Monorails and more: Tokyo’s amusing train lines

There are 158 rail lines in Tokyo. That’s a staggering number. Instead of describing all 158 lines, let me tell you about the 18 most interesting. These include monorails, streetcars, people movers, and more. And a glass-bottomed train!

The numbered list below corresponds to the following map:

I. Monorails

(1) Chiba Urban Monorail 千葉都市モノレール

The Chiba Urban Monorail (aka Chibatoshi Monorail) resembles a roller-coaster more closely than any other train in the Tokyo area. It’s also the longest suspended monorail in the world. It also is surprisingly quiet.

About a week after rode the Chiba Monorail I learned that new train cars were introduced that have glass floors. I was quite disappointed, but at least this gives me reason to visit again someday. (photo source). See also this site for a comprehensive gallery of photos.

The Chiba Monorail traverses urban and suburban spaces, though it also crosses some surprisingly rural-looking places, such as here: map. For a closer look, this YouTube video gives a good sense of this unique train:

(2) Ueno Zoo monorail 東京都交通局上野懸垂線

Another tiny monorail, this one covers a mere 270 meters, about the same distance you cover when transferring between two subway lines. There’s no practical reason to ride this monorail, but it’s fun, cheap, and offers a nice view of the zoo. And it’s also historic. The Ueno Zoo Monorail opened in 1958 and was the first monorail in Japan.

Other monorails:

Tama Monorail near Takahatafudo Station in 2015; a wooded section of the Shonan Monorail; postcard of the Tokyo Monorail circa 1964:

II. People Movers & AGT

A people mover is colloquial term for rail systems that are generally small in scale, often automated, and may be confused with monorails due to non-traditional designs like “automated guideway transit” (AGT) systems. In Tokyo people are familiar with the Yurikamome line, an AGT line that serves Odaiba island. I like the Yurikamome line, but my favorite people mover in the Tokyo area is named after the Eucalyptus plant.

(6) Yamaman Yukarigaoka Line 山万ユーカリが丘線 (map)

The Yukarigaoka Line ユーカリが丘線 is a 4.1 kilometer private railway line that serves the Yukarigaoka ユーカリが丘 new town development in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture. The system, which connects to the Keisei Main Line 京成本線 at Yukarigaoka Station ユーカリが丘駅, does not accept PASMO or SUICA (as of my visit in 2013). The train line forms a stemmed loop, like a lollipop. The area inside the loop is largely composed of farm land, a feature that surprised me as much as the train’s short length.

Yukari ユーカリ means ‘eucalyptus’ in English (with gaoka が丘, it means “eucalyptus hill”). The train line and community at large use a family of koala as their mascot (photos). See also: Maps of Yukarigaoka

(7) Yurikamome line 新交通ゆりかもめ (“black-headed gull”) (map)

The Yurikamome line is often mistaken for a monorail because of its vaguely futuristic look and unconventional wheels; instead of a standard train track, the Yurikamome is carried by rubber wheels on a concrete track. What makes the Yurikamome noteworthy is the train’s dramatic crossing of Tokyo Bay via the Rainbow Bridge, which it reaches via a long, looping curve. Once on the bridge, the train has a commanding view of the bay. See Google Streetview for a representative view from the nearby automobile section of the bridge.

Marine Loop – Tokyo Rainbow Bridge 海上ループ 東京・レインボーブリッジ:

Here’s a fairly good YouTube video showing this segment of the train line:

(8) Seibu Yamaguchi Line 西武山口線 (map)

The Seibu Yamaguchi Line is extremely short, covering just 2.8 kilometers (1.8 miles), and originates from Seibu Kyujo-Mae Station 西武球場前駅, home of the Seibu Dome 西武ドーム and the Saitama Seibu Lions 埼玉西武ライオンズ baseball team (for which the train is nicknamed the ‘Leo Liner’「レオライナー」).

The middle stop of this train is Yuenchi-nishi Station, home to Seibuen Amusement Park. This station’s platform stands a mere 7 meters (23 feet) from a roller-coaster, perhaps the shortest distance between a roller-coaster and train in the world.

Other people movers:

Photos of the New Shuttle (source) and the elevated tracks of the Toneri Liner as it nears Nippori Station.

III. Short train lines

An amusing feature of Tokyo’s train ecosystem are the absurdly short train lines that serve as few as two stations. With the exception of the Daishi Line, these trains are spur-lines that serve amusement parks, etc.

(11) Tobu Daishi Line 東武大師線 (map)

The Tobu Daishi line travels a mere 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) between two train stations: Nishiarai 西新井 and Daishimae 大師前. Daishi-mae, as the name suggests, is in front of a temple, Nishiarai Daishi 西新井大師 (aka Soji-ji 總持寺). Daishi-mae station was built in 1931 with plans to to connect the Tobu Isesaki Line 東武伊勢崎線 with the Tobu Tojo Line 東上線, but construction was halted. Interest in Nishiarai Daishi temple seems sufficiently high to keep the train line in operation; Daishi-mae station serves 13,516 annually (source). Unlike most stations in central Tokyo, there is no ticket collection when you leave Daishi-mae station, as passengers pay the fixed-fare at Nishiarai station.

Other short lines:

IV. Streetcars

Tokyo, once covered by a network of streetcars, has only one (or two) remaining streetcar lines. The Toden Arakawa-sen is indisputably a streetcar; while the Setagaya line is either a streetcar or a mere “light rail”, depending on whom you ask.

(16) Toden Arakawa-sen 都電荒川線

The Toden Arakawa line follows a curved path from Waseda Station 早稲田駅 in the west to Minowabashi Station 三ノ輪橋停留場 in the east. Many of the “stations” use the kanji 停留場, (teiryojo) which means “stop”, instead of the standard 駅 (eki).

The following site, in Chinese, is one of the better sites that captures the look and feel of the Arakawa-sen:

(17) Tokyu Setagaya Line 東急世田谷線

Despite having ridden it on two occasions, I inexplicably have no photos of the Tōkyū Setagaya Line 東急世田谷線 (Tokyu Setagaya-sen). Instead, I’ll share with you a picture of Setagaya Hachiman Shrine 世田谷八幡宮, which has a ceremonial sumo ring on its grounds (map).

(18) Enoshima Electric Railway or Enoden 江ノ島電鉄

For completeness I may as well mention the Enoshima Enoden, which is part train, part streetcar.

Which is your favorite?

See also:



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