Friday, 23 September 2022

Ultimate Summer Retreat on the Ome Line

EMU JR East E233 series (4-car train) travels on the Ome line

It was very hot this summer. I visited a cool mountain in Yamanashi Prefecture last month to evacuate from the urban heat island. Other than that, I stayed in Tokyo, and sometimes visited indoor air-conditioned places such as railway museums. Oh, that reminds me. I once visited an ultimate summer retreat. It wasn't far from the city center, not air-conditioned, and not high altitude. Where was that? The answer is a natural cave, named Nippara-shonyudo (Nippara limestone cave) in Ome City, Tokyo Metropolis.

Nippara-shonyudo was formed by the chemical erosion of limestones, which were originally deposited on the sea bed from 300 to 200 million years ago. The total length of the cave is 1,270 meters. We can see precious natural features such as stalactites. Nippara-shonyudo is designated as a natural monument by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. In the cave, it's always kept 11 degrees Celsius... very cool in summer; while warm in winter. That's a paradise for visitors.

To get to this summer retreat, the nearest station is Okutama on the JR East Ome line. It's convenient for visitors who live in a western suburb, because some of the trains operate directly from the Chuo line onto the Ome line. The train is an orange-colored EMU E233 series, which is same as the Chuo line commuter train, but the train is made up of only four (or six) cars from Ome station. That's exactly a local line passing through a mountainous region. I had a great weekend.

Nippara limestone cave

Tuesday, 20 September 2022

Final Chapter of the Old Tokyu Train

8637F of the EMU Tokyu 8500 series travels on the Den-en-toshi line

On April 5th, 2022, Tokyu Electric Railway made a press release announcing that their old EMU 8500 series will be retired from the track in January, 2023... only four months left.

To start, let me quickly review the 8500 series. It's Tokyu's commuter train launched in 1975, when the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line trains started to be directly operated onto the subway Hanzomon line. This model was then introduced onto the Tokyu Oimachi line as well in 1986. 400 cars in total were built by Tokyu Sharyo, but most of them had already been replaced by new models such as the 5000 and 2020 series. Only one set (8637F) is currently operated on the Den-en-toshi line (see the photo above).

The specification of the 8500 series is rather old. The electric motor is traditional direct current compound. The electric control system is old field chopper. The stainless-steel bodies with corrugated structures... but they are very stout and trouble proof. Furthermore, I'm very fond of its growling running sound, which is exactly the train in the 1970's.

My best memory with the 8500 series trains was the happy reunion with it in Indonesia in February, 2009. One of Indonesian Railways' staff kindly invited me to Depok Railyard near Jakarta, when set number 8613 (8613F) of the 8500 series train was imported from Japan. I lived in Indonesia at that time, so, it was a touching reunion with the 8500 series (see the photo below).

Thirteen years have already passed since then. Time goes so fast.

8613F (center) has just arrived at Depok Railyard near Jakarta, Indonesia
(February, 2009)

Saturday, 17 September 2022

Tanuki on the Keio-Inokashira Line: Part 2

A baby tanuki appears from a drain along the Keio-Inokashira line track

According to Japanese media, a wild tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) appeared in the concourse of Shinjuku station the other day. As you know, Shinjuku is Japan’s largest railway station. The ridership of this giant station is 3.5 million passengers per day. Many train passengers saw him (or her), and captured in videos, but that tanuki was not at all afraid of people. The question is how did the tanuki get there.

I’m convinced that the tanuki moved along railway tracks, and finally reached this giant station. As I posted before, a railway track is a very safe place for wild animals, as it’s beyond limits except for railway employees. In other words, railway tracks are the best routes for wild animals to extend their habitations. I recently visited Shindaita station on the Keio-Inokashira line again, and found that a baby tanuki appeared from a drain along the track (see the photo above). He (or she) was looking for his (or her) parent. A few minutes later, the parent came back, and entered into the drain with his (or her) baby.

Incidentally, I received a comment on tanuki from Nicolai, who lives in Denmark. He showed me that 1) there’re tanuki-like wild animals named marten-dog in Europe, 2) marten-dogs are treated as an invasive species in Europe, where they are a big problem. I’m fond of the cute baby tanuki at the moment, but he (or she) may become pest species in the near future Japan.

EMU Keio 1000 series leaves Shindaita station on the Keio-Inokashira line

Wednesday, 14 September 2022

A Cool Photo from Europe

EMU Rhatische Railway ABe 4/4 III series travels on the Bernina line in Switzerland
Photo: Nicolai Okkels

It's already mid-September, but still hot and humid in Tokyo. Cool mountains are beckoning me, but I have a lot of things to do in this urban heat island at this moment. What else can I do?

I just remembered that one of my blog readers kindly sent to me a photo of a beautiful train in Europe. That train is operated on a mountainous route across Switzerland and Italy. I feel cooler just by looking at it. As you know, the Bernina line is a mountain climbing railway opened in 1908 by Bernina Railway Company. It's currently a part of Rhatische Railway, which has a 384 kilometers line network. Connecting St. Moritz and Tirano, the operating length is 61 kilometers. The route is single and electrified. The gauge size is 1,000 millimeters and the electric system is 1,000 V DC overhead catenary. That's quite easy to remember, right? The Bernina line crosses the Bernina Pass at 2,253 meters above sea level. The maximum inclination of the route is 70 per mil.

In the meantime, Rhatische Railway ties up with Hakone-tozan Railway in Japan, as two railways have things in common. They're mountain climbing railways with very steep tracks. Many tourists are using these lines. As a token of friendship, Hakone-tozan Railway operates Bernina-colored trains, named Bernina I and Bernina II, on the line. I'm specifically fond of Bernina I train (see the photo below), as its red-colored bodies with yellow and silver-colored stripes are very sophisticated and definitely my cup of tea.

Set 1001, "Bernina I", of the EMU Hakone-tozan 1000 series in Japan

Official website, Hakone-tozan Railway:

Sunday, 11 September 2022

The Toyo Rapid Line: Update

EMU Toyo Rapid 2000 series travels on the Tokyo Metro-Tozai line

I recently visited the Toyo rapid line for the first time in nine years. What's new with this commuter route in a new residential area?

To start, let me quickly review the Toyo rapid line. It was opened in 1996 as a new commuter line in the western part of Chiba Prefecture. The railway operator, namely Toyo Rapid Railway, is a so-called third sector corporation financed by Chiba Prefecture, Funabashi City, Tokyo Metro, Mizuho Bank and so on. Connecting Nishi-Funabashi and Toyo-Katsutadai, the operating length is 16.2 kilometers. The entire route is a double track. Most of the trains are directly operated onto the subway, Tokyo Metro-Tozai line. The EMU 2000 series is Toyo Rapid Railway's sole model on the line. It was launched in 2004 to replace the old model, named 1000 series. 11 sets, 110 cars in total, were built by Hitachi from 2004 to 2006. The 2000 series has almost the same technical specifications as those of the Tokyo Metro 05 series.

Let's head to the main topic. I found that rapid service trains had been abolished on the line. In other words, all trains are now local trains (all-stations trains). It's because passengers, who get on and off trains at rapid service trains-don't-stop stations, have drastically increased in recent years due to housing land development. As a result, local trains had become very crowded. Mass transportation is more important than the speed of trains. Ironically, Toyo Rapid Railway has "rapid" in its name but not in reality.

EMU Toyo Rapid 2000 series leaves Yachiyo-chuo station on the Toyo rapid line