by Kim Pedersen
Monorail history has again been made in Japan. On November 27th of 1998 officials cut ribbon for the first section of the Tama Monorail. The new monorail was 5.4 kilometers long. A second section (blue line on map below) opened January 10, 2000, bringing the system length to 16km. A commemorative postal stamp was issued in honor of the new system in 1998. Long range plans call for the system to eventually include an incredible 93 km of dual beam track!
A Hitachi Type 1000 monorail train arriving at Tachikawa-Kita Station.
This diagram shows the Japan Monorail Association's standard for straddle-beamed monorails. The track is very close to the size to Seattle's 1962 Alweg monorail. In fact, all Japanese straddle-type monorails are descendents of the Alweg system. The spacious interior of the Tama Monorail is similar to monorails at Kitakyushu and Osaka. Note the doors on floor for access to load-bearing wheels.
The following photos were taken by former TMS President Kim Pedersen on his 2003 visit to the system.
On my second journey to Japan, in 2003, I enjoyed the pleasure of riding two monorail systems that didn't exist on my previous trip in 1990. The Tama Monorail was only in the very early stages of construction in1990. By year 2000, a 16.0 km system was in full operation. Here we see a train traversing over long steel spans at it approaches the busy Tama Center Station. The steel spans carry the monorail over several major conventional rail lines, including the Chuo and Ome Line.
All nineteen stations are large and passenger friendly. Simplicity of use also makes it easy for foreign visitors to take advantage of the system.
On the 2003 journey, I was accompanied by TMS members Ken Streit and David M. Ice. David can be seen here on the right of the train videotaping POV footage.
Interiors of the Hitachi trains are spacious and comfortable. One of our favorite features is the walk-through trains. One can easily walk from one end to the other end of the train, which is an advantage for safety and comfort.
A unique triangular access switching point gives trains access to the maintenance, storage and operations center. That's Tama Monorail's headquarter building at the end of the dual-rail spur line.
Another view of the spur line access and switch section. Two stations are visible in the distance.
Lots of power lines in Japan! That's one thing I always notice while visiting the country. It makes me think of Godzilla films, when the big guy has to walk through a lot of these lines to get to the cities he wants to destroy. How annoying! Back to reality...Note that this is one of the steel span sections that allow longer distances between pylons.
Attached to the front of the train is a monorail snow plow. Snow is a factor in the Tama area and is easily delt with by simply knocking it off the track and with continuous train runs on the guideway. As with other monorails of the world, advertising is one source of revenue. This train is "wrapped with bows." If you're wondering what that is on the side of the hill, it's a crowded graveyard.
A heavily landscaped area along the track, something that monorail allows because of the limited use of land for supports.
The contemporary lines of a modern Japanese monorail system and station. The trains could be considered a little less than stylish however, with their boxey look. Later versions of Hitachi trains have improved upon this, such as with the Okinawa Monorail.
At the top of one of the hills along the line, monorail tracks operate at grade level and run through a tunnel.
One of the busiest stations is a university station at the top of the hill. Students depend on the monorail for transit to and from the campus to their homes. This view from the university station shows the hilly area that the monorail operates in. Another hill section of monorail track can be seen in the distance on the right.
It's a race! I should note that the Tama Monorail is one of the smoothest riding straddle beam systems in the world, if not the smoothest. Hitachi's many years of construction experience have led to fabrication of nearly perfect beams, a very important aspect of monorail passenger comfort and for reduction of wear and tear on trains.
Hills? Narrow corridors? Not a problem for monorail!
Photographs are copyright 2001 the Monorail Society unless noted otherwise.