The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Tuesday, September 16, 2003


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"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

We Opinionated Ones would like to add our two cents worth to a debate that flares up every now and then regarding transit safety. Certain monorail enthusiasts have claimed that no monorail passenger fatalities have ever occurred in Japan. This (in common with a lot of other claims by monorail-philes) has inspired a great deal of skepticism.

Your Favorite Transit Pundits have concluded that, absent any documentation to the contrary, the monorail enthusiasts have it right – this time, at least.

Although transport accidents do occur in Japan, together with fatalities, the safety record achieved by the various operators is exceptional. In other words, they log an extremely high number of passenger-miles between accidents.

We estimate that the six "full-scale" Japanese monorails have carried roughly 9 billion passenger-miles over the past four decades – with 75 percent of this carried by one line, the Tokyo Monorail. Daily passenger-mile figures for these six operators, for fiscal year 2000, are as follows:

Chiba, 115,000.
Kitakyushu, 99,000.
Osaka, 325,000.
Shonan, 60,000.
Tokyo, 1,017,000.
Tama, 278,000.

Total, 1,894,000.

Nine billion passenger-miles since 1964 is such a teeny, tiny number -- in the Japanese context -- that it almost defies description.

Tokyo's 12 subway lines carry about 26 million pass-mi per day. The figure for all rail lines within the Kanto metro area (i.e. within a 31-mile radius of Tokyo station) is about 100 million pass-mi per day. Add 60 million per day for the Keihanshin metro area (31-mile radius of Osaka station) and 30 million per day for the Chukyo metro area (25-mile radius of Nagoya station) to get about 200 million rail pass-mi per day in Japan's three largest metro areas. Shinkansen services carry about 120 million pass-mi per day.

We think that monorail enthusiasts would be well advised to avoid overselling the (apparent) Japanese monorail safety record, because they leave themselves wide open for retaliatory “sound bites” like the following:

“Yeah, but conventional rail in major Japanese metro areas carries more traffic every six weeks than monorails ever have!”

Or, since the aggregate passenger-mile total for all rail services nationwide works out to about 660 million per day:

“Yeah, but conventional rail in Japan carries more traffic every two weeks than monorails ever have!”

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