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Japanese Monorail Fleet Sizes Suggest Most Systems Are Small-Scale

Light Rail Progress – November 2002

Monorail systems are occasionally proposed as an alternative to light rail transit (LRT). However, unlike urban LRT systems, most monorail applications appear to be relatively short, shuttle-type or simple point-to-point services with few or no branches. in Japan, the country with the highest concentration of monorails in actual urban revenue service, and the most extensive monorail fleets, most monorails appear to serve as feeders to conventional, heavy-duty rail systems or for special applications in extremely dense and highly congested urban conditions. (See monorail trainset on beamway in Kitakyushu, right.)

The relatively small size typical of Japanese monorail systems is indicated by their fleet sizes. Leroy Demery, Jr., lead co-author of the prospective Electric Railways of Japan, Volume 1, Second Edition, has prepared fleet list information based on the 2001 issue of Shitetsu sharyo hensei-hyo (Compiled List of Private-sector Railway Rolling Stock), published in Tokyo. The following listing uses the rollingstock code from the Japan book series (patterned after the "Taplin code," devised by Light Rail Transport Association's Mike Taplin): "M" = motor car; "T" = trailer car.

Japanese Monorail Systems: Rollingstock and Trainsets

City-System Rollingstock Type Trainset Configurations
Chiba M40 20 two-car formations (air-conditioned, aluminum bodies). A small number of runs during the morning peak period on Line 2 use four-car trains.
Inuyama M6 2 three-car formations.
Kitakyushu M40 10 four-car formations. (in an apparent cost-cutting measure, no air-conditioning is provided.)
Naha M24 12 two-car formations. Judging from website photos, one can conclude that stations are built for four-car trains.
Osaka M52 13 four-car formations (air-conditioned, aluminum bodies).
Tokyo-Haneda M114 19 six-car formations (air-conditioned, aluminum bodies).
Tokyo-Shonan M20 T1 7 three-car formations.
Tokyo-Tama M60 15 four-car formations.
Tokyo-Ueno Park M2 1 two-car formation.

In assessing the size of these Japanese monorail applications based on their comparative fleet sizes, it is useful to keep in mind that each Japanese monorail car is roughly half as long as a "typical" American LRV (light rail vehicle). Using this as a basis for conversion, one can make the rough calculations of equivalent LRV fleet sizes for the major operating urban Japanese systems. (Smaller lines, performing simple shuttle-type or circulator services, have been excluded.)

Japanese Monorail Fleets: Equivalent LRVs

City-System Train Configurations Equivalent LRVs
Chiba 20 2-car trainsets 20
Kitakyushu 10 4-car trainsets 20
Naha 12 2-car trainsets 12
Osaka 13 4-car trainsets 26
Tokyo-Haneda 19 6-car trainsets 57
Tokyo-Shonan 7 3-car trainsets 11
Tokyo-Tama 15 4-car trainsets 30

Most of these fleet sizes seem quite small compared with LRV fleets even for modest-sized North American cities operating LRT. (See photo of LRV storage yard in Denver, left.) For example, using data from a presentation by John Schumann to the 2000 National LRT Conference, the following table lists LRT fleet sizes for a number of major LRT installations:

US LRT Systems: Fleet Sizes

City-System LRVs in Fleet
Baltimore 53
Calgary 85
Dallas 95
Denver 31
Hudson-Bergen 29
LA Blue Line 69
Portland 72
Sacramento 36
St. Louis 56
Salt Lake City 23
San Diego 123
San Jose 50

This analysis would appear to suggest that, on the whole, Japanese urban revenue monorail systems – even those functioning as the main rail transit system of a city – are much smaller-scale operations than comparative North American LRT systems.

Data and portions of this report have been adapted from material provided by Leroy W. Demery, Jr.

Rev. 2002/11/24

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