Thursday, 29 September 2022

Railways in Sendai City: 2022 Update

EMU JR East E5 series travels on the Tohoku Shinkansen

I recently visited Sendai City for the first time in six years. What was new with the railways in this large city?

To start, let me quickly review Sendai City. It's situated about 350 kilometers north of Tokyo, and is the political and economic center of the Tohoku (northeast) District. As of May, 2022, it has a population of 1,096,925. Although Sendai is a densely populated city, it's known throughout Japan as a modern city in harmony with nature. The city possesses beautiful scenery, such as the Hirose River that runs through central Sendai, and the lush zelkova trees that line its streets. Greenery is especially abundant in the center of the city, which has tree-lined streets and parks. As a result, Sendai is called the "City of Trees". I lived in Sendai when I was a student, so, it's my home away from home.

I stayed at a hotel in the southern part of the city. I was very lucky as my room had a gorgeous "train view". It's located outside of the gently curved tracks of the Tohoku Shinkansen, so, I could enjoy the Shinkansen trains, which came one after another. They were high speed trains such as the EMU JR East E5 and E6 series with a maximum speed of 320 kilometers per hour. It was a nice room where I could sit on the sofa, drink a cup of coffee and watch the beautiful trains. I was very happy from day one.

To be continued...

EMU JR East E6+E5 series travels on the Tohoku Shinkansen

Monday, 26 September 2022

The Yurikamome Line: Who Closes Passenger Doors?

Set 47 of the EMU 7300 series arrives at Ariake-tennis-no-mori station 

I recently received a good question from my friend, who is a non-railfan. He said "I know the Yurikamome trains are operated without drivers and conductors. Question is who closes passenger doors on the trains at each station?"

To start, let me quickly review the Yurikamome (Black-headed Gull) line. It's a rubber-tyred AGT line connecting Shimbashi and Toyosu stations. AGT is an abbreviation for Automated Guide way Transit. It's a small sized train with rubber-tires instead of steel bogies. There are 16 stations over the total operating length of 14.7 kilometers. The power supply is 600V and 50Hz three-phase alternate current. It uses the ATO (Automatic Train Operation) system, so there's no driver or conductor on the train. It means passengers, specifically railfans, can freely sit on the front seats to enjoy scenic views through the window.

Thanks for waiting. Let's head to the main topic. The answer to the question is "The door operation of the Yurikamome trains is also automated". There are human sensors (motion sensors) on the automatic platform gates at each station. The passenger doors on the trains are synchronized with the automatic platform gates, so, they are automatically closed after passengers' getting on and off finish. In other words, automatic platform gates are essential for the automatic door operation on the Yurikamome trains. Needless to say, station platforms are under remote monitoring by railway employees from the control room through surveillance cameras. That's a fail-safe system.

He said "Thanks, I feel relieved now." It was an eureka moment.

An automatic platform gate at Shiodome station, the Yurikamome line

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