Major Japan railway now powered only by renewable energy

Highlights :

Tokyu Railways’ trains running through Shibuya and other stations were switched to power generated only by solar and other renewable sources starting April 1.

Shibuya in Tokyo, Japan, is famed for its Scramble Crossing, where crowds of people crisscross the intersection in a scene symbolizing urban Japan’s congestion and anonymity. It may have added another boasting right.

Tokyu Railways’ trains running through Shibuya and other stations were switched to power generated only by solar and other renewable sources starting April 1.

That means the carbon dioxide emissions of Tokyu’s sprawling network of seven train lines and one tram service now stand at zero, with green energy being used at all its stations, including for vending machines for drinks, security camera screens and lighting.

Tokyu, which employs 3,855 people and connects Tokyo with nearby Yokohama, is the first railroad operator in Japan to have achieved that goal. It says the carbon dioxide reduction is equivalent to the annual average emissions of 56,000 Japanese households.

Nicholas Little, director of railway education at Michigan State University’s Centre for Railway Research and Education, commends Tokyu for promoting renewable energy but stressed the importance of boosting the bottom-line amount of that renewable energy.

“I would stress the bigger impacts come from increasing electricity generation from renewable sources,” he said. “The long-term battle is to increase production of renewable electricity and provide the transmission infrastructure to get it to the places of consumption.”

The technology used by Tokyu’s trains is among the most ecologically friendly options for railways. The other two options are batteries and hydrogen power.

And so is it just a publicity stunt, or is Tokyu moving in the right direction?

Ryo Takagi, a professor at Kogakuin University and specialist in electric railway systems, believes the answer isn’t simple because how train technology evolves is complex and depends on many uncertain societal factors.

In a nutshell, Tokyu’s efforts are definitely not hurting and are probably better than doing nothing. They show the company is taking up the challenge of promoting clean energy, he said.

“But I am not going out of my way to praise it as great,” Takagi said.

Bigger gains would come from switching from diesel trains in rural areas to hydrogen powered lines and from switching gas-guzzling cars to electric, he said.

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