Since the opening of the Higashiyama Line between Nagoya and Sakae in 1957, the Nagoya City Subway has expanded to an 89km, 93 station network, catering for over 1.1 million commuters a day. A total of 131 trains and 762 carriages are currently in operation, 48 trains on the Higashiyama Line alone. The busiest 5 stations, Nagoya, Sakae, Kanayama, Fushimi, and Yaba-cho, are used by over half-a-million travelers, or 48% of all commuters, every day.  

Unlike many modern cities around the world, Nagoya is fortunate to have an extensive, efficient public transport system that makes it an easy place to live and work. Upon arriving in Nagoya, visitors are over-awed by the ease of travel and relative lack of congestion on our roads. After a while we take all this for granted, and become infuriated when we miss our connection because a subway was 20 seconds late. It may not surprise you but Nagoya has not always been like this. The history of our beloved subway traces back to that of its predecessor, the Nagoya Tram System.

August 1, 1922 saw the opening of the Nagoya Tram System in the streets of central Nagoya. Between 1920 and 1960, the population of Nagoya grew from 420,000 to over 1.5 million. With increased running costs, limited seating capacity, and the need for wider roads to accommodate the increasing number of cars in the city, the tram network was gradually replaced by a new subway network; the last section of tram network was closed on March 31, 1974.

Between 1957 and 1969 the 20.6 km, 22-station Higashiyama Line grew in 5 spurts to stretch between Nakamura Koen and Fujigaoka; the final stretch to Takabata was not completed until 1982. In 1965 the Meijo Line opened with a 1.3km stretch between Sakae and Shiyakusho; by March, 1974 it had further expanded to run from Ozone to Aratama-bashi, and reached its current state in 1994. The Tsurumai Line opened in 1977 and reached its present state in 1993. To relieve stress from the Higashiyama Line, the parallel Sakuradori Line was opened at the height of the “bubble” in 1989 between Nakamura Kuyakusho and Imaike; a further addition in 1993 brought the line to its present length and construction on a further 4.2km extension from Nonami to Tokushige in Midori-ku is planned to start in 2009. The “missing link” in the Meijo “loop” section was completed between 1999 and 2004. The addition of the Kami-Iida Link Line in 2003 further linked the subway system with the Meitetsu network.

The secret behind the efficiency, punctuality, and safety of the network lies with its dedicated staff in the subway control nerve centers. All trains on the network are controlled under a Centralized Traffic Control (CTC) signalling system by teams of dispatchers located at several strategic locations around the city. Each team overseas the operation of one of the 5 lines. In order to keep the railroad’s traffic moving safely and smoothly around Nagoya each team has control over the track junctions and the signals that train drivers must obey. In each dispatcher’s office is a large graphical layout of the subway line under their control. With the help of high-tech computer technology, driver radio, and video relays on conjested platforms, each train’s location, speed, and progress is scrutinizely monitored. Trains are planned to depart to the second, any delay or premature departure is greeted by an alarm. With trains only minutes apart, the whole system would ground to a halt if a mistake is made.

Each dispatcher’s office is stationed 24 hours-a-day, 365 days-a-year, with teams of 3 or 4 dispatchers taking shifts around the clock. With dorms, a shower room, and a kitchen it is a home-from-home. On the busy Higashiyama Line, officially the last subways of the night pull into Iwatsuki and Hoshigaoka stations at 00:30, and re-start again at 05:30, but a lot of maintainance work and preparation is performed during this down-time.

The dispatcher’s office is also able to post up-to-the-minute network information on electronic sign-boards at all 93 stations. Delays resulting from earthquakes, adverse weather conditions (2 of the 5 lines have above-ground stations), platform congestion, and suicides are relayed almost instantly. News of major network disruption can also be sent to local and national media at the touch of a button.

In the event of an earthquake, seismic data is automatically relayed from 5 seismic intensity meters located around Nagoya to the dispatcher’s office. Any medium sized quake, Shindo 4 on the Japanese measurement scale, temporarily stops all trains for a few minutes; anything larger, a weak Shindo 5 or above will completely halt the network and any passengers are evacuated via the nearest station.

(Nagoya International Center)

henri daros

Photo: Henri Daros, Nagoya

Photo: Henri Daros, Nagoya

Photo: Henri Daros, Nagoya

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