Japan’s rail system thrives

JR Shinjuku Station
Japan's rail network serves its population of 126 million.

By Karen Lentz

Railway movement
The Japan Railways Group–six regional passenger companies and one national freight carrier-–owns about 70 percent of Japan’s rail system, managing a network of train lines connecting the country’s rural areas and cities. The country’s railway system was privatized in 1987 after the Japan National Railway, a public corporation, sustained operating losses and excessive debt. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Shinagawa Station
Passengers move through Tokyo’s Shinagawa Station during a Thursday morning rush hour. East Japan Railway Company, or JR-East, which covers the Tokyo metropolitan area, employs over 70,000 and logged more than 134 billion passenger kilometers in 2016. The company’s Ticket to Tomorrow initiative is driving accessibility and station improvements in preparation for the 2020 Olympic Games. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Tokyo Station
JR East’s Tokyo Station serves over 3,000 trains a day and includes restaurants, cafes, and a multi-story department store. About 68 percent of the company’s revenue is derived from transportation lines, but it has diversified sources of income including station space, shops and hotels. JR East reported a ¥253.1 billion (about $2.23 billion) profit during the first three quarters of the fiscal year ending Mar. 31, up 2 percent over the year-ago period, as a result of increased earthquake-related insurance proceeds. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Shinjuku crowd
Travelers wait to cross the street coming out of Tokyo’s Shinjuku Station. Shinjuku is described as the busiest train station in the world, incorporating 20 tracks, 10 platforms, and 12 train lines. Over 3.5 million people a day–more than the population of Chicago-–travel through Shinjuku. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Inside train
Passengers travel on the Yamonote Line, a major line connecting multiple city centers. No eating, drinking, smoking or talking on mobile phones is permitted on trains. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Bullet trains, or Shinkansen, run at speeds of up to 199 miles per hour (320 km/h). The Shinkansen have a dedicated right of way, increasing reliability. A ticket from Tokyo to Akita, a trip of approximately 410 miles, typically costs 17,800 yen ($157) and makes the trip in four hours. The Shinkansen represented 30 percent of JR East’s revenue in 2016. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)
Photo at top: Japan Railway Group’s lines provide vital passenger service to Japan’s population of 126 million. (Karen Lentz/MEDILL)