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Business

Subway operator Tokyo Metro teaches tricks of the trade in Asia

Overseas operations focus on consulting and training in Vietnam and Philippines

Tokyo Metro will apply experience gained through its work on the Hanoi subway, shown under construction here, to its new project in Ho Chi Minh City.

TOKYO -- Tokyo Metro, which runs the city's largest subway network, is providing behind-the-scenes support to counterparts elsewhere in Asia, including helping a subway operator in Vietnam with management and offering worker training in the Philippines.

There is a great deal of potential demand for subways in Asia's bulging cities. More than 20 cities in Asia with more than 5 million people lack a passenger railway network, according to the Japan International Cooperation Agency, or JICA. Many of these rapidly growing cities hope to absorb some of Japan's subway expertise.

In Ho Chi Minh City, an urban area of more than 14 million people in southern Vietnam, construction has begun on its first subway line, which is scheduled to open in 2020. The 19.7km line has a 2.5km underground section and a 17.2 km elevated section. Along with Tokyo Metro, Japanese general contractors, including Sumitomo Mitsui Construction, are participating in the project.

A company to be set up by municipal authorities in Ho Chi Minh City and the city's Management Authority for Urban Railways will operate the subway.

Under a five-year contract through 2022, Tokyo Metro will help get the local subway operator up and running, and assist with management after the line opens. Although details have not been disclosed, Tokyo Metro is likely to draw on its previous experience with a railway project in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

So far, Tokyo Metro has not been asked to help with train operations, timetable creation or maintenance. Instead, it will offer advice on structuring the local company and creating operational plans. Such planning may include whether to base fares on the distance traveled or charge a flat fee in a specified area.

Tokyo Metro will also provide personnel guidance, such as the appropriate level of staffing and the skills required for prospective employees. Because running a commuter railway depends heavily on teamwork, Tokyo Metro will stress cooperation among employees. In the area of maintenance, the key is to create procedural manuals and ensure that employees understand the rules.

"It is difficult for local people to understand trains, so we need to teach them carefully," said Takahiro Tanisaka, a senior manager with Tokyo Metro's international relations department. The Japanese subway operator will also propose that its counterpart in Ho Chi Minh City diversify its business to increase revenue. The local company could run stores in stations and spaces under elevated railway tracks, for example.

Most of Tokyo Metro's overseas projects have come through JICA. It has won a bid to set up a training center for railway workers in the Philippines. Plans for the project, which runs through 2023, include developing a curriculum and training local instructors. In Jakarta, Tokyo Metro consults on railway operations and assists with train maintenance.

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