August 20, 2014 4:36 am JST

Haneda's rise as international hub reshaping Tokyo

TOKYO -- A proposal for a new rail link that would almost halve the travel time between Haneda and central Tokyo shows how the airport is becoming a catalyst for infrastructure building in the capital.

     East Japan Railway unveiled its concept for the service expansion Tuesday. Passengers would be shuttled directly to Haneda from the JR Tokyo, Shinjuku or Shin-Kiba stations. The new line would cut the ride from Tokyo Station from as long as 33 minutes to about 18, with similar reductions in time from the other stations, JR East said.

     Completing the new connection would take until the middle of the next decade, but JR East said it would consider starting service to the airport from Shin-Kiba in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics. This stretch has existing infrastructure that can be repurposed for the job. But because extending the line all the way to the domestic terminal would take a while, passengers would have to disembark at a temporary station about 1km away, where connecting transportation would be available.

     JR East still needs to discuss sharing the estimated 320 billion yen ($3 billion) cost of the project with the national and municipal governments.

     By 2020, Haneda is expected to see 130,000 flights a year, up from the current 90,000. But around 60% of travelers now use either the Tokyo Monorail or the Keikyu Airport Line to get from the airport to central Tokyo. "Two lines alone can't handle the rise in passengers resulting from the Haneda expansion," a senior transport ministry official said.

     Closer to the airport, JR East is pressing ahead with plans for redeveloping an area adjacent to Shinagawa Station. In 2020, the railway operator aims to complete a new stop between the Shinagawa and Tamachi stations on the circular Yamanote Line, which wraps around central Tokyo. Eight high-rise buildings will go up nearby, offering residential, office and commercial space. JR East hopes tax incentives and deregulation will transform the area into a hub for international business.

     West of Haneda, a proposal has emerged for a subway link at Kamata, where the Keikyu Airport Line and other rail operators service separate stations roughly 800 meters apart. It would shorten the travel time between Haneda and Jiyugaoka, a trendy residential area, from 51 minutes to 33. But the project faces a number of hurdles, including splitting the estimated 100 billion yen cost and coming up with plan that can be finished by 2020.

     The government has set a goal of 20 million annual foreign visitors to Japan. Eager for tourists to spend more money, it is expanding the types of products they can buy tax-free. Plans call for 10,000 stores to be offering tax-free shopping by 2020, up from around 5,800 now.

     But welcoming greater numbers of foreign tourists will entail more than trains and stores. Tokyo could find itself with a 10,000-room shortage of hotel accommodations at the start of the Olympics, reckons Japan Tourism Marketing, an affiliate of travel agency JTB. Qualified foreign-language-speaking guides are also scarce, numbering fewer than 17,000 as of April last year.

(Nikkei)

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