The Tôkyô Monorêru
is one of the best-known commercial monorail
systems in the world, and one of the only monorails that actually draws a profit
. It connects Tokyo International Airport
Station in downtown Tokyo, where passengers can then transfer to the Yamanote line
or the Tokyo subway
. The ride is 21 minutes of smooth travel over an elevated line along Tokyo Bay
. While expensive compared to trains elsewhere (¥470 one-way), it's one of the cheapest ways to get from the airport to the city, and to date it has taken over 1 billion passengers for a ride into Japan's Gotham.
The line opened in 1964, in plenty of time for the Tokyo Olympic Games (which also brought Japan the Shinkansen). It was owned by Japan National Railways, the parastatal predecessor of JR, until its privatization in 1981. The first cars were made in Japan from the German Alweg design (also used in the Seattle Monorail), and were replaced by newer models in 1969, 1977, and 1982.
The current six-car trains ("2000 Series") run at speeds of up to 80 kph (50 mph), although, counting stops, they average around 45 kph (30 mph). They first appeared in 1989, and qualify as one of the most interesting train car designs ever. Each car has a combination of aisle-facing bench seats, forward and rear-facing seats, and (most uniquely) seats in the center of the aisle, facing the windows. The trains also feature lots of extra space for hand luggage.
Originally, the monorail only served Hamamatsucho and the airport. The first station added in between was the Oi Race Track in 1965, followed by Seibijo in 1967. Nowadays, the line serves nine stations and handles about 300,000 passengers every weekday, operating from 5:30 AM to midnight with over 500 trains.
Passengers using the monorail to travel to the airport can take advantage of city air terminal facilities at Hamamatsucho. Japan's domestic airlines (JAL, ANA, Skymark Airlines, and Air Do) all have check-in counters and ticket machines right at the station. Conversely, if you're flying to Haneda from Kansai International Airport, you can buy Tokyo Monorail tickets on the lower level of Kansai before you even leave Osaka. Convenience rules in Japan, after all.
gn0sis helpfully adds: JR East has repurchased the Tokyo Monorail and is considering an extension to Shinbashi. The monorail's popularity took a major hit when Keikyu started running some competition.