Acceding to requests from disabled people’s organizations, the transport ministry will increase the number of wheelchair spaces required aboard limited express trains.
The new rule will mostly require limited express trains to have three or more wheelchair spaces as is now mandated aboard Shinkansen.
The current rule only requires two or more such spaces on limited express trains. The current requirement for limited express trains is the same that applies to local trains.
The ministry will apply the revised rule to new cars of limited express trains that will be put into service in and after April 2023. It will amend the relevant rules and ordinances accordingly.
The new rule was introduced in July last year for bullet trains, which now requires them to have three or more wheelchair spaces. It mandates that some Shinkansen with larger number of seats have six or more such spaces at maximum.
Since the new regulation went into effect, disabled people’s organizations have been calling for the same standard to apply for limited express trains as well, which allow passengers to travel more quickly to major stations and large cities, tourist spots and airports.
Satoshi Sato, who is a wheelchair user and secretary-general of the Japan National Assembly of Disabled Peoples’ International, praised the transport ministry’s decision.
Sato said that when he traveled with two other disabled people, it took an entire day for them to arrive at their destination because a lack of wheelchair space on limited express trains forced them to take separate trains.
He said more spaces will make group travel by disabled people easier, as it isn’t possible to travel everywhere only by Shinkansen.
In addition, Sato said that he wants train operators to expand wheelchair spaces in existing cars of limited express trains when they come in for repairs.
He said the revised requirement only applies to new cars of limited express trains, while existing cars of such trains have been in use for several decades.
The ministry plans to determine how many wheelchair spaces limited express trains should have according to the number of seats they have when in standard operation.
Limited express trains with 499 or fewer number of seats will be required to have three or more wheelchair spaces. When the number of seats is 500 to 1,000, they will have to have four or more such spaces. For limited express trains with more than 1,000 seats, six or more wheelchair spaces will be mandated.
According to the ministry, the number of seats aboard many limited express trains is currently 499 or fewer, which means they will be required to have three or more wheelchair spaces under the new rule.
When limited express trains run with only two cars, or the number of seats in such trains is under 100, they will only need to have two or more wheelchair spaces.
Currently, the highest number of seats on limited express trains is 844, which is how many seats Odoriko or Shonan limited express trains operated by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) have when they run with 14 cars.
Despite this, the ministry will introduce a requirement on how many wheelchair spaces limited express trains with more than 1,000 seats should have, because it has decided that limited express trains should have the same level of accessibility for wheelchair users as that is provided on Shinkansen.
Some bullet trains have more than 1,000 seats, including the N700S series operated by Central Japan Railway Co. (JR Tokai), which has around 1,300 seats.
The ministry also plans to require limited express trains to locate a certain number of wheelchair spaces or more next to windows or seats. This is to allow wheelchair users to enjoy viewing the scenery from train windows or to more easily move to seats.
The ministry also plans to require train operators to allow larger types of wheelchairs, such as a wheelchair-cum-stretcher, to be accommodated aboard limited express trains.