整備新幹線 着工ありきでなく十分検証を

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 9, 2012)
In-depth studies needed on extended Shinkansen routes
整備新幹線 着工ありきでなく十分検証を(2月8日付・読売社説)

We have nagging doubts about whether three new Shinkansen sections will produce effects that justify the huge investment required to build them.

The government should avoid making a hasty decision based on the idea that starting construction is the basic premise.

A verification panel of scholars and experts of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has started discussions on the planned sections.

They are reexamining whether simultaneously starting construction of the three sections, a policy confirmed by the government and the ruling parties late last year, is appropriate.

The panel is checking sections planned to run between Shin-Hakodate and Sapporo on the Hokkaido Shinkansen line; Kanazawa and Tsuruga on the Hokuriku Shinkansen; and Isahaya and Nagasaki on the Kyushu Shinkansen.

Total project costs will top 3 trillion yen.

The panelists are required to properly check the profitability and economic effects of the extended lines.

Calls to start constructing the three sections were very strong when the Liberal Democratic Party-led administration was in power.

However, the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration froze the projects in 2009 as part of its review of public works projects.


New revenue source found

The DPJ-led administration's latest policy turnaround to start construction was possible, it said, because it had found the money to go ahead with the plan.

As a new revenue source, the government zeroed in on charges JR companies pay to the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency to use Shinkansen-related facilities.

Law revisions that came into effect last year enabled these charges to be used for construction costs.

For the time being, about 40 billion yen will be available annually.

According to the government and the ruling parties, costs not met by these charges will be shouldered by the central and local governments.

Furthermore, the construction period--which is usually 10 years--will be extended up to 24 years to reduce the financial burden required for a single fiscal year.

The government aims to open the Hokkaido section in fiscal 2035, the Hokuriku section in fiscal 2025 and the Kyushu section in fiscal 2022.

However, we think this idea is strange.

If the construction period is extended, the total project cost will grow by more than 200 billion yen from the initial estimate.

Even if the cost for a single fiscal year is reduced, it is crystal clear that state and local government coffers will feel the pinch even more if huge budgets have to be poured into Shinkansen line construction for nearly 25 years.

The local governments concerned probably hope to make the Shinkansen lines a pillar for regional economic development.

However, in addition to forking out for construction costs, these local governments will inevitably face the difficult problem of regular railway lines that run alongside the Shinkansen lines falling into debt.


Will passenger numbers increase?

The transport ministry has estimated the three sections will produce average annual profits of between 2 billion yen and 10 billion yen after they open.

However, opening the Nagasaki-Isahaya section will trim the time between Hakata and Nagasaki stations on the Kyushu Shinkansen route by only 28 minutes, compared with the existing regular railway line.

Extension of the Hokkaido route will mean Sapporo is an about five-hour ride from Tokyo.

Both lines will face fierce competition with airline companies, so it is anyone's guess whether they can attract more passengers.

A ministry estimate on the lines' cost efficiency, which indicates the benefits to localities and passengers compared with the funds invested, came in at a smidgen over the break-even point of 1.

It is important to establish integrated networks of expressways, airline routes and railway lines.

It is not too late to reexamine what to do with the Shinkansen sections whose construction has not started after parts now being built, including one between Shin-Aomori and Shin-Hakodate stations, have been completed.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 8, 2012)
(2012年2月8日01時05分 読売新聞)

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