Yellow light in Japan for planned 2027 opening of linear line

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - The construction of about nine-kilometer section that passes through the prefecture is blocked by Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu . 

Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu is blocking construction of the about nine-kilometer section that passes through the prefecture. Discussions between the prefectural government and Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which is constructing the 286-kilometer line that will link Tokyo and Nagoya, have floundered, and even attempts by the transport ministry to find a solution have not resolved the impasse. It is uncertain how this matter will be settled.
 At a press conference Wednesday, Kawakatsu expressed his disgruntlement at the direction of talks held between the prefectural government, JR Tokai and the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.
 “The ministry can’t just tell everyone what to do,” Kawakatsu said. The governor also demanded that rather than just the ministry’s Railway Bureau attending the talks, its river-related departments and the Environment Ministry also should have seats at the table.
 Construction of the linear line’s Shizuoka section requires, in accordance with the River Law, approval from the prefecture, which manages the upper reaches of the Oigawa river. Construction of a tunnel that includes the Shizuoka section would reduce the volume of water in the river, so the prefectural government had demanded that sufficient measures be implemented. However, talks between the prefectural government and JR Tokai on this issue made no progress.
 As these discussions became bogged down, the transport ministry stepped in as a “referee” to nudge things along.
 JR Tokai is shouldering the linear line’s construction costs, so the ministry initially had been reluctant to get involved. However, the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has poured a total of ¥3 trillion into a project it has positioned as a centerpiece of its economic policies, and it has been decided that extending the line to Osaka would be brought forward by up to eight years.
 If the line’s 2027 opening is pushed back, the repercussions also would influence the Osaka extension. Questions also would be asked about the point of spending such a massive sum of taxpayers’ money. 
 In September, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga indicated the government would be willing to get involved.
 “We’ll make necessary arrangements to ensure there is no impact on the scheduled opening,” Suga said, essentially forcing the transport ministry to roll up its sleeves and join the fray.
 On Oct. 24, Kozo Fujita, administrative vice minister of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry, held talks with Kawakatsu. On Oct. 31, the ministry, prefectural government and JR Tokai agreed to establish a new deliberative body.
 The ministry planned for all three parties to begin discussions within a week and reach a settlement before the end of the year. However, Kawakatsu’s unexpectedly fierce opposition to the members who would be involved in these discussions could scuttle this scenario.

Environmental concerns
 Shizuoka Prefecture’s refusal to allow construction to start revolves around the issue of water volume in the Oigawa river, which 620,000 people use for water in their daily lives. The prefecture holds deep-rooted concerns that if any spring water that surfaces during construction flows outside the prefecture, the river’s water volume would fall.
 To dismiss these concerns, JR Tokai last year announced it would return “the full amount” of spring water that would enter the tunnel back to the river. But during talks in August, JR Tokai altered its position and explained that, for technical reasons, it would be “difficult” to return all the water for a certain period of the construction process. This sparked even stronger pushback from the prefectural government.
 The tunnel will slope upward from neighboring Yamanashi Prefecture to Shizuoka Prefecture. As digging of the tunnel progresses, spring water that emerges will inevitably flow down to the Yamanashi side.
 “JR Tokai should rethink its plans,” Kawakatsu said.
 The prefecture is highly sensitive about water supply issues involving the river. In the 1980s, after a small dam constructed in the river’s middle reaches reduced the water volume, residents living in the basin area launched a movement demanding the water be restored.
 Kinuyo Someya, the mayor of Shimada, Shizuoka Prefecture, said starting construction will “require efforts to gain the understanding of residents” of the area through which the river runs.

Clock is ticking
 The linear line will pass through seven prefectures, but only Shizuoka will not have a station under the current plan.
 Kawakatsu revealed his true feelings on the issue when he said, “We don’t oppose the linear line, but it doesn’t have any positive effects for us.”
 Kawakatsu mentioned boosting the local area and economic “compensation” as conditions for giving construction the green light, but this triggered criticism from within Shizuoka Prefecture and he backed down on this demand. People related to the matter are puzzled over what Kawakatsu’s true motive is.
 “If a decision is made before the end of this year, and construction starts early in 2020, the line should be completed just in time for the 2027 opening,” one source told The Yomiuri Shimbun.
 However, JR Tokai is becoming increasingly concerned about the holdup.
 “The longer it takes for construction to start, the harder it will become to complete the construction project on time,” JR Tokai President Shin Kaneko said.