Monday, 31 October 2011

Rival Railway Story, JR East vs. Keikyu

EMU Keikyu 1000 series , "Kaitoku (Rapid Limited Express)" near Shinagawa Station

One of the features in railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area is that many companies are being in competition to attract passengers. It might be hard to imagine for foreigners, but I expect you understand that the railway networks in this area are extensive. So, it allows the customers to choose the best line to get to their destination.

For example, let's suppose that you live in the southern part of Tokyo, such as Shinagawa and Kamata, and would like to visit Yokohama, the capital city of Kanagawa Prefecture. Then, you can choose from two lines… JR East and Keikyu.

JR East is the largest railway company in Japan. This company's strength lies in the extensive network in this area. They have lines passing through many downtown areas, such as Tokyo, Shinjuku and Shinagawa. From Shinagawa to Yokohama, it takes 16 minutes on the Tokaido Line (see the bottom photo). The train operates every 8 minutes on average during the daytime. You can choose the Green Car (1st class) as well, if you would like to be able to relax.

Meanwhile, Keikyu is a local railway company in the southern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. To compete with the giant JR East, Keikyu is putting in a lot of effort. The maximum speed of the trains (120km/h) is faster than those of JR East (110km/h). Secondly, Keikyu operates the luxury train, "Kaitoku (Rapid Limited Express)", without additional fares on the above section (see the top photo).

This competition is going to go on.

EMU JR East 233-3000 series near Tamachi Station, the Tokaido Line

Saturday, 29 October 2011

"Dwarf Sensation" on the Tama Monorail Line

EMU Tama Monorail 1000 series at Tachikawa-kita Station

A "Dwarf Sensation" is a kind of cosmos which produces red, pink and white blossoms in October. Together with the chrysanthemum, it's an autumn flower that represents Japan.

The most prestigious field of the Dwarf Sensation in the Tokyo metropolitan area is Showa Kinen Park in Tachikawa City, which is situated in a western suburb. This park commands you a total four million flowers of Dwarf Sensation during the height of the season (see the bottom photo).

Last weekend, I visited Showa Kinen Park, because now is the best time to view the blossoms. I took the Tama Monorail Line and got off at Tachikawa-kita Station, which is close to the East Entrance of the park.

Tama Monorail adopts a straddle-beam system like the Haneda Line of Tokyo Monorail (see my blog on July 9th). Connecting Tama Center and Kamikitadai (16.0km) in about 36 minutes, it penetrates the Tama region, a western suburb of Tokyo from south to north. EMU 1000 series has been operating on this line since 1998 when the monorail was opened (see the top photo). It consists of 4 cars, and a total of 15 sets have been manufactured so far.

Like all monorail lines, we can enjoy a superb view from the train windows. For example, modern buildings are seen in the Tachikawa urban area, whereas you can view green hilly countryside near Tama Zoo Station.

By enjoying the beautiful Dwarf Sensation flowers and the scenic Tama Monorail, I spent a great weekend again.

Cosomos "Dwarf Sensation" in Showa Kinen Park, Tachikawa City

More information about EMU Tama Monorail 1000 series (in Japanese):

Thursday, 27 October 2011

JR East Shinkansen EMU E3 Series, "Komachi"

JR East Shinkansen EMU E3 series, "Komachi" at Tokyo Staion

Following my blog on August 15th, I am introducing another "Mini-shinkansen" train today. That is the EMU JR East E3 series, "Komachi" super-express with a maximum speed of 275km/h (see the top photo).

The train name "Komachi" comes from a lady, Ms. Komachi Ono (825 - 900), who was born in Akita Prefecture in the early 9th century. She was a poet and noted as a rare beauty. So, Komachi is a symbol of a beautiful woman in Japan.

As its name indicates, the EMU E3 series Komachi is also beautiful. A sharp and prominent nose, a slightly rounded body-line and pearl colored body with a hot pink stripe are very attractive.

One of the features of the EMU E3 series Komachi operation is coupling with other shinkansen trains. We see that Komachi, which leaves Tokyo, is often coupled with the E2 series Hayate (see the bottom photo). Then, Komachi is detached after arriving at Morioka Station, and runs by itself to Akita, because the route between Morioka and Akita is constructed as a so-called "Mini-shinkansen". It means that standard sized shinkansen trains, such as the E2, E4 and E5 series are unable to enter the mini-shinkansen sections.

The EMU E3 series was launched in 1997, when the Akita Shikansen line was opened. 14 years has already passed so JR East plans to introduce a new generation train, the EMU E6 series, to this route. A prototype train has been completed, and test runs are being made. I will introduce this brand-new technology train someday in the future.

JR East Shinkansen EMU E3 and E2 series (coupled state) at Tokyo Station

More information about JR East Shinkansen "Komachi":

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Longest Suspension Monorail in the World

EMU Chiba Urban Monorail 1000 series near Sakae-cho Station

Further to my July 7th blog, I would like to introduce another monorail in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Chiba City, which is located 40km east of downtown Tokyo, is the capital of Chiba Prefecture. It’s famous for heavy industries, a large port and agriculture. Its population is nearly 1 million. This city has the world’s longest suspension type monorail system... “Chiba Urban Monorail” (see the top photo).

In the suspension monorail system, the carriage is suspended from a fixed track, which is constructed over streets, canals, rivers and so on. Chiba Urban Monorail was partially opened in 1988 between the Sports Center and Chishirodai stations on Line No. 2. Then, it has been extending its lines one after another. Currently, the line length is 15.2km and it’s composed of two lines, Line No.1 and No. 2.

The running of the monorail is frequent in the morning rush hour… every 4 minutes on average. Meanwhile, it runs every 12 to 15 minutes in the daytime. The EMU 1000 series, which was initially launched in 1988, operates as a 2 car train, but sometimes 4 cars in the case of a large event on the line.

One of the spectacular spots on this monorail is the interchange of Line No.1 and No.2 near Sakae-cho Station. A total of 4 tracks are complexly tangled with each other over the street (see the bottom photo). It’s indeed hard work for me to take a picture, because the tracks were located “high in the sky”.

I've got a sore neck.

Junction of lines No.1 and No. 2 near Sakae-cho Station, Chiba Urban Monorail

More information about the trains in Chiba Urban Monorail (in Japanese):

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Tokaido Line, Japan's Oldest Railway

20m body x 15 car train of EMU JR East 211 series near Tamachi Station, the Tokaido Line

The Tokaido Line, which connects Tokyo and Kobe (590km), is the oldest railway in Japan. It's opened between Shinbashi, a downtown part of Tokyo and Yokohama, an outport of Tokyo (29km) in 1872. Since then, it was extended bit-by-bit, and eventually in 1889, the line was totally opened.

Even after completing the construction of the railway, the Tokaido Line has been moderninized step-by-step. For instance, the electrification was started in 1925 and completed in 1956. Tanna Tunnel (7.8km) was penetrated under Taga Volcano in 1934 after overcoming many difficulties. The largest epoch was the completion of the Tokaido Shinkansen (special line for bullet trains) as the 2nd line of this main transportation artery in 1964.

After the opening of the Shinkansen, intercity passengers have moved to take this new trunk line. However, the Tokaido Line still plays an important role in commuting, cargo transport and operation of overnight sleeper trains.

I often took the Tokaido Line when I was a child, because one of my relatives lived on the line. It's very exciting for me to see and embark the long colorful formation trains. The body colors were vibrant orange and green, which came from the orange fruit, a speciality product along the line. The train was composed of 15 cars including two green (first class) cars. Even now, these traditions are passed to the new generation trains.

JR East "Green Car" (first class), Type SaRo E233-3000 double decker at Tokyo Station

Saturday, 22 October 2011

EMU Jomo 700 Series, Reunion with Old Friends

EMU Jomo 715-725F of 700 series (ex-Keio 3000 series) near Fujiyamashita Station

Jomo is a local railway company in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. The route connects Chuo-maebashi, the capital of Gunma Prefecture and Nishi-kiryu, the city well known for its silk textile industry. The line is 25km long with 23 stations.

It’s a small local railway, but boasts the longest history. The construction of the line started as an idea of a local university student in 1928. Amazingly, the line was opened at the end of the same year, 1928. Since then, the railway has been greatly contributing to local people and industries.

In the meantime, the trains of Jomo Railway, EMU 700 series, are memorable ones for me, because I often rode them in Tokyo when I was a child.

The Jomo 700 series, whose former name Keio 3000 series, were originally manufactured for Keio Electric Railway Company in Tokyo in the 1960s and 1970s. My grandpa, who passed away in 1999, was a railway engineer of Keio and in charge of introducing these trains. I still remember that I visited Eifuku-cho Rail Yard of Keio with my grandpa, and saw the 3000 series there for the first time. It was brand spanking new and the stainless body was shining brilliantly in my eyes.

Since then, I have always had a special fondness for these trains. Even after retirement of some 3000 series trains from Keio, I cannot forget them and sometimes visit Jomo Railway to see them again.

A reunion with Jomo 700 series (ex-Keio 3000 series)… it’s also a reunion with my childhood memories with grandpa.

EMU Jomo 718-728F of 700 series (ex-Keio 3000 series) at Akagi Station

More information about trains in Jomo Electric Railway (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Win-win Solution by Two Major Companies

EMU Tobu 100 series, "Spacia" arrives at JR East Shinjuku Station

It seems difficult to do railway business in Japan as it's very competitive. Rivals are not only sector peer companies but also airline, bus and express road enterprises.

JR East and Tobu Railways had been long time rivals on the 200km route between downtown Tokyo and Nikko, a World Heritage Site. They had been competing against one other to attract passengers. But, in the early 2000s, the two companies reached a turning point. Due to a recession caused by the "bubble economy burst", they were going to cut each other's throats. Then, JR East and Tobu changed the strategy. The key was to change "from rival to alliance".

The gimmick is as follows.

JR East has a strong network in downtown Tokyo. The lines extend to major terminals such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. On the other hand Tobu has a convenient direct access to the Nikko area such as Nikko City and Kinugawa Hot Spring.

The conclusion of the two companies was to create a direct operation through the JR East Line to the Tobu Line. In the downtown Tokyo area, they use the JR East Line to accommodate more passengers in giant terminals, such as Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. Meanwhile, in the Nikko area, the Tobu Line was selected to send passengers directly to the attractive sites, such as Nikko City and Kinugawa Hot Spring.

In March 2006, the two companies commenced the direct operation. As a result, we were enabled to see the Tobu luxury train, EMU 100 series, "Spacia" at JR East's Shinjuku Station. On the other hand, the JR East train, EMU 253-1000 series runs on the Tobu Line in the Nikko area.

A win-win solution was established.
EMU JR East 253-1000 series arrives at Ikebukuro Station

Sunday, 16 October 2011

EMU JR East E2 Series, Pokemon Shinkansen

EMU JR East Shinkansen E2 series at Tokyo Station

Following the resumption of operation along the entire Tohoku Shinkansen line on April 29th (see my July 7th's blog), all train services got back to normal on September 23rd. In other words, the slowdown of train speed was terminated, and all trains restored their normal maximum speeds because post-disaster damage repair has been completed. Needless to say, the train services were disturbed by the giant earthquake, which hit the eastern part of Japan on March 11th.

We can see several kinds of trains on the Tohoku Shinkansen, JR East. EMU E2 series is one of the main fleets on this line. Although the flagship position was ceded to the newest model E5 series (see also my July 7th's blog) this year, E2 series trains are still the main units being used.

This summer, 4 sets of the E2 series ran on the Tohoku Shinkansen as "Pokemon Shinkansen" (see the bottom photo). These cars were wrapped by artwork of the popular Japanese animation character "Pokemon (Pocket Monsters)" for tour promotion to the Tohoku region in the summer vacation season. Although almost 20 years have passed since Pokemon came on to TV, it is still a star among children in this country.

You can see the most popular Pokemon character "Pikachu" and others on the train body. Many children were excited with the Pokemon wrappings and embarked the train this summer.

Thank you Pokemon. You made their trip very memorable.

Pokemon Shinkansen, EMU JR East E2 series at Tokyo Station

Friday, 14 October 2011

"Torokko" Train on the Watarase Valley Railway

"Torokko" Train at Ohmama Station, Watarase Valley Railway

Further to my blog on October 5, I would like to introduce you to a unique train on the Watarase Valley Line.

Look at the top photo. This is the "Torokko Train", which operates only on the weekends for tourists. A powerful diesel locomotive, type DE10, pulls 4 coaches and ascends the chasm of the Watarase River. Type DE10 was manufactured in the 1970's for Japan National Railway, which is the present JR East. Then, 2 units were transferred to Watarase Valley Railway in 1998 and 2000 to spend a new life there after their retirement from JR East.

The middle two carriages are so-called "torokko" style cars. Torokko is characterized by a lack of windows on the both sides of coaches. So, passengers can admire the outside view, such as beautiful forests, fresh streams and quiet farming villages without looking through windows. "Torokko" got its name from mining carts, which also have no windows.

Last weekend, by all means, I wanted to ride this train, but it was unfortunately fully booked. I saw that many happy holidaymakers had descended on Ohmama, the departure station of the Torokko Train. I have been brought to realize once again that the Torokko Train is a star in this region. So, I reluctantly accepted the situation and just took a photo from the rails.

I will try to embark next time, probably during the season of the changing colors of maples and other trees. That will be the best season to enjoy this scenic train.

Torokko Train leaves Ohmama Station, Watarase Valley Railway

More information about "Torokko" train (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Chuo Rapid Line, Tokyo's Main Transportation Artery

EMU JR East E233 series at Tokyo Station, the Chuo Rapid Line

The Chuo Rapid Line is one of the busiest railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area, along with the Yamanote Line. The route connects Tokyo, the city center and Takao, a western suburb. The total length of the line is 53km.

According to statistical data, the trains carry a maximum of 42,000 passengers per hour on a weekday morning. Nevertheless, 10 coach trains operate every two minutes in the morning, the congestion rate, which is defined by the number of passengers divided by the carrying capacity, is 194%.

Unfortunately, the Chuo Rapid Line has a poor reputation among Tokyoites. In addition to its rush-hour melee, the ratio of on-time operation is lower than that of other lines, due to malfunctions, accidents and bad weather. It's rather ironic because the name of the line is the Chuo "Rapid", but it is often delayed.

For your information, the "Rapid" is named after "Rapid Services". The Chuo Line is double-double truck. A double truck, whose name is the Chuo-Sobu Local Line, is used for local trains. On the other hand, another double truck, Chuo Rapid Line is allocated for Rapid Services and Limited Express Trains.

Apart from the poor reputation, there are plenty of attractive spots on the Chuo Rapid Line. Shinjuku is a giant subcenter in the western part of downtown Tokyo. There are many department stores, shopping malls and hotels. Meanwhile, Kichijoji is more casual. You can find good restaurants, fashion boutiques and grocery stores.

EMU JR East E233 series at Ochanomizu Station, the Chuo Rapid Line

Monday, 10 October 2011

Burningbush Hill on the MinatoLine

Railcar Type KiHa 3710 near Nakaminato Station, Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway

Burningbush, academic name: Kochia scoparia, is a very useful plant in Japan.

Firstly, it's used as the material for making brooms. So, its name is "Houkigusa (broom grass)" in this country. Secondly, the seeds are edible as a rare delicacy called "tonburi", especially in the northern part of Japan. Its texture is similar to caviar. So, it's called "land caviar" in Japan. Thirdly, it's also grown for ornamental purposes. It produces many small flowers in August. Then, in October, it turns a glowing red. It's very impressive as a signal of the coming of autumn.

To enjoy viewing beautiful burningbush, which has changed to a red color, I strongly recommend visiting Hitachinaka City in Ibaraki Prefecture, a northern suburb of the Tokyo metropolitan area. It takes around one hour from downtown Tokyo to Katsuta on a limited express train of the Joban Line, JR East. Then, you should transfer to the Minato Line of Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway to Ajigaura, a terminal station. The Burningbush Hill is located in the Hitachinaka Kaihin Park near this station (see the bottom photo).

This small local railway was severely damaged on March 11th this year by a giant earthquake. But, since then, the company has been making all-out efforts to get it back up and running. Eventually, the trains resumed operation all the way along the line on July 23rd. Lovely railcars type KiHa 3710 and others also returned to operation (see the top photo).

Visit the Burningbush Hill on the local railway… today was a very beautiful day again in the autumn weekend.

Burningbush Hill in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture

More information about railcars of Hitachinaka Kaihin Railway (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Light and Dark Sides of the Watarase River

Railcar Watarase Type Wa 89-310 at Kami-kanbai Station

Watarase-gawa is a major river in the northern part of the Kanto Plain, north of Tokyo. It's about 100km in length and its source is at the Kanto Mountains. The river passes downward to join the Tone River and eventually flows into the Pacific Ocean.

Watarase River reveals two faces in its basin… a light side and a dark side.

The light side is a clear stream (see the bottom photo). It's especially beautiful during April and May when all the forests along the river are freshly green, and between October and November when the leaves have changed color. Superb hot springs also spread throughout the area.

The dark side is a starting point of environmental pollution in Japan. In the basin, copper resources were found in the 17th century and had been developed for long time. But, after adopting modern mining technologies in the late 19th century, people had been suffering from mineral poison such as gas and water from ore refineries. The mine was closed in 1973 after declining the production.

To visit Watarase River area, the Tobu Railway is convenient from Kitasenju, a northern terminal of Tokyo. Then, you can transfer to a local railway, the Watarase Valley Line at Aioi Station. A lovely chocolate colored railcar will bring you to the heart of the valley (see the top photo).

There is a beautiful valley and mined land, where currently it has been changed to a Mining Museum. You can enjoy the valley and the history of the mining as well.

Takatsudo Valley near Ohmama Station

More inforormation about Watarase Valley Railway (in Japanese):

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sheer Indulgence of "Onsen" on the Tozan Railway

EMU Hakone-tozan 1000 series at Ohiradai Station

Although I just visited Hakone in July (see my July 11th’s blog), I prowled there again to hunt for a superb “onsen”(hot spring). I love Hakone, a winy volcanic mountain resort in the western part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Access from downtown is excellent. Taking Odakyu and Hakone Tozan Railways, it takes only 90min from Shinjuku. This time, I rode a standard commuter train on the Odakyu Line.

The Hakone Tozan Line is substantially divided into two sections at Hakone-yumoto Station. The section east of Hakone-yumoto is an ordinary railway, whose track gauge is 1067mm. Trains of Odakyu Railway directly operate into the line (see the bottom photo). Meanwhile, the section west of Hakone-yumoto is an steep mountain climbing railway whose track gauge is 1435mm. A special train of Hakone Tozan Railway with mountain climbing specifications operates on the line (see the top photo).

After taking Hakone Tozan Railway, I got off the train at Miyanoshita Station and visited the following quiet onsen, surrounded by steep mountains with dark green forests.

There are several reasons why I like hot springs, but a hot spring in the open air is the most charming of them all. Only the voice of the gentle wind and the limpid stream were heard as I soaked in the bath outside. I really appreciated it. Onsen is the heaven specifically for people who are leading a life of hustle and bustle in the city.

EMU Odakyu 1000 series at Hakone-yumoto Station

Saturday, 1 October 2011

One Saturday Morning at Shinjuku Station

EMU JR East E351 series, Limited Express "Super-Azusa" at Shinjuku Station

Although Tokyo Electric Power Company announced in early September that it had avoided the power shortages predicted for midsummer, still Japanese people are trying hard to save electricity. Needless to say, the power shortage would have been caused by the nuclear power plant disaster that followed the giant earthquake and the tsunami. Many companies were contributing by trying to save electricity. This applied to my company as well. This September, I had to go to my office on Saturdays to equalize electricity consumption, because many other companies were off on a Saturday.

Last Saturday morning at Shinjuku Station, I saw an elegant train, EMU JR East E351 series, Limited Express "Super-Azusa" bound for Matsumoto (see the top photo) on the way to work. Families, couples and young groups were going to embark the train to visit beautiful mountain resorts on the weekend. This train was specially-developed in 1993 for passing through tight curves in mountain ranges at a high speed. Just before entering the tight curves, the train automatically tilts its body to mitigate the centrifugal force. So, it's called a "tilting train". Thanks to this device, the new train greatly reduced the travel time between downtown Tokyo and Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures.

I felt a bit jealous of those who were riding the state-of-the-art train and going to resorts. But, immediately I rejuvenated, because I still get choked up thinking about the victims of the giant earthquake. Year 2011 will be a memorable for all Japanese people.

Limited Express, "Super-Azusa" leaves Shinjuku Station

More information about JR East Limited Express "Super-Azusa":