Summer 2016


Finding Japan on the NYC Subway

The New York City Subway system is a vital part of the lives of the city’s over 8.5 million residents. Some aspects of the subway system are easily identified, for example, there are 469 stations, an annual average of nearly 5 million passengers ride the subway every day, and ridership is growing to levels not seen since the 1940s. What many of New York’s straphangers may not know is that their trains also have connections to Tokyo.

A Train Conductor Pointing

A Japanese Train Driver "Acknowledging"
a Train Signal

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Every station in the New York Subway has a white and black striped wooden board located in the middle of the platform. These boards are used to ensure that the train has reached a point where its doors can be safely opened. Since 1996 MTA conductors have been required to “acknowledge” these boards in an effort to add an extra layer of safety. This practice came from Japan, where conductors must physically take note of various aspects of their work environment, such as speed indicators, signals, and their train’s position on the platform.

The Help Point Communication System is another safety device located on many station platforms. These call boxes, which allow riders to get help in emergency situations, were designed by Antenna, a New York company co-founded by Tokyo born designer Masamichi Udagawa. Antenna also designed the MTA ticket machines, the Go! Kiosks seen at many stations, and the interior and exterior of subway cars.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries manufactured many of the trains designed by Antenna. New York commuters have a very high chance of riding on one of their trains, with every third train running on the New York Subway possibly having come out of their factories. Kawasaki became the first foreign firm to win a contract to produce railcars for the New York City subway system back in the 1980s, and has continued constructing trains for the MTA, Metro-North, the Long Island Railroad, PATH, and other systems around the U.S. at their plant in Yonkers ever since. Kawasaki is not alone either, many Japanese companies manufacture trains for a wide range of transit networks across the country, from automated people movers to commuter and freight trains.

Many of the same companies that make trains for U.S. transit systems also make trains for the Tokyo subway. Tokyo’s subway network carries over nine million passengers every day. There are thirteen lines that comprise the network, and they are home to some of the busiest stations in the world. One example is Shinjyuku Station, which has over 200 exits, its own navigation app, numerous train lines, and sees an average of over three and a half million people pass through its doors daily.

Because so many people ride Tokyo’s subway, its ticket gates are extremely efficient and riders can pay for their tickets several ways. In addition to physical tickets, riders can use IC cards like Suica, which was introduced in 2001, or Near Field Communication (NFC) enabled phones by waving them over a plate on metro turnstile machines. A similar system that incorporates electronic payments is currently being planned by the MTA, and should be operational by 2022.

Banner Photo: R188 7811-7821 Testing on Dyre Avenue Line

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Japan Info is a publication of the Consulate General of Japan in New York. However, the opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.

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