Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 10/29/2021

by Juan Thomas
137 views 3 min read

Today, I enjoyed a very good conversation with one of my subordinates about public transportation here in Bogotá. She expressed some frustration at the heavy road traffic, which is not surprising for a metro area of 10.7 million. The public transportation scene is dominated by buses…chief among them being the TransMilenio system. The old tram lines closed several decades ago and the rideshare services are very inconsistent…something I will cover in the 2 Years in Bogotá series. I mentioned to my subordinate that Metro de Bogotá is being built but she countered that it won’t be ready until at least 2028 and that it will still be limited because it’s only a single line, which is not good for such a densely populated area. I agreed with her on that and it brought to my remembrance the gold standard of rail transit. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the JR East train system.

How I first came across this moment? As I wrote 5 years ago, I was introduced to the Tokyo train system on July 2, 2007…in my 2nd week of residency in Japan. It started when I boarded a Tokyo-bound Chūō Rapid at Fussa Station. The Chūō Rapid is one of the Kanto regional lines serving the Greater Tokyo Area.

What it meant to me then? The JR East lines were literally how I got to know Tokyo as a city. Whether it was the Chūō lines (Rapid, Special Rapid, Commuter Rapid, Commuter Special Rapid, Holiday Rapid), the Ōme lines (Local, Limited Express) or the Hachiko, Musashino, Yamanote, Keihin-Tōhoku, Narita, and Yokohama lines, I was able to navigate around the metropolis quite easily. As I mentioned in this 2014 Flashback Friday Moment, I loved riding the trains during the Tokyo days. Very few things brought me more joy during those 3 years. What endeared me to the JR East system over the local metro systems—Toei and Tokyo Metro, respectively—was that it covered so much ground in such an efficient and cost-effective manner. For instance, just for the hell of it, I rode the Chūō Special Rapid from Tokyo to Ōtsuki…a distance of 91 kilometers or 56 ½ miles. The trip took 88 minutes and only cost ¥2300. Of course, my favorite train and segment was the Chūō Special Rapid that departed from Fussa at 6:27pm. I usually took it on First Fridays as I ventured into the Shinjuku part of the city for concerts at Billboard Live or for dates or for just shining in the big city, bright lights. I affectionately called this particular train and segment the Friday Night Express…chiefly because I was able to get from Point A to Point B in 48 minutes, the fastest time on the board at a cost of only ¥650. The JR East lines meant a lot to me as they were my main mode of transport.

What it means to me now? In the 11 ½ years since I lived in Tokyo, I haven’t experienced a train system as robust nor as efficient as JR East. In the time since, I lived in the DC area with WMATA Metrorail, Virginia Railway Express, and MARC Train being the systems of significance. I’ve lived in Seoul, where the Seoul Metro and Korail are the majors there. Neither of them was as impressive as the JR East system. From my vantage, and I’ve experienced rail systems in nearly 40 cities globally, it’s the best in the world. Much like I think there is absolutely a market in the Washington, DC area for JR America, there is also a market here for JR Colombia. Just as a JR East takeover of all rail transit in the DC area would be a boon from St. Mary’s, Maryland to Charles Town, West Virginia, and from Fredericksburg, Virginia to Baltimore, I think a JR East infusion into Colombia could connect the cities in this country in a way no one has ever imagined…and it would do wonders for Bogotá. Too bad the Chinese really have their footprint here because it would be grand to have that piece of Japanese culture and efficiency in a place like this.

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2 comments

Stephanie November 1, 2021 - 5:18 pm

When I first saw the map it made me think of when we tried to navigate the London Underground. It was definitely something new for us, but very efficient. The Japan one looks even more efficient.

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Joline November 2, 2021 - 9:03 am

I was in Japan several years ago and I spent hours exploring their subway system. It’s a whole different world down there!

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