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New tramway plan for Utsunomiya

The rolling stock order for Utsunomiya has still to be placed, but the Alna Sharyo LRVs of Toyama demonstrate what could be ordered. (Y. Nogi)

Japan’s first completely-new light rail line since 1948 has been given the green light by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. Plans have been approved for the construction of a 14.6km (9.1-mile) light rail line in the city of Utsunomiya, the capital of Tochigi prefecture.
The east–west line will run mostly in the median strip of divided highways linking the Honda research and development facility in Haga with the JR East railway station. At peak periods express service will be provided, with passing loops to permit slower services to be overtaken.
The 1067mm gauge line will be electrified at 750V dc and worked by 17 30m low-floor LRVs. Services will run every ten minutes off-peak and every six minutes at peaks. The JPY45.8bn (approx. EUR400m) project is being financed by the city (40.8%), the municipality of Haga (10.8%), local industry (32.8%) and the Tobu Railway (4%), as well as through bank loans and a contribution from the Chamber of Commerce. It is hoped the first passengers will be carried in December 2019.
With a population of 518 000 and home to the Canon optical plant, Utsunomiya is on the Tohoku Shinkansen, north of Tokyo. The city has experienced significant development, but has a high level of car dependency resulting in urban sprawl.
Although a light rail line was built in Toyama in 2006, this 7.6km (4.7-mile) line was a conversion of a former railway.