Ghent Field Circle, Thurston, Suffolk IP31 3UP

© Copyright Railfuture Ltd 2022.

Railfuture is happy for extracts to be used by journalists, researchers and students. We would, however, appreciate a mention of Railfuture in any article, website or programme. Except with Railfuture's express written permission, no one should distribute or commercially exploit the content.

Privacy Statement

Click Privacy to read Railfuture's GDPR statement on how we treat your data.


This site does not use its own cookies, although Google Analytics does. Hosted by TSO Host (cPanel) and maintained for Railfuture by Billing Specialists Ltd.