A new high-speed rail service linking central Tokyo with Narita International Airport opened on Saturday, a development that is expected to trigger a new bout of competition between companies offering road and rail links to the main gateway to Japan.
The design for the Narita Sky Access has been carried out by fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto and the train made its maiden journey on Saturday, whisking travellers from Nippori Station, in central Tokyo, to the airport in 36 minutes - some 15 minutes quicker than previous express trains.
Links between central Tokyo and the airport - 60 km to the east - have been roundly criticized for being too slow ever since the facility was completed in 1978. And with the number of people passing through Narita hovering around the 30-35 million mark with 29,186,494 passengers counted in 2009 according to CAPA (Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation) - the new service will be welcomed.
Part of the new service's route uses the new Narita Rapid Railway Access Line, reducing the distance to 51.4 km. Operated by Keisei Electric Railway Co., which aims to run 54 services on the route every day, the one-way fare is Y2,400 (€21.46), which is Y480 (€4.29) more expensive than Keisei's existing train service, the Cityliner Airport Express, but still cheaper than the Y2,940 (€26.28) fare charged by rival Japan Railways for its Narita Express from Tokyo Station.
In response to the new competition, JR has introduced a new fleet of Narita Express trains, with larger seats, a trolley service for drinks and snacks and electric power points for personal computers.
The company also says it has the edge over Keisei because its trains can use JR's vast network of lines around the Tokyo region to take passengers to more final destinations, including the Shinjuku district of Tokyo and Yokohama.
But both companies are up against stiff competition from travllers taking their cars directly to the airport or a number of bus companies that provide services from a wide range of picking-up points around Tokyo, including direct from all of the large tourist and business hotels. Those services are also cheaper than the train option.
According to a survey by Narita Airport Authority, only 39 pecent of people using the facility travelled there by train.