Saturday, 23 April 2016

JAPAN - Kitakyushu Monorail


On the Shinkansen, Kitakyushu is only 16 minutes from Fukuoka, so I could have explored this city's monorail system easily on a daytrip, but in the end I decided for the locker option to continue straight to Hiroshima the same evening (22 April 2016).

Monorail train entering Kokura station on level +1

The bad thing about the Kitakyushu Monorail, there is no day ticket. So I had to use my PASMO stored-value ticket each time I wanted to get out and back into the system. I don't know for how long you could actually remain inside the paid area, and for example ride the whole line in both directions and get off at Heiwadori, a short walk from the railway station? Would the system understand that you only travelled between two stations? Or would it get suspicious and send you to fare adjustment? Has anyone tried? And what if you actually exit where you first entered? Anyway, to avoid problems I tap in and out as any real Japanese would do.

The good thing, you can use any of the IC cards available across the country and also add value to it. For someone who lives in Germany where each city not only has its own fare system, but also a completely different philosophy about fares and zones and subzones, using just the same card all over the country is like heaven. Especially for the occasional riders, it is so much easier, as you don't really have to worry about fares, as long as there is some credit on your card, and if not, you can always add some.

Monorail map

The monorail line initially started a few hundred metres south of the railway station, but was eventually extended, and the first station is now perfectly integrated into the railway station complex, with trains one level above the main lobby, and actually visible from there. Route diagrams are displayed in all stations, but there is no map to take away. While in other places there are always some leaflets to pick up, Kitakyushu has nothing about the monorail, it seems.

Typical entrance to monorail station, here at Tanga 

Opened in 1985, this is actually the most dated-looking of all urban rail lines I have seen in Japan so far. Especially the accesses to the stations look quite run-down, whereas the mezzanine and platform levels are o.k. Just the terminus at the railway station and the original terminus Heiwadori have an island platform, all other stations have side platforms, and though longer, stations have a similar layout to those in Naha. Here, there is mostly (or always?) also an escalator down from the platform, besides a lift and stairs, of course. Between street level and mezzanine, there is normally one up-escalator and stairs on either side of the street. One could say that the stations are almost designless, or have a very basic and plain design, somehow similar to Vienna's elevated stations, but without the elegance the line colours add to the stations in Vienna. The basic tone is cream, and walking down from the platform to the mezzanine in one station reminded me of those staircases you find in hospitals or department stores no one uses because everybody takes the lift.

Typical monorail platform, here at Kawaraguchi-Mihagino 

Jono station seen through driver's window

The lowest point of the viaduct is at Jono station, where the mezzanine is actually at street level, and this is also a good photo spot. Otherwise the viaduct is at a normal height, not excessively high, and you get a good view of the neighbourhoods the line runs through as well as of the mountains that surround the city. Taking pictures from the end of the platform is not ideal, because their is a glass wall with thin black lines on it. You can get decent shots with the train entering on the other side, but again, be careful not to be hit by the train entering in your platform. The monorail does not have platform gates, just a fence, but the area where the train doors are, is open. The train floor does not exactly match the platform height, so one of the middle doors has a gentle ramp to allow wheelchair users to get on without the help of others.

The stations have, however, one singular features, yet another system to announce when the next train will arrive (there is a basic 10-minute headway). First I was wondering what this sign was, but then understood it quite intuitively:

Next-train indicator: the next train is now approaching the previous station

With the original terminus at Heiwadori, the switches between the two beams are actually located to the south of that station. So between Tanga and Heiwadori, the trains alternate between eastern and western beam to continue into Kokura station, and then return on the same track, which somehow limits the minimum headway to what it is now. There is a layover of some 4 minutes, so with a continuous driver change as done on some metro systems, this could be reduced and thus also more trains offered if necessary. But this monorail is certainly not one of Japan's busiest urban rail lines, at least I haven't seen any train getting full, always easy to get a seat. It will certainly have its rush hour, too. Almost all trains were running with full adverts.

Regular livery vs. advert

Viaduct south of Tanga station

Viaduct near southern terminus at Kikugaoka

Movable beam section next to southern terminus at Kikugaoka (normally only the departure platform is used)



The ride of the four-car trains is decent, not too smooth, but it doesn't shake either. I assume that these are the first-generation cars, so they have been running for 30 years now. I wonder whether there are plans to replace them.

 Inbound Chikutetsu tram arriving at Chikuhu-Katsuki

As I had time, I took a JR train to Kurosaki, to see the Chikutetsu line to Nogata, this is a kind of interurban tramway running through the western parts of Kitakyushu (which has quite a large area of merged cities). It runs about every 12-15 minutes on the inner section, but suddenly I was stranded on the outer part where there is a train only every half hour during off-peak times. They have just introduced low-floor cars, making the line look more like a tram line than before. I only saw one in service, maybe it's the only one they have. Typically you have to get on through the rear door and exit by the driver who checks tickets or collects fares.

New Chikutetsu tram announced inside older vehicles

Previous stop: FUKUOKA | Next stop: HIROSHIMA


LINKS

Kitakyushu Monorail (Official Site)


Kitakyushu Monorail at UrbanRail.Net (feat. map)

2 comments:

  1. A good description of this system Robert. Regarding your question ... 'I don't know for how long you could actually remain inside the paid area, and for example ride the whole line in both directions and get off at Heiwadori, a short walk from the railway station? Would the system understand that you only travelled between two stations?'...I did exactly that and was just charged for the journey between the two nearby stations. I often do this on small systems where there is no day ticket and where I dont plan to fully explore the system. In Asia Id say approx 60% of the cities Ive done this on dont have time limits and so there is no problem riding the system in this way. Some systems also set a generous time limit from when you enter the station (eg. journey time to your planned destination, plus 90 mins).

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  2. The tram here you mentioned is actually a light rail line. The original tram line has closed in 2000.

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