Go to contents

In Japanese Prefecture, Eco-Friendly Facilities Gaining Acceptance

In Japanese Prefecture, Eco-Friendly Facilities Gaining Acceptance

Posted October. 22, 2007 06:38,   


When one gets off at Japan’s Tomaya township railway station, one can see a new light rail transit (LRT) tramway using tram-train technology. It is an innovative blending of tramway and intercity railway technology that’s been sweeping Europe, but Tomaya was the first city in Japan to embrace the global LRT revolution.

The new LRT line covers the 7.6 km stretch along the coast to the north and has become one of the busiest public transportation systems in Japan, with about 5,000 riders per day since opening in April last year.

Vehicles called “Potram” help elderly citizens or people with disabilities to have easy access when getting on and off the train. The new LRT runs with less vibration and noise.

The significant portion of the LRT line comes on the heels of the former “Tomaya Minato tramway,” which closed after 80 years of deficits. The Toyama prefectural and municipal governments took over the infrastructure maintenance costs, however, and local and government economic groups jointly set up a third-party company to operate the system.

In Toyama, with a quarter of the population consisting of people over 65, the LRT is successfully serving as the role of their feet. According to a recent survey of the passengers of the LRT, people in their 50s and older were the most frequent users of the system. Although Tomaya prefecture expected the LRT to run a deficit in the first years of operation, it recorded about a 2 million yen surplus last year.

The LRT brought many benefits, such as improving public transportation, enabling the placement of government office buildings in downtown areas, and providing attractive commercial spaces for the city’s younger dwellers.

Toyama’s Grand Plaza serves as a case in point. The 1,400 m² space located between department stores near Tomaya Station has become one of the town’s most popular spots among young people. Its large stage and screens helped the LRT increase the number of passengers from 10,000 to 30,000.

Toyama, which has a population of about 420,000, and covers about 1,240 km², has the lowest population density in Japan. Since city dwellers heavily rely on automobiles, its average car ownership per household was Japan’s second largest at 1.73.

With these efforts, the population of the city increased by 27 people last year for the first time after decades of negative growth. Although the number is slight, it carries significant meaning.

Preventing global warming and securing energy have become the major concerns of the international community. In 2002, an eco-town was created on land in northern Toyama prefecture. Eight enterprises in the eco-town recycle all the industrial materials and wastes discharged from industrial activities in the area.

Among them is Toyama Bio Diesel Fuel (BDF), which is the area’s largest refinery of waste oil. It sells biodiesel fuel to the local government and public vehicles made from recycling cooking oil collected from restaurants, hotels, and catering facilities. The price is 100 yen per liter, but its cost is 130 yen. So far, the production has incurred more financial costs then income. It is reported that the city also plans to provide a repayment system if citizens bring used vegetable oil to the plant for recycling.

The company says, “Although the raw materials used by the BDF in the western countries are mostly vegetable oil, we utilize used cooking oil. Our method is more difficult, but we want to be faithful to our “eco-friendly principles.” The facility also carries out recycling wastes produced by urban households.

Tomaya Green Food Recycling uses methane gas produced from fermenting food wastes for power generation. The biogas produced by the company’s facilities amounts to 2,500 m³: 1,500 m³ are used for power generation and the rest is sold. The electricity produced by the company is the equivalent of 1,800kW per day, which is amount that 4-5 households can use for about five months. Maintaining these facilities produces deficits, but the company believes the investment is necessary for the future.