Full reveal of futuristic JR Osaka Station (Umekita Area) at March 18 opening.
Hajime Komori, Kunihiko Kawabata
The new “Umekita Area” underground platform at JR Osaka Station opened on March 18. What exactly is this new futuristic station that will become the gateway to the international city that is Grand Green Osaka? Two individuals closely involved at the West Japan Railway Company (JR West) describe the world-first equipment being installed at this station and the technological advances that it represents.
The northwest section of JR Osaka Station has undergone a major transformation in spring 2023.
The Umeda freight line, which hitherto ran aboveground, was redirected underground in February, with the Umekita Area finally opening on March 18. The ticket gates lead directly to the newly opened west exit on the western side of Osaka Station, with an underground passage inside the gate. The Haruka Kansai Airport Limited Express and Kuroshio Limited Express for Wakayama will now stop at this underground platform, enabling a direct connection to Kansai International Airport. With this, the journey time from Kansai International Airport to Osaka Station has been slashed to about 47 minutes from around 67 minutes, greatly adding to its convenience.
JR West defines the new station as the center of its “JR West Labo”—a test site for innovation, so this is a futuristic station featuring the latest equipment and technologies. Visitors will be immediately struck by the eye-catching interactive space installed at the new station.
Mr. Hajime Komori of the Innovation Department at the Railway Operation Headquarters of West Japan Railway Company (JR West) explains, “The wall of the underground concourse features 14-meter by 3.3-meter projection screens and LCDs displaying aquatic scenes inspired by Osaka’s reputation as the “City of Water” as part of a new service fusing digital and real images under the “JR West Technological Vision” drawn up in 2018. The content on the screens blends real-life underwater video footage of fish swimming with digital computer graphics, with the images on the screens changing with the passage of time from early morning until dusk. This space promises to become a symbol of Osaka Station (Umekita Area).” This illuminated aquascape, exemplifying a City of Water, is sure to become a new landmark in the Umeda area.
The new station will feature a couple of world-firsts, including a digital information signboard called “One to One.” By using an app, this can become a personal guideboard showing information such as for a destination set by a user.
Mr. Komori explains, “By first downloading the WESTER smartphone app, a travel navigation app, you can register your destination. By doing this, you will be notified on your smartphone of your own personal symbol upon arrival at the concourse, and as you approach the signboard, it will show your own symbol and directions for the destination you have set.” It is thus akin to having your own concierge providing support and carefully detailing how to reach your destination.
Possibly the biggest highlight is another world-first—the adoption of full-height free-sliding platform doors.
In addition to regular trains, limited express trains, such as the Haruka and Kuroshio, will now be stopping at the underground platform of the new station, but the positions of the carriage doors differ according to the type of train. These full-height free-sliding glass platform doors, suspended from ceiling to floor, can be used with all types of trains, as the doors slide freely to match the position of the carriage doors on the incoming train. And these doors are also fully equipped for digital signage. Departure times, destinations, boarding positions, and the like are displayed in multiple languages to make the station easy to understand for first-time travelers to Osaka and international visitors.
However, what sort of safety measures have been put in place for these free-sliding platform doors? Mr. Komori hastens to assure us that nothing has been overlooked in this regard.
“When a train arrives, the platform doors open after automatically determining the type of train and its positioning. When these doors close again, stricter measures than usual need to be implemented to prevent them from trapping or squeezing passengers, as these doors move differently from typical platform doors. Thus, sensors are used to detect anything in their path, and if any abnormality is detected, movement of the door is paused. It is almost impossible for passengers to be trapped or injured by these doors. I tried to get trapped myself, but it always detected me (laughs).”
However, the installation of this innovative system was not all plain sailing, with many issues needing to be resolved to install such platform doors. Mr. Kawabata, head of the Umekita construction office at JR West, explains, “The Umekita underground platform has a relatively sharp curve, but each platform door to be installed is straight. This meant that these straight automatic doors needed to be lined up with the curve. It was a struggle to install the doors to millimeter-level degrees of accuracy.”
JR West has designated this as a test site for innovation, and it features various services based on new technologies. For example, there are many measures designed to create seamless, next-generation travel services, such as an AI robot guide, a JR (Midori) ticket vending machine plus AI equipped with an automated AI handling function, and a walk-through automated ticket gate that incorporates a facial recognition system in a process being tested wherein one can literally use a “face pass” by pre-registering one’s face on a dedicated website.
Moreover, as befits a new town noted for its fusion of “green” and “innovation,” efforts have been made to reduce its environmental load. As such, JR West aims to make Osaka Station (Umekita Area) the first electricity-based “eco-station” with practically zero carbon dioxide emissions.
Mr. Kawabata explains, “To help realize an environment-friendly eco station, we will adopt film-type perovskite solar cells at the station—the first planned adoption in the world for public facilities. These will be installed at the aboveground station plaza; as this film is extremely lightweight and flexible, it can be installed in many places, including on curved surfaces. In addition, a district heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system is being installed, not only for the underground station, but also for Osaka Station, the Japan Post Group Osaka building, and the Umekita area. By providing a consolidated heat source, the system facilitates continued sustainable development, not only in terms of cost, but also for the environment.”
Mr. Komori adds, “Those measures that we collaboratively tackled as an innovation test site will finally bear fruit in March, which also marks a new chapter for us. We will continue to function as a test site, to nurture this new town and station together with others.”
JR Osaka Station (Umekita Area) is a key element in strengthening the transportation network for the Kansai region in its entirety, and will continue to grow while embodying innovations jointly created with partners imbued with various new technologies. Please take the time to come and experience this futuristic station for yourself.
Joined JR West in 2002. Has been involved in a wide variety of tasks, including rolling stock maintenance, quality control, production control, and site management. Also gained experience in personnel management, such as human resource development, as well as the start-up and operation of overseas plants to manufacture railroad carriages, etc. Having held his current post since June 2021, he not only promotes this project, but also works on new business development to generate new value from Osaka Station (Umekita underground access) as a test site for innovation.
Joined JR West in 2001. Was involved in construction of the Osaka Higashi-sen (Osaka East Line) and grade-separated crossings near Toyama station. Also engaged in drafting railway facility improvement plans, including initial planning for undergrounding the branch line of the Tokaido Line and new station project, etc., and investment plans, plus a period on secondment to the City Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, gaining wide experience in tasks related to railway and urban development. Having held his current post since June 2021, he has been promoting the Tokaido branch line undergrounding and new station project, as well as improving the Osaka Station west exit ticket gates.
photos: SADAHO NAITO text: AKIKO WAKIMOTO