Saturday, 31 March 2012

Gorgeous Valley and Trans-peninsula Railway

DMU Kominato Type 200 arrives at Yoro Keikoku (Yoro Valley) Station

Following my visit to Ezuki Narcissus Road in January (see my blog on January 18th), I visited Boso Peninsula again last weekend. My destination was Yoro Valley, which is located in the heart of the peninsula.

Yoro is a gorgeous valley, where tourists can enjoy walking along the fresh stream and in the open air in the forest, and bathing in the hot springs. My favorite landscape is the beautifully dipping geological layers along the Yoro River. We can see alternating sandstone and shale layers at the riverside (see the bottom photo). These layers are estimated to have been deposited around 3 million years ago in the sea, and uplifted later with the formation of folds.

To get to Yoro Valley, I took a local train of Kominato Railway. This railway is a part of the trans-peninsula railway, which connects Goi on the west coast and Ohara on the east coast of the peninsula. Kominato forms the western part of the trans-peninsula railway. The total operating length is 39.1km.

I got on the classic DMU, type 200 from Goi Station. The type 200 was manufactured from 1961 to 1977 at Nihon Sharyo. They are a bit old, but still maintained in good condition (see the top photo). Although, there are no large boxes on the roof, all of the DMUs are equipped with air conditioners.

It was crowded with tourists because it was the weekend. All of the passengers looked very happy in expectation of the pleasant holiday. I also fully enjoyed a beautiful Sunday, riding a classic train and walking along the stream.

Beautifully dipping geological layers along Yoro River near Yoro Keikoku (Yoro Valley) Station

More information about Kominato Railway (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

L-train on the Seibu Line

EMU Seibu 3000 series, L-train leaves Shiinamachi Station on the Ikebukuro Line

One of the features of private railway companies in Tokyo is their diversification of business. For example, almost all companies have their own department stores on their lines. Of course the residents are expected to take the railways to go shopping. Another example is the real estate business. Railway companies own land and develop housing and condominiums to rent or sell on their lines. Of course the new residents are expected to take the railways to commute or to go to school.

Among the many private railway companies, Seibu is especially well known for their aggressive diversified business. The most famous of these is the sponsoring of the professional baseball team, namely the Saitama Seibu Lions. This team is based at the Seibu Baseball Field in Tokorozawa City, Saitama Prefecture, on the Seibu Line.

To support and promote the Lions, Seibu operates the L-train, which is an EMU 3000 series-based (see the top photo). The body is wrapped in "legend blue" which is the Lions' team color, and it is decorated with team logos and characters. The L-train holds a special place in a total of 9 sets of the 3000 series.

For your information, the original color of the EMU 3000 series is "Seibu yellow", which is similar to that of a railway crossing sign (see the bottom photo). These EMUs were manufactured from 1983 to 1987 at Tokyu Sharyo and Seibu Tokorozawa Works. A total of 72 units have been launched, and 70 units are still being operated.

EMU Seibu 3000 series (origibal colour) arrives at Shiinamachi Station on the Ikebukuro Line

Monday, 26 March 2012

Nostalgic Trams in the Historical Harbor City

Electric car, Nagasaki Electric Tramway Type 200 runs on the Route Number 5

Nagasaki is famous as a historical harbor city in Kyushu Island. It is located 900km west of Tokyo, and is the main city of Nagasaki Prefecture.

The history of Nagasaki has been strongly related with foreign countries. For example, in the 16th Century, Luis de Almeida, a Portuguese man, visited there as a missionary of propagandizing the Christian religion. Then, from the 17th to the 19th Century, when Japan had closed its doors to the outside world, only Nagasaki City played the role of a gateway to Japan. Foreign cultures were transmitted to Japan through the island of Dejima, in this City. In the 20th Century, Nagasaki was destroyed by the dropping of an atomic bomb at the end of World War II. After the war, Nagasaki was reconstructed as a harbor city, and many foreign sightseers visit there.

Because of its history, Nagasaki has an exotic atmosphere. Nostalgic trams make the city more attractive. This tramway was opened in 1915, and is operated by Nagasaki Electric Tramway Company. The line length is only 11.5km, but four routes operate in the urban area.

Type 200 is one of the representatives electric cars (see the photos). A total of ten cars were manufactured by Hitachi and Nihon Sharyo in 1950. They are already 62 years old, but still active. Although they have often been improved with installments of air-conditioners and exchange of pantographs, the nostalgic appearance has been strictly adhered to.

The tramway in Nagasaki, it is something the city cannot do without.

Electric car, Nagasaki Electric Tramway Type 200 runs backed by a suburban hill

More information about Nagasaki Electric Tramway (in Japanese):

Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Track the Railway Signals Disappeared

EMU Keio 8000 series runs on the signal-free track near Shimo-Takaido Station

March 20th was Vernal Equinox Day, a national holiday in Japan. That is a day for praising nature and showing love for all living things. It is originally from Buddhism. Many people visit their family graves, and pray for the peaceful repose of their ancestors by offering flowers and incense.

I also visited my family grave, taking the Keio Line. Keio is one of the major private railway companies in the western part of Tokyo and Kanagawa Prefecture (see my blog on April 8th, 2011). For the first time in a long while, I got on a train on the Keio Line.

Standing behind the cabin in the first car, I enjoyed the front view of the train. Then, I found that all railway signals had been removed from the track (see the top photo). It is because an ATC (Automatic Train Control) system has been introduced to the line. Last October, this company completed the exchange of their signal system on the Keio Line. As a result, all signals have been moved from the railway track to the cabin in the trains.

So, the driver should frequently check the speedometer and the cab signal, which show the present speed and speed limit. Once the cab signal changes with a chime, he (or she) has to follow it. If he (or she) is ignorant of the speed limit change, in other words, if the actual train speed continues to be greater than the limit, the brakes are applied automatically.

I hope that the ATC provides increased safety on the line.

EMU Keio 8000 series leaves Bubaigawara Station on the Keio Line

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Smile Train on the Seibu Line

EMU Seibu 30000 series, Smile Train arrives at Shiinamachi Staton on the Ikebukuro Line

Seibu is one of the major private railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It has two terminals, namely Ikebukuro and Shinjuku in the downtown Tokyo area, and its labyrinthine railway network extends to the north-western part of Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.

This company had been known for being managed by members of a single family. But, after a scandal involving them breaking a Security and Exchange Law in the early 2000s, the company has been trying to dedicate themselves to modernization of the management style.

One of the newly-emerged Seibu trains is in the top photo. It is the EMU 30000 series, called Smile Train. It was launched in 2008, as Seibu's new symbolic train. Needless to say, its front view looks a smiling face. Until then, the train of the Seibu Line only placed importance on their operating functions, but, the engineering concept of this new train is that "trains bring smiles to the people". It is totally different from their previous ones. Not only its frontal design, but the 30000 series also has various functions for passengers, such as antibacterial handrails, egg-shaped straps and anti-crime glass gangway doors.

Honestly speaking, the 30000 series is not my cup of tea as a rail-fan, because the design of this train is eccentric. But it is good thing that there is a wide variety of trains in Tokyo which provide passengers with a good service. I welcome this kind of passenger service competition as a customer.

Side View of the Smile Train, EMU Seibu 30000 series at Shiinamachi Station on the Ikebukuro Line

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

My Old Memory on the Tokyo Keibajo Line

Electric car JNR Number KuMoHa 40074 of Type 40 is preserved in the Railway Museum

Following my blog on January 24th, I would like to introduce another exhibit in the Railway Museum. That is JNR electric car KuMoHa 40074 of Type 40 (see the top photo). This classic electric car was manufactured in 1936 at Kawasaki Sharyo Ltd. (present Kawasaki Heavy Industries Rolling Stock Company). After being used as a commuter train in the Tokyo metropolitan area, it was retired in 1987. Eventually, it was exhibited in the Railway Museum in 2007 as a preserved car.

The body is riveted, heavily steeled, but gracefully rounded. A single circled headlight is also attached. The beautifully curved single roof at the top of the body is still modern, and the black staunch bogies look robust.

I have a precious experience of riding this classic train, when I was a boy. It was early spring, at this time in 1973. I went to Kokubunji on the Chuo Line to take the Tokyo Keibajo (Racecourse) Line, which would be abolished soon. When I arrived at the platform, I found a lovely classic electric car with a sure presence. That was my first meeting with KuMoHa 40074. The bottom is a picture of that time. I became fascinated by this classic car.

Since then, I have been meeting up with this classic car sporadically, such as at events of JR East. Whenever I see it, I enjoy its youthful figure.

Electric car KuMoHa 40074, it is even now an evergreen train.

Electric car JNR KuMoHa 40074, Type 40 at Kokubunji Station on the Tokyo Keibajo Line in 1973

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Antiquarian Bookstore Quarter on the Toei-Shinjuku Line

EMU Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) 10-000 series at Sasazuka Station on the Keio Line

I was born in Tokyo and brought up there. When I was a kid, my most favorite place was the Transportation Museum, which was located in Kanda area, downtown Tokyo. But after growing up, I have another favorite spot in this area. That is an antiquarian bookstore quarter near Jimbocho Station (see the bottom photo).

Taking a look at the history of the antiquarian bookstore quarter, we find that it started in the 1880s, when four universities, namely Chuo, Meiji, Nihon and Senshu, were opened in this area. Demand from these university students was expected. Since then, the quarter has developed in a smooth progress. It escaped from destruction in the air raids during World War II. Nowadays, there are more than 200 bookstores including 110 antiquarian ones. Jimbocho is said to be the world's largest antiquarian bookstore quarter.

To get to this fascinating quarter, Subway Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) Shinjuku Line is convenient. This subway line connects Shinjuku, the largest subcenter of Tokyo and Motoyawata on the JR East Sobu Line by way of Jinbocho. Since express trains are operated even in the underground section, it takes only 7 minutes from Shinjuku to Jimbocho. Light green striped EMU 10-000 (see the top photo) or 10-300 series will take you speedily. Moreover, you can make an easy access from the western suburb of Tokyo, as all trains are directly operated into the Keio Line through Shinjuku Station.

A typical antiquarian bookstore near Jimbocho Station on the Subway Toei Shinjuku Line 

Friday, 16 March 2012

Year from Then in Tohoku

EMU JR East E721 series (a local train bound for Watari on the Joban Line) arrives at Nagamachi

One year has passed since the 3.11 giant earthquake hit the Tohoku District of Japan. Nearly 20,000 people were killed mainly by a giant tsunami, which followed the powerful quake. To make matters worse, the nuclear power plant disaster, which was caused by the tsunami, is still forcing 10,000 people from their hometowns in Fukushima Prefecture.

Fortunately, there were no victims of train passengers because of the quake. The railways were saved by earthquake resistant constructions and the advanced earthquake warning system (see my blog on July 7th, 2011). But, some routes are still fully suspended due to the damage caused by the tsunami and the nuclear power plant.

Look at the top and the bottom photos. It is a JR East train on the Joban Line. Even if you take this train from Sendai City, you can only reach Watari Town in Miyagi Prefecture. In other words, you cannot go to Fukushima Prefecture on the Joban Line at the moment.

There are many other suspended routes other than the Joban Line in the Tohoku District. A total of seven routes are closed in JR East and two routes in private railways. It is causing severe damage to the local industries as well.

But, as the saying goes, "out of disaster springs fortune." I believe that people in Tohoku District will recover from the devastating casualties soon, because they have good patience and a strong social bond.

Pray for Tohoku.

A local train (bound for Watari on the Joban Line) leaves Nagamachi Station,Sendai urban area

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Plum Blossoms on the Gotemba Line

EMU JR Central 313-3000 series leaves Shimo-Soga Station on the Gotemba Line

We had a very cold winter this year. Spring blossoms are late in blooming in Japan. As temperatures have been comparatively low this year, the plum trees began blooming one month later than usual. Blooms in Soga Plum Field are no exception. Usually, the plums in this field are in full bloom in mid-February; however, they blossomed as late as last week this year (see the bottom photo).

Soga Plum Field is located 70km southwest of Tokyo, in the western part of Kanagawa Prefecture. The plums are grown here for fruit cultivation. Before bearing a lot of fruit, the trees produce beautiful flowers. They are mainly white, some pink and red, and also very fragrant. I visited there last weekend and enjoyed the advent of spring.

To get to Soga Plum Field, it is convenient to get off at Shimo-Soga Station on the JR Central Gotemba Line. The Gotemba Line connects Kozu on the JR East, Matsuda on the Odakyu and Numazu on the JR Central Tokaido lines. I took the Odakyu Line from my nearest station in Tokyo and transferred to the lovely 2 car train on the Gotemba Line at Matsuda Station.

The carriages are EMU JR Central 313 series, standard DC suburban trains, which have been manufactured since 1999. The white front face with an orange stripe was set off against the spring sky (see the top photo).

Trains are part of the scenery in Japan.

Plum field near Shimo-Soga Station on the JR Central Gotemba Line

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Revisit to Railway Heritage Park and Wintersweet Village

Electric locomotive EF3020, Type EF30 at Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

It is mid-March already. Time really flies. But, before introducing the topics of this month, I would like to keep on the subject of February a bit more.

After visiting a heritage railway bridge, Megane-bashi in Gunma Prefecture (see my blog on February 10th), I headed again for Wintersweet Village, where I went at the end of last year.

Last December, it had just come into bloom (see my blog on December 31st, 2011). But last month, it was the best time to view the blossom (see the bottom photo). I enjoyed 12,000 wintersweet trees with lovely yellow flowers and a sweet perfume. I was delighted to see the sign of spring.

Then, I visited Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park again. This time, my purpose was to see and take a picture of an electric locomotive, number JNR EF3020 of Type EF30 (see the top photo).

EF30 electric locomotives were manufactured from 1960 to 1968 at Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba Corporation. A total of eight units were launched; but all of them have already been retired. They were specifically used for transportation through the Kanmon Undersea Tunnel, which is located between Honshu and Kyushu islands.

For that special purpose, the body is made of stainless steel to prevent brine damage by sea water. DC and AC electric systems were both applied, because electric systems in Honshu and Kyushu were different.

I like this stainless steel body very much. It was glinting in the rays of the early spring sunlight.

Full-blown wintersweet near Nishi-Matsuida Station on the JR East Shinetsu Line

Monday, 5 March 2012

Rival Railway Story, JR East vs. Keisei

EMU JR East E231-900 series arrives at Makuhari-Hongo Station, Sobu Local Line

As I introduced in my blogs on April 15th and September 13th, 2011, JR East and Keisei are in fierce competition in terms of passenger acquisition between downtown Tokyo and Narita Airport.

But, there are other competitions. One of them is Tokyo - Chiba section. Chiba is located 40km east of Tokyo and is a main city of Chiba Prefecture. Many commuters, who live in Chiba urban area, commute to their offices in Tokyo. At the moment, JR East has the advantage over Keisei because of the travel time between the two cities. Configuration of the railway track is mostly straight on the JR Line; meanwhile there are many tight curves on the Keisei Line which means that trains on the Keisei Line cannot gather speed. That's why many passengers take the JR East line on this section. It takes about 40 minutes on the JR East trains, whilst nearly one hour from Chiba to Nippori (in downtown Tokyo) on the Keisei line.

On the other hand, Keisei has the upper hand on the section between the western part of Chiba Prefecture and Narita Airport. This is because the configuration of the Keisei line is straighter than that of JR east. Consequently, it takes less than 50 minutes from Funabashi (a major city in the western part of Chiba Prefecture) to Narita Airport on the Keisei line, as opposed to nearly one hour on the JR East line.

As seen from the above, railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area are facing mega-competitions here and there.

EMU Keisei 3000 series arrives at Makuhari-Hongo Station, Chiba Line

Friday, 2 March 2012

Gondola Lift in Queenstown, NZ

Gondola lift in Queenstown, New Zealand
Recently, I had an opportunity to visit South Island in New Zealand. Since I didn't have chance to take the trains there, I will introduce a gondola lift which I took in Queenstown.
Queenstown is located in Otago District, the southwestern part of the South Island. The history of the town started in the 1860s, when gold was discovered in the Arrow River, a short distance from the town. Once the population of the town reached several thousands, however, the luck didn't hold long. The gold depleted and the population quickly decreased to several hundreds.
Currently, Queenstown has revived as a resort town. 1.3 million tourists visit there every year. The population is about 10,000. The urban area is very small, but it is bustling with throngs of tourists.
A highlight in Queenstown is the scenic view from Bob's Peak. To climb up this summit, the gondola lift is convenient (see the top photo). A gondola rises 450 vertical meters above the town at an average incline of 37.1 degrees to the peak. The total operation length is 730m. It's only a 5 minute ride. So, I could get a gorgeous view of the lovely town, Lake Wakatipu, a long Z-shaped lake formed by glacial processes and the Southern Alpine mountains (see the bottom photo).
For your information, one of the features of this aerial tramway is that it is able to carry bikes. A 4 seat gondola is equipped with a special basket for bikes. There are many mountain bike tracks on the hill for all levels of riders.
View of Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu from Bob's Peak

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Recovery from the Tsunami

Airport access train, EMU Sendai Airport Transit 721 series arrives at snowy Sendai Station

When the giant tsunami following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake hit the Tohoku District on March 11, 2011, the tide gauge near Sendai Airport recorded a 5.7m high. The airstrip and the main building, located 1km west of the coast, were severely damaged. The airport access railway, which connects Sendai City and the airport, also suffered catastrophic damage. Specifically, the underground track between Sendai Airport and Mitazono stations was fully-submerged. The airport was closed for about one month, meanwhile it took 7 months to recover the railway.

The Sendai Airport Access Railway (total 17.5km) is a composite route of two lines. One of them is the Sendai Airport Line of Sendai Airport Transit (SAT). The other is a part of the Tohoku Main Line of JR East. The former line is quite new as it was opened in 2007. Both SAT and JR East operate their own trains alternately. They are EMU SAT 721 series (see the top photo) and JR East 721-500 series (the bottom photo). The design and the specification are the same, but the coloring is different. SAT's trains are blue and orange colored, whilst JR East's trains are green and blue.

This airport access railway is very convenient. It takes only 17 minutes from the center of Sendai City to the airport. It gains an upper hand over the bus services in speed. So, passengers had been eagerly waiting for the recovery of the railway.

The star of the airport access transportation finally staged a comeback on October 1st, 2011.

Note: Sendai is the main city of Miyagi Prefecture, 300km north of Tokyo.

Airport access train, EMU JR East E721-500 series at snowy Sendai Station