”Autonomous” Battery Buses Replace Trolleybuses in Japan…Well, NO

Editor’s note: This article illustrates how press reports are often highly inaccurate and lack context, reflecting sloppy and lazy journalism.

By Leroy W. Demery, Jr.

During the first couple of weeks of October, I spotted at least one story line stating that “trolleybuses” had been replaced by “autonomous battery buses” in Japan.

The specific reference was to the “Kanden Tunnel” line, which is part of the “Tateyama – Kurobe Alpine Route” in Toyama and Nagano Prefectures. This extends from an open-air station named Ogizawa to an underground station at Kurobe Dam. The distance is 6.1 km, of which 5.4 km is in tunnel. The line operates from mid-April to late November.

The single-lane tunnel was built during the early ’60s to provide access to the dam construction site. Trolleybuses had operated since 1964, when the tunnel was opened to public travel. The 15 second-generation trolleybuses were built between 1993 and 1996.

The operator, the Kansai Electric Power Company (“Kanden”) announced near the end of the 2017 season that it would replace trolleybuses with battery buses after the end of the 2018 season. Stated reasons were economy of operation, the need to import spares (because trolleybuses are not manufactured in Japan) and the greater power output of the synchronous three-phase motors that propel the battery buses.

Trolleybus operation ended on 2018 November 30. During 54 years of operation, the TBs carried more than 60 million passengers and experienced no accidents.

The 15 new “non-step” (= low-floor) battery buses entered service on 2019 April 30. They were built by J-Bus, a joint venture of Isuzu and Hino Motors. A charging facility was built at the Ogizawa station platform, and buses connect to this with roof-mounted contactors (described as “pantographs”). Charging time is stated as 10 minutes.

(Link to photo: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanden_Tunnel_Electric_Bus#/media/File:Kanden-tunnel_electric_bus.jpg)

So: Replacement of trolleybuses by battery buses YES, but “autonomous” (self-driving) battery buses NO.