The transport ministry will soon issue an administrative guidance to Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai) calling for close dialogue with Shizuoka Prefecture over a local section of the long-awaited magnetic levitation rail project.
It is unusual for the ministry to issue such a directive to a business operator that has not broken any laws.
The new maglev train line is a major controversy in the prefecture amid concerns over how it could affect the environment and local water resources.
The move by the ministry comes as a panel of experts, including scientists, compiled an interim report on Dec. 19 assessing the potential impact that building a tunnel under the Southern Japan Alps could have on the volume of water in a Shizuoka river.
The Alps straddle Shizuoka, Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures.
JR Tokai initially planned to have the Chuo Shinkansen Line in operation between the capital’s Shinagawa Station and Nagoya Station in 2027.
But Shizuoka Prefecture is refusing to allow construction of the Shizuoka section, the only portion for which work has yet to start.
Prefectural officials have raised concerns that tunneling through the Alps would cause the groundwater to well up, reducing water levels along the Oigawa river, which runs through the prefecture and supplies local households.
The panel’s interim report concluded water levels would remain unchanged in the middle and lower reaches of the river if all the water that gushes out from underground due to the construction work is put back into the river.
It determined that an abundant source of groundwater in the mountain can supplement any water that is lost, some of which Shizuoka Prefecture fears could flow into neighboring Yamanashi Prefecture during the construction work.
The panel called on JR Tokai to continue making sincere efforts to dispel the prefecture’s concerns and anxiety, given that residents in the Oigawa river basin have suffered from water shortages in the past and the railway operator has so far failed to assuage locals.
It also said JR Tokai should discuss with Shizuoka Prefecture and concerned municipalities ways of redirecting any lost water back into the river.
However, the panel added that its assessment is still not certain. It urged the railway operator to monitor the groundwater to deal with an eventuality if water were to suddenly begin to gush out, and make the data public to ensure transparency.
In response to the panel’s report, transport minister Tetsuo Saito plans to meet with Shin Kaneko, the JR Tokai president, on Dec. 21 to instruct the railway operator to respect the feelings of local residents and officials when proceeding with the project.
“The panel sufficiently reflected our concerns in the report,” Shizuoka Vice Governor Takashi Namba said after the panel meeting on Dec. 19.
He urged JR Tokai to provide a thorough explanation because locals have “little trust” in the railway operator.
“Our belief that we have responded to the matter sincerely remains unchanged,” said Mamoru Uno, an executive vice president of JR Tokai. “We want to discuss it with Shizuoka Prefecture to dispel the concerns and anxieties of the local people as much as possible.”
The panel will study how reduced water levels of the groundwater and rivers near the planned tunnel would affect the Alps’ ecosystem and discuss ways to minimize any possible negative effects.
It is still unclear when JR Tokai can start operating the Chuo Shinkansen Line. Shizuoka Prefecture is expected to decide on whether to allow the railway operator to begin construction after examining the results of these future panel discussions.
(This article was written by Masanori Isobe, Susumu Imaizumi and Shinya Takagi.)