Two weeks ago, the first rail train of the new Miami-Dade County Metrorail fleet, built by Hitachi Rail U.S., will start servicing community residents and visitors, with the rest of the trains scheduled to be on the tracks by the end of 2019. As demand for reliable and attractive urban transportation continues to grow, this important project is an excellent example of the mutually beneficial collaboration between the U.S. and Japan.
Taking a page from Japan’s urban rail system, which is at the top level in terms of safety, punctuality and high passenger usage, the new trains offer many upgrades. Some of these improvements will not be visible to the rider, including computerized control systems, reduced energy usage and materials that are easier to clean and more graffiti resistant.
In terms of the riding experience, passengers will enjoy a more-open layout with fewer barriers, built-in bike racks, new air conditioning systems, quieter disc brakes, security cameras and computerized announcements. The new trains are designed to provide reliable, rapid and comfortable transportation.
DRS Technologies, a Finmeccanica company, built the framework of the cars in Missouri before transporting them to a local 140,000-square-foot, custom-designed plant in Medley. Constructing the plant involved more than 50 sub-contractors and suppliers, with the majority based in South Florida.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Miami Herald
The Medley facility is the first that Hitachi Rail has opened in the United States. The company has also won orders from Baltimore for Mass Rapid Transit trains. These and other future trains will be built in Medley. As a whole, Hitachi companies employ 21,000 people in their factories and research facilities in the United States.
In this connection, Japanese companies are the second largest investor in the United States with a total of $411 billion. They provide local jobs for 839,000 people and the average wage at a Japanese multinational company is $93,006. Japan’s investment in Florida is a close second at $7.73 billion and contributes to 24,200 jobs.
Miami Dade will benefit from collaboration with Japan on urban rail system in general. With its advanced technology and accumulation of expertise, Japan is a leading country in this sector in terms of safety, reliability and punctuality.
For example, Japan’s railway is the safest in the world with the lowest ratio of railway accidents per passenger train-kilometer. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, with a population of over 38 million, the share of railway passenger transport is 60 percent, markedly higher than that of other major cities such as New York (22 percent). Trains in Japan are famous for running according to schedule. The other day, a railway company apologized to its passengers when a train left 20 seconds early. A common feature of railway business in Japan is the commercial development of railway station areas to offset rail operation costs. A rail pass is used to take the train, bus, taxi and even shop.
The Japanese government has recognized the importance of railways in urban planning. The development of the current urban railway network in Tokyo follows recommendations from the Transport Policy Council, which are usually released every 15 years.
These recommendations enabled Tokyo to keep pace with urban development and increased volume of commuters by increasing capacity and constructing new lines. The latest recommendations issued in April 2016 go further to include natural disaster risk reduction following the Great East Earthquake of 2011. Among other improvements, Tokyo is also promoting increased accessibility for those with physical challenges, installed automated gates to prevent passengers falling from platforms and has upgraded stations with shops and amenities.
As the new trains roll onto the tracks, I congratulate Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Miami-Dade for this historic occasion and I look forward to riding the new trains. It is my firm belief that participation of Japanese companies including Hitachi Rail in the future expansion of the county’s urban rail system will contribute to the convenience of its users.
Ken Okaniwa is Consul General of Japan in Miami.