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What’s so fancy about "The most advanced train station in the world"?

TOKYO — What is being called the “world’s most advanced train station” has opened in the western Japanese city of Osaka. Actually a new branch of the existing Osaka Station, eight minutes away via the concourse, the “Umekita Underground Exit” aims to add 12,000 passengers to the station’s current daily ridership of around 300,000 by offering faster access to Kansai International Airport and the neighboring prefecture of Wakayama. , another major tourist destination.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” stationmaster Hiroyuki Watanabe told state broadcaster NH when the four new train platforms opened for service in mid-March. “It’s not just a different kind of train station – it’s a next-generation station.”

“The new station will have a huge impact on foot traffic,” local bar owner Masao Tejima told Television Osaka. “Especially post-pandemic, we have really high hopes.”


An image provided by West Japan Railway Company shows new sliding panel barriers on a platform at the Umekita underground branch of Osaka train station in western Japan, billed as “the most advanced train station in the world.”

West Japan Railway Company

The centerpiece of the high-tech train station is its unique floor-to-ceiling panels that — like room dividers in a traditional Japanese house known as fusuma — slide into grooves in the floor; In this case, to prevent passengers from falling on the tracks.

The digital panels also flash helpful information about upcoming trains and routes and, unlike conventional barriers, can slide into different configurations, accommodating door layouts that can vary from train to train.

Over the past decade, Japanese train and subway operators have invested heavily in installing a variety of protective platform barriers, from low-cost, low-tech cables that drop when trains stop, to $9 million, five-foot-tall sliding safety gates. While the increasing use of platform barriers is partly responsible for the increase in fares, it is widely accepted as a necessary tradeoff as passengers jump onto the tracks, often intoxicated, distracted by their smartphones or visually impaired.

A report by the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute directly correlates the widespread use of platform barriers with a decrease in fall incidents from 3,730 in 2014 to 1,370 in 2020. Epidemic, but accident rates have trended lower over the past decade, regardless.

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The new Osaka station extension shines with other high-tech features: Instead of scanning a prepaid train pass or feeding a ticket at a turnstile, some riders can simply walk along a wide-open walkway equipped with facial recognition. While the scanner is still in experimental use, the system is only available to JR West employees and commuter pass-holders.

Major Japanese transit hubs can be labyrinthine, and in Osaka, users can now enter their destination into a smartphone app to get personalized directions. Each user is assigned a unique cartoon icon – an onion, or a bunch of grapes, for example – which they’ll see pop up discretely on station signs as they cross their path, like pixilated breadcrumbs.

Long lines at restrooms can become a thing of the past, as large digital bathroom signs not only show where the facilities are for men, women and the disabled, but also thoughtfully detail how many stalls are available in each.

Now, it’s hospitality.

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