Sunday, 29 June 2014

Toei 5501: Preserved American Style PCC Car

Preserved streetcar, unit number 5501 of the Toei 5500 series, "PCC Car"
After joining Tram Day event in Arakawa Depot on the Arakawa Line, I popped into a small museum adjacent to the depot to see some preserved trams.

The main exhibit here is a classic American style streetcar, unit number 5501 of the Toei (Tokyo Metropolitan Government) 5500 series. This elegant tram belongs to the group of PCC Cars. As you may know, the PCC Car was developed in the 1930s by Electric Railway Presidents' Conference Committee (ERPCC) in the United States. The members of the ERPCC were tram operators, who shared a sense of crisis about the rise of family cars in the US. The committee jointly developed a new high-performance streetcar, namely the PCC Car, in 1936.

The technology of PCC car was exported to Japan in the 1950s. At that time, Japan was still in the postwar reconstruction period. Tokyoites had a serious shortage of transportation means. Importing the technology of the PCC car was welcome news for the people. The Japanese PCC Car, unit number 5501, was manufactured in 1954 by Naniwa Koki under license of Transit Research Corporation of the United States. The 5501 had been operated on Route 1 for 13 years. It was the main tram route in Tokyo passing through Ginza, the most famous downtown area.

I was fascinated by this elegant streamlined streetcar. The pantograph on the roof of the body is also beautiful and my favorite. I hope that this elegant streetcar comes back to the track someday in the future.

Side view of unit number 5501 of the Toei 5500 series

Friday, 27 June 2014

Unique Funicular on Mt. Tsukuba

Funicular Momiji of the Tsukuba-san Cable Railway Line
As I mentioned before, Mt. Tsukuba is the scenic sightseeing spot in the Tokyo metropolitan area. This mountain has twin peaks, namely Nyotai-san (Female Summit) and Nantai-san (Male Summit). The female summit (877m above sea level) is 6 meters taller than the male one. Both peaks have means of transportation for access. They are the aerial tramway to the female summit and the funicular to the male summit.

The funicular, Tsukuba-san Cable Railway, was opened in 1925. Connecting Miyawaki and Tsukuba-sancho stations, the route length is 1,634m. The height difference between the highest and the lowest points of the route is 495m. The track gauge is 1,067mm.

The present two vehicles, namely Wakaba and Momiji, were manufactured by Daiei Sharyo in 1995. The body colors are green (Wakaba) and red (Momiji). Each vehicle can accommodate up to 106 passengers. They are operated every 20 minutes. The travel time between the two stations is 8 minutes.

This funicular line has several features. Firstly, the track is curved to the west. So, the two terminals differ in orientation at an angle of 90 degrees. Secondly, there is a tunnel mid-way on the route. It was a difficult task to burrow hard rock in the 1920s. Thirdly, an overhead catenary is not used for electric power supply in the vehicles, since such strong direct current causes adverse effects on the observation work at the national magnetic observatory near Mt. Tsukuba.

Mt. Tsukuba Cable Railway... it is a unique funicular in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Funicular Aoba of the Tsukuba-san Cable Railway Line

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Battery Mode Operation of the EV-E301 Series

Dropping the pantographs, EMU JR East EV-E301 series runs on the non-electrified track
As I reported before, JR East launched Japan's first accumulator train, the EV-E301 series on March 15th this year. Following the test run operation on the electrified track of the Tohoku Main Line (Utsunomiya Line), I am going to show you the scenes of the battery mode operation on the non-electrified track of the Karasuyama Line since starting commercial operations.

Please look at the top photo. You can see the EV-E301 series running on the un-electrified track between Kohnoyama and Oogane stations of the Karasuyama Line. Dropping its pantographs, the train is operated by the electric power supplied from two sets of 600V-95kWh lithium ion accumulators. I was surprised that the train had such a low noise level.

The following photo shows the scene of the train being charged at Karasuyama Terminal. After arriving at Karasuyama, the EV-E301 series is charged up at the charging facility for its return trip. You can see the train raising the pantographs and the short overhead conductor rail constructed above the train. "Nutritional support" is essential for the EV-E301 series before a 20.4km long return journey without electric supply from the overhead catenary.

Plenty of rail fans ride on this brand new train every day. While I was waiting for the return train at Karasuyama Terminal, I saw many local Boy Scouts, who were making a visit to the terminal to see the EV-E301 series. They listened intently to the railway employee's explanations about the accumulator train.

The battery mode operation of the EV-E301 series... so far, so good.

The EV-E301 series is charged up for its return trip at the charging facility of Karasuyama Terminal.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Yurukyara Train on the Sotetsu Line

EMU Sotetsu 11000 series, poster train "Sonyan", arrives at Seya Station
Do you know the Japanese word, "Yurukyara"? It means lovely, cute or pretty mascots for local governments, companies or private groups. For instance, Funasshi is the most famous and popular Yurukyara in Japan. He is the mascot for Funabashi City in Chiba Prefecture to promote Funabashi and its specialty... juicy pears.

Currently, establishing Yurukyara is also becoming popular among railway companies to promote their services to passengers. Sagami Railway (Sotetsu) is no exception. Recently, Sotetsu established their Yurukyara, named "Sonyan". According to Sotetsu's website, Sonyan is a cat, who was born on March 10th on the Sotetsu Line. He is a Sotetsu employee assigned to public relations.

In commemoration of establishing the Yurukyara, Sotetsu has launched a special poster EMU, "Sonyan Train", with the Yurukyara design. It is set number 11003F of the EMU 11000 series. A 10-car train is beautifully decorated with yellow colored stripes and Sonyan characters. Most of the kids on the Sotetsu Line already know Sonyan and wave to the Sonyan Train when they see it from the platform. Sotetsu publishes the Sonyan Train timetable on their website for the passengers.

For your information, the EMU 11000 series is the newest model on the Sotetsu Line. A total of 5 sets, 50 units, have been manufactured since 2008 by Tokyu Sharyo and JR East Niitsu factory. To reduce the manufacturing costs, it has a common design with JR East's EMU E233 series on the Chuo Rapid Line.

Sotetsu's mascot, "Sonyan" is seen on the body of the EMU 11000 series
More information about Sotetsu trains (in Japanese):

Saturday, 21 June 2014

2014 Hydrangea Season on the Inokashira Line

EMU Keio 1000 series passes through full-blown hydrangeas in front of Higashi-Matsubara Station
The Japan Meteorological Agency has announced that this year's rainy season began on June 5th in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It means that hydrangea blooming season has also begun here in Tokyo. Although it is a gloomy period before midsummer, Tokyoites can enjoy full-blown hydrangeas here and there. When one god deserts you, another will pick you up. This Japanese maxim is definitely correct.

Following years 2011, 2012 and 2013, I enjoyed hydrangea flowers again on the Keio-Inokashira Line. Please look at the photos. They are illuminated hydrangea flowers in front of the platform of Higashi-Matsubara Station. The night lighting of hydrangeas is annual event at this station. As I mentioned before, Keio has been working on planting hydrangeas on the embankments of the railways to prevent slope failure and protect the environment since 1991. Nowadays, we can enjoy seeing colorful hydrangea blossoms at the side of the railway tracks specifically around Higashi-Matsubara, Shimokitazawa and Shin-Daita and Meidaimae stations in June.

This year, I visited Higashi-Matsubara Station a bit later than previous years to see the well-colored flowers. It was indeed good timing, wasn't it? The vivid train, EMU Keio-1000 series, stands against the colorful hydrangea flowers in the background. I saw many rail fans and flower lovers on the platform of this small station. Higashi-Matsubara is no longer "the undiscovered hydrangea viewing spot". It has become a famous place for hydrangea flowers.

Whatever the weather is, the season of hydrangeas is my annual favorite.

Set number 1751F of the EMU Keio 1000 series and full-blown hydrangeas

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Sayonara, Red Striped Trains

Sotetsu's red striped trains are exhibited in Sagami-Otsuka Station yard
The coloring of trains is an important issue for Japanese railway companies. For instance, all trains on the Keio Line have the same colored stripes. They are red and blue, which stand for Keio's corporate colors. On the other hand, JR East adopts line colors to their commuter trains in Tokyo. For example, all Yamanote Line trains have green-colored stripes, while all Keihin-Tohoku Line trains have blue-colored stripes on their bodies.

In 2007, Sagami Railway (Sotetsu) established new corporate colors, blue and orange, which stand for intellect and energy. Along with the establishment of the new corporate colors, Sotetsu started to change the coloring of their trains from the old red-colored strips to the new blue and orange ones. Seven years later, only a few trains remain with the old coloring. They will disappear soon.

To say sayonara (goodbye) to the old colored trains, Sotetsu held a special event in Sagami-Otsuka Station yard at the end of last week. The remaining precious red-striped trains were exhibited there. They were the EMU 7000, the new 7000, 8000 and 9000 series. It was indeed a precious opportunity to take photographs of a whole formation of old colored trains with red-colored stripes. Needless to say, plenty of rail fans and families joined the event, and I was one of them.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the Sotetsu employees who kindly held this precious event for rail fans and families in the hot and humid climate of early summer.

Sotetsu's red striped trains and rail fans in Sagami-Otsuka Station yard

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

EMU E127-0 Series: Train for Local Students

EMU JR East E127-0 series stands at Uchino Station on the Echigo Line
After my visit to Toki Messe, I headed to Niigata University in the western suburb of Niigata City. To get to this state university, the JR East Echigo Line is convenient from Niigata Station. It takes about 20 minutes to Uchino, the nearest station from the university.

Connecting Niigata and Kashiwazaki, the operating length of the Echigo Line is 83.8km. The track is 1,067mm single-gauge. The electric system is 1,500V DC overhead. The main users of the Echigo Line are local students, as there are many universities, colleges, private academies and high schools on the route. They are Niigata University, Nihon Dental University, Nihon Bunri High School and so on.

My vehicle was a 6-car train, the EMU JR East E127-0 series. It was launched as a standard commuter train for local cities in 1995. A total of 13 sets, 26 units are operated in the Niigata area. Currently, this model is only operated on the busy section between Niigata and Yoshida stations on the Echigo Line. For your information, their brothers, namely the EMU E127-100 series are seen in the Matsumoto area in Nagano Prefecture.

The E127-0 series fulfills its important role on the track as it is a mode of transportation for local students. Although JR East plans to introduce a new model this year, the E127-0 series will keep the main position as the main fleet on the Echigo Line.

The EMU JR East E127-0 series... keep up the good job for local students.

Side view of the Type KuMoHa E127-0 of the EMU E127 series
More information about the EMU JR East E127 series (in Japanese):

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Reunion with "Fresh-Hitachi" in Niigata City

EMU JR East E653-1000 series, limited express "Inaho", stands at Niigata Station

When I arrived at Niigata Station in the late afternoon, I saw a train which I hadn't seen in a long time. It was the EMU JR East E653 series known as limited express, "Fresh-Hitachi" in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The E653 series was launched in 1997 to replace the old model, the 485 series, on the Joban Line. A total of 12 sets, 72 units, have been manufactured by Hitachi, Kinki Sharyo and Tokyu Sharyo. There were five body colors, namely scarlet, blue, yellow, green and orange. It varies with the variety of train sets. They had been operated as limited express, "Fresh-Hitachi" on the Joban Line until March 15th, 2013.

After their retirement from the Joban Line, a total of 8 sets, 56 units, have been moved to the Niigata area to spend their second life on the track. The new assignment is limited express train "Inaho (rice stalk)" on the route between Niigata and Akita. Before the move, the body color was changed to orange, which stands for the beautiful sunset over the Sea of Japan. The front car has been changed to Green Car (first class). Snow-resistant and cold-resistant facilities have also been equipped on the trains.

I hope to ride the E653 series, new Inaho, in the near future and would like to see a beautiful sunset over the sea. The problem is that I am always in a rush and never have time to take a long holiday.

Side view of the Type KuRo E652-1000, Green Car (first class) of the E653-1000 series
More information about the EMU JR East E653-1000 series, limited express "Inaho" (in Japanese):

Friday, 13 June 2014

Visit to the Lagoon City by "Max Toki"

EMU JR East E4 series stands at Niigata Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen
I had an opportunity to visit Niigata City recently. It is located about 340km north of Tokyo, and is the main city of Niigata Prefecture. Niigata has grown as the largest city on the Sea of Japan side of the archipelago since the 16th century. It was a lagoonal area before the development.

After my assignment, I took pictures of some trains at Niigata Station on the way back home. I could see many kinds of trains there, as trains from four different routes on the JR East lines come to this station. They are Joetsu Shinkansen, the Shinetsu Main Line, the Hakushin Line and the Echigo Line trains.

Joetsu Shinkansen is the main transportation artery between Niigata and the Tokyo metropolitan area. Niigata functions as the northernmost terminal of the route. Super-express trains are operated every 15 to 30 minutes for Tokyo. The EMU E4, duplex train "Max-Toki", is one of the main fleets on the track. Although its speed is limited to a maximum of 240km/hour, up to 1,634 seats are available, if two sets of trains are connected. According to some media, the E4 series will be retired within two years, as its maximum speed is insufficient. I have a real concern about the E4 series' future.

In Niigata City, I visited Toki Messe on the Shinano River bank. It is a large convention center with a hotel and a shopping mall. I could also enjoy strolling on the riverbank under the early summer sunshine.

To be continued...

"Toki Messe" is located near estuary of Shinano River in Niigata City near Niigata Station
More information about the JR East Joetsu Shinkansen:
More information about the EMU JR East Shinkansen E4 series (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Great Success of 2014 Tram Day

Electric cars number 7022 (center) and 7001 (right) are exhibited in the Arakawa Depot
June 10th is Tram Day in Japan. I don't know the origin of Tram day; but it was enacted in the meeting of the 2nd National Tram Summit in 1995. Several tram operators, such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, Hiroshima Electric Railway and Toyama Light Rail held an event for rail fans in commemoration of Tram day this year.

I visited Arakawa Depot on the Arakawa Line of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government at the end of last week. Although it was rainy, plenty of rail fans, families and couples flocked to the Depot. The main attraction of the event was a photo session in the yard. I could shoot a row of two retro-colored streetcars (unit number 7001, 7022) and a bus. Special rounded plates to celebrate "2014 Tram Day" gave pleasure to rail fans.

On the other hand, numerous precious instruments were exhibited in the factory. They were tram bodies, which were under inspection, electric motors, bogies, master controllers, switches and so on. Among others, the most popular one was a pantograph. I saw that many kids enjoyed pumping and dumping it under the guidance of engineers.

The visitors could also enjoy shopping, such as goods and stationery with tram designs. The event was indeed a great success. Specifically, all employees were very friendly. Engineers were eager to respond to visitors' questions. I am truly grateful to Arakawa Depot, the Bureau of Transportation, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government to have held this special event.

Demonstration of a pantograph operation in the Arakawa Depot factory

Monday, 9 June 2014

Double Gondola Lift in Gumma Prefecture

Double gondola of Haruna-san Ropeway and Lake Haruna in Gumma Prefecture

Mt. Haruna is located in the central part of Gumma Prefecture, some 120km North of Tokyo. It is a volcano whose summit is 1,390m above sea level. Because of its beautiful scenery, a lot of sightseers visit there throughout the year. I visited this superb spot with my family at the weekend.
To enjoy this volcanic mountain, Haruna-san Ropeway is convenient. Connecting Haruna-kogen and Harunafuji-sancho stations, it was opened in 1958. The operating length is 527m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 269m. One of the features of this aerial tramway is its gondola. It is a double gondola to secure transportation capacity. Passenger capacity per cabin is 15; therefore, a total of 30 persons can ride on each trip. It takes only 3 minutes from the mountain foot to the summit. We can look over the blue colored crater lake, Lake Haruna, from the cabin window.

After enjoying the beautiful volcano, we visited a lovely garden, "Iris Hill," near Mt. Haruna. This garden is famous for its beautiful German Iris flowers from May to June. We admired the iris-filled garden, but I myself was personally fascinated by the Chinese peony flowers. Specifically, my favorite ones were the large pure white colored flowers that were fully blooming and shining under the early summer sunshine.

The beautiful garden, volcano, crater lake and unique double gondola... early summer in Gumma Prefecture is a satisfactory spot to visit.
Full-blown Chinese peony is seen in the "Iris Hill" in Gumma Prefecture

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Suburban Scenary on the Joso Line

DMU Kantetsu 2300 seies arrives at Kokinu Station on the Joso Line
Kanto Railway, also known as Kantetsu, is my favorite local railway in Ibaraki Prefecture. They have two independent routes, namely the Joso and Ryugasaki lines. The Joso Line is Kantetsu's main line, which connects Toride and Shimodate cities. Its total operating length is 51.1km. The whole route is un-electrified.

The scenery along the Joso Line has two faces. The southern part of the line stretches through expanding suburban residential quarters, while in the northern part of the route, we can see beautiful idyllic views such as rice paddies and vegetable fields. The contrast of sceneries through the train window between the southern and northern parts of the route is my favorite.

Please look at the photos. They show the suburban sceneries in the southern part of the Joso Line. You can see the double track and residential areas. The size of the houses is larger than those of central Tokyo. The trains operate every 6 minutes during the morning commute; meanwhile, the daytime operation interval is 15 minutes on average. A diesel rail car or 2-car DMU is seen on the track.

The DMU KiHa 2300 series (top photo) and diesel rail car 2200 series (bottom photo) are representative models on the Joso Line. The DMU 2300 series was launched in 2000 as Kantetsu's first DMU model, which has an Electric Commanding Brake (ECB) system. The 2200 series was launched in 1997 as a diesel rail car, which has bolsterless bogies.

Diesel rail car Kantetsu 2200 seies arrives at Kokinu Station on the Joso Line
More information about the Kantetsu's rolling stock (in Jaanese):

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Rebirth of Springtime in Ochanomizu

EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series passes through a full blown Sakura tree (April, 2014)
The season of Sakura (cherry) blossoms in Tokyo has already passed, but I still want to show you something.

Look at the top photo. You can see a full-blown Sakura tree near Ochanomizu Station on the Subway, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line. I introduced this spot last year... but look at this year's Sakura blossoms again. Has it grown? It might just be me.

You can also compare it with the autumn scene of this spot last year. Please look at the following photo. The autumn leaves are also lovely in this spot. Blooming, autumn leaves, then, blooming again... Ochanomizu is my favorite spot to see the different seasons and the rebirth of springtime.

In the meantime, the train in front of the Sakura tree is the EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series. It was launched in 1988 to replace old decrepit models. A total of 59 sets, 336 units have been manufactured so far by Nippon Sharyo, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Kinki Sharyo and Tokyu Sharyo. The 02 series was designed based on the 01 series on the Ginza Line, because the track gauge (1,435mm), electric system (600V DC third rail) and the size of the vehicle gauge are same.

The boxy aluminum body with a red stripe is my favorite. Several sets have white colored "sine waves" on the red stripe of their bodies. It is a retro design taken from the old trains such as the 300 and 500 series.

EMU Tokyo Metro 02 series passes through autumn leaves (November, 2013)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Increase in Number of the E7 Operation

EMU JR East Shinkansen E7 series stands at Tokyo Station
Tokyo Station always reminds me of how quickly the world of railway is changing. It is not easy for me to keep up with these changes. Only three years ago, we could see some unique trains such as the E1 and the 300 series; however, they have already faded out from the track. On the other hand, brand new trains, such as the E6 and E7 series have been introduced in these three years.

JR East's Shinkansen E7 series is a growing train. It was launched on March 15th this year on the Nagano Shinkansen line. The main purpose for the introduction was in preparation for the opening of Hokuriku Shinkansen between Nagano and Kanazawa stations in the spring of next year. The E7 series will gradually replace the present E2-N series.

Currently, number of E7 series trains has increased from 3 to 6 sets. As a result, the number of the E7 series operations increased from 7 to 11 round trips per day. So, it has become easier for rail fans to take pictures of this brand new train. Platform number 21 is a particularly ideal spot to take a picture of this long-nosed train.

It is said that the interior of the E7 series is more sophisticated than those of other Shinkansen trains. Seeing is believing. My next project is taking the E7 series to a hot spring in Nagano Prefecture.

Side view of unit number E714-3, the EMU JR East E7 series
More information about Nagano Shinkansen:
More information about the EMU E7 series (in Japanese):

Sunday, 1 June 2014

The 10th Anniversary of Suica IC Card

Set number Tou 550 of the EMU JR East 231-500 series stands at Tokyo Station
Suica is a prepaid IC card for railway and bus passengers in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It was started as a transit card by JR East in 2001. The function of electronic money was added in 2004. Once you get a Suica card and deposit some money, you can take almost all railway and bus routes in Tokyo. It is also convenient for shopping.

Many similar prepaid IC cards are issued throughout Japan. For instance, Pasmo is another IC card in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Kitaca is mainly used in Hokkaido; meanwhile, Pitaca and Icoca are prevalent in Osaka. Currently, a total of ten IC cards are interchangeable in Japan, meaning that once you get an IC card, you can use it on almost all railways and buses. You can also enjoy shopping with it throughout Japan.

On March 22nd this year, JR East celebrated the 10th anniversary of Suica IC Card as electronic money. In commemoration of the anniversary, JR East launched one set of special poster train on the Yamanote Line. You can see many "penguins" on the body of set number Tou-550 of the EMU 231-500 series. These penguins are the mascot characters of Suica card.

The design of the character has been taken from an Adelie penguin. As you may know, an Adelie penguin swims smoothly in the Antarctic Ocean. Similarly, the Suica holders can also take trains and go shopping smoothly throughout Japan.
Side view of set Tou-500 of the EMU 231-500 series, a poster train of the Suica 10th anniversary