Rail transport services in Japan are provided by more than 100 private companies, including
Six Japan Railways Group (JR) regional companies (state owned until 1987) which provide passenger services to most parts of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku, and Kyushu;
The nationwide JR freight company; and
16 major regional companies which provide railway services as part of their corporate operations. There are also dozens of smaller local private railways.
Many of the private rail companies rank among the top corporations in the country. Railways were built by private corporations developing integrated communities along the railway lines, allowing them to achieve profitability by diversifying into real estate, retail, and numerous other businesses. Regional governments, and companies funded jointly by regional governments and private companies, also provide rail service.
There are 27,268 km of rail crisscrossing the country. JR (a group of companies formed after privatization of JNR) controlled 20,135 km of these lines as of March 31, 1996, with the remaining 7,133 km in the hands of private enterprise local railway companies. Japan’s railways carried 7.289 billion passengers (260 billion passenger-kilometres) in the year 2013-14. In comparison, Germany has over 40,000 km of railways, but carries only 2.2 billion passengers per year. Because of the massive use of its railway system, Japan is home to 46 of the world’s 50 busiest stations.
The major usage is of urban and intercity lines, and around the time of the privatisation of JNR, many unprofitable local and rural lines were closed, especially in Hokkaido and Kyushu. However with patronage on many non-urban local lines continuing to decline due to factors such as rising levels of car ownership and declining rural populations, further closures are planned. For example, On 16 October 2015, JR West announced that it was considering closing the 108 km Sanko Line due to poor patronage, and was in discussion with the two prefectures served by the line, Shimane and Hiroshima, as well as other municipalities served, concerning future plans. In fiscal 2014, the line carried an average of 50 passengers per km per day, compared to 458 per km per day in 1987. On 29 September 2016, JR West announced that the entire line will close on 31 March 2018.
On 19 November 2016, JR Hokkaido’s President announced plans to further rationalise its network by up to 1,237 km, or ~50% of the current network, including closure of the remaining section of the Rumoi Main Line (the Rumoi – Mashike section closed on 4 December 2016), the Shin-Yubari – Yubari section of the Sekisho Line, the non-electrified section of the Sassho Line and the Nemuro Line between Furano and Kami-Ochiai Junction. Other lines including the Sekihoku Main Line, Senmo Main Line, the Naroyo – Wakkanai section of the Soya Line and Kushiro – Nemuro section of the Nemuro Line are proposed for conversion to Third Sector operation, but if local governments are not agreeable, such sections will also face closure.
Fukuoka, Kobe, Kyoto, Nagoya, Osaka, Sapporo, Sendai, Tokyo and Yokohama have subway systems. However, unlike Europe, the vast majority of passenger traffic is on suburban commuter trains that criss-cross metropolitan areas. In addition, many cities have streetcar and monorail networks.
Japan pioneered the high-speed shinkansen or “bullet train”, which now links Japan’s largest cities at speeds of up to 320 km/h (200 mph). However, other trains running on the conventional line or “zairaisen” remain relatively slow, operating at fastest 160 km/h and mostly under 130 km/h.
Japan’s railways carried 31 million tons (21 billion tonne-kilometres) of goods in 2013-14. The share of railways in the national logistics is as small as 6.2% (2010), by far the lowest in the G8
Rail transport in Japan is a major means of passenger transport, especially for mass and high-speed travel between major cities and for commuter transport in metropolitan areas. It is used relatively little for freight transport, accounting for just 0.84% of goods movement. The privatised network is highly efficient, requiring few subsidies and running extremely punctually.N700 series Shinkansen train