Project planning and regulation
MLIT leads long-term planning and decision-making for rail public transportation projects in major cities, with advising from the Council for Transportation Policy. The council has numerous subcommittees that make recommendations for major capital and maintenance projects for the Tokyo Metro as well as other major cities in response to questions from MLIT. According to interviewees, members of the council hail primarily from academia, rather than elected office.
Transit operators and municipalities participate in these subcommittees as “observers” and can propose individual projects from their own planning work to the council for consideration and approval by the ministry. Interviewees noted that the ministry and local stakeholders like Tokyo Metro and the municipalities are in regular communication. In 2007, the national government passed the Local Public Transport Revitalization and Rehabilitation Law, which gave municipalities more authority over various town planning and development tasks and pushed for greater integration of transportation plans into town development planning.
Public works projects in Japan are subject to the national Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Law. Public works projects are categorized into two classes to determine whether they must go through an EIA. Class 1 projects include major public works projects with significant impacts, including all national expressways, Shinkansen high-speed rail lines, nuclear power plants, and rail lines longer than 10 kilometers. Class 2 projects are reviewed on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they must complete an EIA. For transportation projects, MLIT screens projects using its own set of criteria, and the prefectural governor under whose jurisdiction the project lies also submits their opinion. The ministries are encouraged to take the opinions of the prefectural governor into consideration, given their familiarity with a particular project’s local context.
If MLIT classifies a project as Class 1, the process involves preparing several documents and allowing for governmental and citizen comment. First, project sponsors develop a draft scoping phase document that details the method of impact evaluation to be used and decide what environmental factors will be assessed as part of the EIA. The public can submit comments for a one-month period. The project sponsor then summarizes and responds to comments and forwards them on to the municipal mayor, prefectural governor, and appropriate national ministry, who have 90 days to submit their respective opinions. After this period, the project sponsor takes all comments into account and finalizes the plan for the EIA.
Project sponsors then prepare a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), which goes out for a one-month public review. Summaries of and responses to public comments are then prepared and sent to the prefectural governor and municipal mayor, who have 120 days to submit their opinions. After this period, the project sponsor develops a revised EIS document taking the public, municipal, and prefectural opinions into consideration. This document is then sent to any “issuers of licenses” (i.e. the MLIT for transportation projects) as well as the Ministry of Environment for their input. Once these agencies submit their opinions, the project sponsor then completes the final EIS, which becomes available for public comment and review for one month. MLIT then approves the final EIS with any last changes.
During construction, project sponsors are required to monitor and conduct surveys of environmental conditions, then develop an Impact Mitigation Report that documents the implementation of the project, magnitude of impacts, and measures taken to mitigate impacts identified.
The MLIT also sets regulations for safety and technical standards for passenger trains. Two major fire incidents in 1968 and 1972 called attention to the need for fire safety provisions and led directly to the A-A Standard, which regulates combustibility in trains’ materials. Technical standards include provisions on guideway designs, electric facilities, intersections with roads, safety facilities, maintenance, rolling stock, and operations. Given Japan’s history of earthquakes, MLIT sets a series of robust seismic standards. Projects must also secure permits from local municipalities.