Sunday, 1 May 2016

JAPAN - Osaka Subway

Cosmosquare - western terminus of the Chuo Line, probably Osaka's nicest Subway station

While I have actually moved on (this blog is now several days behind), a few notes on Osaka, where I stayed for three days (well, in fact five, but two were reserved for Kobe and Kyoto), but three days were not enough to explore this city's urban rail network thoroughly. But I did what I could, rode on all 8 Subway lines and did get a proper look at the "New Tram" as well as the Osaka Monorail. And a bit of JR and private railways, too.

To buy a one-day Subway ticket from ticket machines was no problem. Upon entering the first time at Honmachi (or sometimes spelt as Hommachi), I thought that they have a very nice way-finding system, but later I had to realise that this has not been implemented in many places yet, but I hope it will. It uses strong colours and instead of the Subway logo in the respective line colour, it uses the line letter in a colour circle, probably inspired by the New York City Subway.

The next thing that surprised me was that most lines only run every 8 minutes during off-peak hours, I think just the Midosuji Line is more frequent, but then this line is quite different from the others anyway, it's the most Tokyo-style line with 10 cars and almost always overcrowded. This is quite an interesting issue as it happens in several other cities, too. The very first line remains the busiest, even though many other lines have been built to actually relieve it. Apparently, a first line is always designed to serve the busiest corridors, but if there is just one such corridor and anything a few blocks away is considered too far, then the overcrowding will persist. Theoretically, Osaka's grid-like network should be good, but there are some lines, especially the latest addition in the east, the Imazatosuji Line, that carries probably only a quarter of the passengers that use the Midosuji Line; and it was built in a rather scaled-down form. To give it more reason to exit, it should at least be extended to represent a sort of outer semi-circle line.

Midosuji Line's northbound Umeda station, not just during rush hour!

Kyobashi station, on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line, one of the two linear metro lines

The Imazatosuji Line (or line 8 as it is internally known, too) is one of two of these linear-motor metro lines, the other being the Moscow Line (I call it that because it has a Moscow-style silly excessive name which reads as Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line!). But as I said in previous blogs, I don't like those linear metros, I don't see the savings and the advantages. As disadvantages, the cars are smaller (though not really much smaller than a Berlin large!-profile train), and they rattle excessively. So if a small-scale metro is what they want, I'd go for the Copenhagen-style driverless type, because at least you can provide a very frequent service and save a lot on driver's wages.

Indeed, the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line has an absurdly long name, especially as the other lines at least for locals seem quite logical, as they refer to the main street the line runs along in the city centre, so this one could simply be the Nagahori Line. Station architecture is quite functional like everywhere in Japan, the overall appearance is more Berlinesque than in Tokyo, less shiny, though no graffiti, of course.

Kyobashi station - some murals add a little extra design, here cherry blossoms...

"New Tram" on ramp towards Cosmosquare

Luckily, the Nanko Port Town Line is now fully integrated into the Subway system, so no extra ticket is required. It connects with the Chuo Line at Cosmosquare in a bi-level station, the Chuo Line on the lower and one floor up you'll find the "New Tram", as it is also known. The funny thing about this driverless guided system is that the cars look like shrunken metro cars; other such systems have stylish or futuristic designs, this one has a Japanese metro car design. As it links two metro lines, a trip is always worthwhile to enjoy the view over this redevelopment area. At the other end, the Nanko Line terminates in an elevated station, but it's directly connected to the underground mezzanine of the Yotsubashi Line via stairs and long escalators.

One day I was joined by German expat Oliver M. and we headed for the Osaka Monorail, which despite its name, I think, runs mostly outside Osaka on a tangential route through the northern suburbs. It could be the only monorail system with a branch line, but I'm not quite sure now. Like Kitakyushu, this is a conventional straddle-beam monorail, and the ride is quite smooth. With a train every 10 minutes it could actually run more frequently as it is well patronised. Before you get on it, you have to pay some additional fare also for any line that takes you to a monorail station, as the Subway 1-Day Pass will not reach that far, although the Midosuji Line actually intersects with the Monorail at its northern end, Senri-Chuo. But as this is Japan, the last few stations on the red line are not proper Subway, so for a few stations more you'll need to pay an extra. But you could do that as you exit the Subway gates at Senri-Chuo, where the interchange is actually quite long, and through the typical shopping mall. We took a Keihan train from their centrally located Oebashi station, and this left us at the Monorail's eastern terminus.

The Monorail junction at the Expo Memorial Park is quite interesting, as if it had been laid out for the northern branch to be the main line. So now, despite a grade-separated junction (I wonder what a flat monorail junction would look like), trains from the northern branch that terminate on the central "track" of the 3-track station, have to cross the main "track". During certain times, those trains continue to Senri-Chuo, and then they use the outer platform edges here.

 Old-fashioned rolling stock on Osaka Loop Line

A few words on the JR suburban services: they are one step ahead of Tokyo and have assigned letters to their routes, a letter which is even clearly shown on trains, which already made my life a bit easier. The loop line, for example is O, the main line from Kobe via Osaka to Kyoto is A, or the underground Tozai Line is H. It is still confusing sometimes, because a train can switch from A to H, for example, or the loop is used by other services, too, but I would consider it a big step forward. Unlike in Tokyo, the Loop Line shares tracks with other trains, which (being not too familiar with the outer branches) seem to loop around Osaka and then continue on one of the branches, like starting at Tennoji, looping counterclockwise back to Tennoji and out towards the southeast.

JR Tozai Line: Osakajokitazume station (only station without platform gates), with train displaying 'A' destination (main line to Kobe)

Although it is on my UrbanRail.Net map, I wasn't really too aware of the Tozai Line (East-West Line), maybe because it doesn't really play the role such a Passante is supposed to play. There is a train every 7 minutes, and during off-peak the trains are not empty, but nothing like the Osaka Loop Line either, which is pretty busy at all times. In fact, many people coming in from the east, change at Kyobashi to the ring line. At the huge Osaka/Umeda hub, the Tozai Line's station is near, but carries a different name, Kitashinchi, so people may not perceive it as part of the complex, maybe it should be called Umeda minami (South Umeda) to be in line with the adjacent Subway stations. And at Nishi Fukushima, strangely it does not provide proper interchange with the loop line station Fukushima, which is only one block away. A pedestrian tunnel should not be so difficult to build, considering that a square mile around Osaka station is all subterranean malls. And even in the station and on the surface, the existence of the other station is not clearly signed.

By the way, while trying to do that transfer, I found a crowd outside Fukushima station: I felt a kind of satisfaction when I learned that operation on the entire loop had collapsed due to a power failure! Who would have expected that in this perfect railway land?

Regarding maps, Osaka is not too good. When you ask, they hand out A4-sized sheets with the map printed in English on one side, and in Japanese on the other side. The letter type used sometimes makes it difficult to read the map. The maps posted inside stations are much better. What is quite confusing, is what is proper Subway and what is outside the day pass area. On the northern Midosuji Line, the stations are still numbered the same way, but shown in a different style, the same with the eastern Chuo Line, but this difference is not explained. Connecting Hankyu routes on the Sakaisuji Line, however, are shown in a different style.

Tram upgrading going on at Tennoji terminus

I don't want to say much about Osaka's remaining Streetcar system (Hankai Line), what I saw was rather pathetic. At Ebisucho, hardly anyone was waiting for the next tram (20-minute headway) during rush hour, and when I got to Tennoji, I found a very "Eastern European" terminus, but next to it they were finishing a new terminus, plus several hundreds of metres were rebuilt, probably opening in a few months. But again like in Melbourne, the terminus is a single stub, so like now, trams may have to wait until they can actually get into the terminus to let people get off. This line was actually rather busy on a late morning, so I rode it out to Kaminoki, from where I took a Nankai train back into their busy Namba terminus.

Previous stop: KOBE | Next stop: KYOTO


Osaka Subway at UrbanRail.Net (feat. map)


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I believe the Chiba Monorail does have something of a branch line - but it's run as two separate lines with no shared trackage...
    By the way should the Saito Line be considered a branch per se, since it's mostly a shuttle? Are there any through trains?

    1. Chiba's so called Monorail is quite a different thing from Osaka's, it does not run on concrete beams, but hangs from a metal beam.
      The Saito Line is a proper branch, as some trains do continue west to Senri-Chuo, in fact every other train during rush hour. But Japanese concept of "line" is quite different to ours anyway.

  3. I've always been surprised how run down and shabby some of the older downtown subway stations are in Osaka. A few of them remind me more of New York than the classical Japanese metro and their dark corners can be rather frightening for the security-conscious late at night. But Osaka is a much rougher town than Tokyo or Nagoya. Interline connections can be awkward in Osaka, and the new Keihan Nakanoshima Line is poorly integrated with the subway as well. Overall, much less convenient than Tokyo's system.

  4. According to Wikipedia, the line with the excessive name initially was only called Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line after its original terminus and was not planned to run under Nagahori street. However, it was later extended to the west and was renamed similar to the other lines, but the new Nagahori Line retained the old name as second name, perhaps for tourists with old guidebooks!

  5. Go to a major JR West station like Nishikujo, Osaka, Kyobashi or Tennoji and ask for a MAP (large) and it'll show you every line in the Keihanshin Metropolitan area. I work close to Nishikujo station and they have staff that deals with foreigners requests.

  6. They've been handing out maps because tourists were getting confused.

  7. I found a map for you from another site

  8. I found this page which is pretty informative for your continued trip in Japan.

  9. I read in that the tram system is mentioned here is actually a light rail system. Which is it actually - tram or light rail?

    1. You could call it an old-fashioned light railway - it is certainly not a "Streetcar" as it only runs on the street for a short section, and it is not a modern light rail as you would know from the U.S.A.

    2. Yes, you are right, thank you. Light Railway is the appropriate word for it.


Tell us your experience of this transport system!