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Yui rail

By: KC

Date Posted: 2001-09-21

For the first time in 60 years Okinawa will have new public transportation system, Yui-rail (Okinawa Monorail). Starting in December, the monorail trains will begin trial runs on the real rail lines between Naha Airport and Oroku, although it will be another two years before all construction is finished and the business starts.

Backers of the project hope that the Yui-rail would become an essential part of the city’s transportation system and reduce people’s use of their own cars. They hope that it eventually would change the life style of Naha’s people, and gradually the rest of the Okinawan people, and even the all too well known concept of “Okinawan time.”

Okinawan people have embraced their peculiar habits including the “Okinawan time” for a long time although recently the slow lifestyle seems to fade out a bit and give way to the more hectic and punctual habits of mainlanders. “Okinawan time” is far from punctual, it’s easy going, and laid back. Often a person making appointment does not care much about the exact time to meet someone or begin something.

Yui-rail is expected to cause a revolution in Okinawan lifestyle. Different from bus, taxi or car, monorail will come and go by an exact timetable. It’s planned average speed from beginning to end will be 28 km/h including the stopping time at each station. It will take 27 minutes from Shuri to Naha Airport. According to a survey conducted in 1994, the same trip would take 42 to 69 minutes by a bus or taxi, meaning passengers will save 15 to 42 minutes of their time when relying on the monorail. However skeptics point out that it is not easy to change the mobile car based lifestyle.

Studies conducted by Okinawa Prefecture officials predict that 2,123 persons will use the monorail during the rush hour peaks. 35,000 passengers are expected to use the rail each day. 24 cars will be in use daily.

People living outside of Naha City cannot easily accept this dream traffic system. Many already say that the “Yui-rail” should be extended towards central Okinawa, an idea that is often considered at Prefectural level discussions. Project managers say that after the monorail is completed, the actual number of passengers who use its services daily will be taken into consideration for any further plans. The total cost of the monorail is ¥70.4 billion and to extend the line will be very difficult unless the nation’s economy improves drastically.

For the time being, the biggest effect “Yui-rail” has on people’s lives is the disturbance of traffic since the construction work demands regulating the number of traffic lanes on the streets along the line. The construction of the 15 stations along the line is now well under way, and about 13 km of the rail is on schedule to be finished by 2003. According to Prefectural officials, up to 97% of the construction work will be completed by next March.

The fare structure will be based on bus fares. Business hours will be from 6 a.m. to 1130 p.m. The planners are also considering changing bus routes so that they will feed the monorail stations and lessen the traffic congestion further. For that reason, some stations will have traffic squares beneath or in front of them. For people confined to wheel chairs, each station will be installed with an easy commuting system including necessary elevators.

The whole line will be complete by next July. The December trial runs will be carried out within the first 2.7 km from the airport, and will be extended eventually to the whole length of the track. And if everything goes as planned, within two years the Okinawan lifestyle will start shifting away from the “Okinawan time” concept, at least in Naha City; it may be true.

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