Thursday, 30 October 2014

Aerial Tramway to Mt. Yahiko

Gondola number 1 (Umihiko) of Yahiko-yama Ropeway in Niigata Prefecture
Let me start where I left off last time.

After visiting Yahiko Shrine, many worshippers and sightseers head to Mt. Yahiko, which stands against the shrine. The easiest way to get to the summit is to use a gondola called Yahiko-yama Ropeway.

Yahiko-yama Ropeway is an aerial tramway, which was opened in 1958. Connecting Sanroku (foot of the mountain) and Sancho (summit) stations, the total route length is 981 m. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 450 m. The gondola is operated every 15 minutes with an operating speed of 3.71 m per second. It takes about 5 minutes from Sanroku to Sancho Station.

The two gondolas, namely Yamahiko (number 1) and Umihiko (number 2), hold up to 35 passengers each. The two current gondolas were manufactured by Kinki Sharyo in 1990. The cream-colored body with green and orange colored stripes is vivid and my favorite.

The summit of Mt. Yahiko, which rises 634 m out of the sea, is a gorgeous scenic spot. Visitors can see boundless expanse of the Sea of Japan, Niigata Plain and Sado Island, but it is said that the most beautiful scene at this spot is the sunset over the Sea of Japan. I couldn't see the sunset, as it was cloudy when I visited there recently. We, Japanese, think that it is because of our everyday behavior.

I am going to live right and visit Mt. Yahiko again.

Scenic view from Mt. Yahiko

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Old Shrine on the Yahiko Line

EMU JR East 115 series (Yahiko color) arrives at Yoshida Station on the Yahiko Line
The JR East Yahiko Line is a short local route in Niigata Prefecture, some 300 km north of Tokyo. Connecting Higashi-Sanjo on the Shinetsu Main Line and Yahiko, its total length is only 17.4 km. The route is a single track, and the electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. The gauge size is 1,067 mm. A 2-car train, the EMU 115 series, is operated every hour on average. The train runs without a conductor on board because it has fewer passengers than the main line. The Yahiko Line is a typical local route in the countryside.

The body color of the 115 series on the Yahiko Line is called Yahiko-color. It is a white-colored body with yellow and green stripes. Only 3 sets, 6 units, of the Yahiko-color 115 series are operated on the track. As you may know, a rarity packs in rail fans to the track.

In the meantime, the terminal of the Yahiko Line, namely Yahiko Station, is located in a small quiet Yahiko Village. This
 village is famous for Yahiko Shrine. The foundation of Yahiko Shrine is unknown, but it was opened about 1,300 years ago or more, as the name of shrine was seen in an old anthology, called Manyo-shu, which was published in 759. The shrine was built backed by Mt. Yahiko. Being surrounded by the mountains and the deep forest, we can feel a holy atmosphere in the precinct.

To be continued...
Yahiko Shrine is located near Yahiko Station on the JR East Yahiko Line

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Special Poster Train on the Yamanote Line

Special poster train, set Tou-514 of the EMU JR East E231-500 series    

JR East has launched a special poster train on the Yamanote Line. It has a reddish brown-colored body, while the standard train on the Yamanote Line has a light green-colored body. But what is it for?

As I introduced before, Tokyo Station is going to celebrate its 100th anniversary on 20th of December this year. In commemoration of the anniversary, the special poster train has debuted. Tokyo Station was opened in 1914 as the central railway terminal of Japan's capital city. The Marunouchi Entrance Building was also opened at that time as the main building of Tokyo Station.

Since then, this station has been expanding its scale and functions, while at the same time, renovation work of the Marunouchi building was started in 2007, because it had aged. It cost 50 billion yen (500 million US dollars) and was completed in 2012.

You can see the history of the Tokyo Station on the body of the special train, set number Tou-514 of the EMU E231-500 series. The reddish brown-colored body shows a color of bricks, which were materials for the Marunouchi Building.

JR East also plans many events related to the 100th anniversary such as special nostalgic train operation and an exhibition in the station yard. The official ceremony is scheduled on December 19th, inviting the stationmaster of Amsterdam Central Station (the Netherlands) and the President of Metro North Railroad (the United States). For your information, Amsterdam Central and New York Grand Central are sister stations of Tokyo Terminal.

Close-up photo of the special poster train

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Aerial Tramway and Boat Tour in the Chichibu Area

Gondola number 2, "Bambi", of the Hodosan Ropeway
Mt. Hodo is a small mountain in the Chichibu area of Saitama Prefecture, which is located 70 km northwest of Tokyo. Following my visit in 2012, I headed to this scenic spot again last month. To reach its 497 m peak, it is convenient to take an aerial tramway, called Hodo-san Ropeway.

Hodo-san Ropeway was opened in 1961 by a subsidiary of Chichibu Railway. It delivers passengers between Sanroku (foot of the mountain) and Hodo-sancho (summit of Mt. Hodo) stations in 5 minutes. The route is only 832 meters long. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 236 m. A total of 2 gondolas, which can hold 50 people each, are operated every half an hour at the speed of 3.6 meters per second.

The riveting steel gondolas, which were manufactured in 1960 by Nippon Sharyo, look aged and out of date, but the classic design is very nostalgic and my favorite. They are gondola number 1 called Monkey and number 2 called Bambi, which was named after the fawn in the famous Austrian fairy tale.

After visiting Mt. Hodo, I descended the mountain and headed to Arakawa River, where I enjoyed a boat tour, which paddled down the river on a traditional boat without an engine. A local waterman piloted the boat and shot the meandering rapids perfectly. It was a thrilling adventure for holidaymakers. Cool!

The nostalgic aerial tramway and the splashing boat... early autumn in the Chichibu area is a satisfactory spot to visit.
Arakawa River boat tour near Nagatoro Station

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Mito Line: Unique AC-DC Local Route

EMU JR East 415-1500 series travels on the Mito Line
The JR East Mito Line is an east-west trending local route in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Connecting Oyama in Tochigi Prefecture and Tomobe in Ibaraki Prefecture, there are 16 stations on the 50.2 km long route. The track is single and its gauge size is 1,067mm.

A unique feature of the Mito Line is its electric system. 1,500V DC overhead is applied in the western section between Oyama and Otabayashi, while 20,000V AC overhead is used in the eastern section between Otabayashi and Tomobe. The reason for applying the AC system in the eastern section is that the direct current has adverse effects on the observation work taking place at the national magnetic observatory located near the track. AC-DC local line is quite unique in Japan.

The trains on the Mito Line, of course, have an AC-DC dual electric system. As I introduced before, the EMU E501 series is an example of such trains. The other AC-DC trains on the Mito Line are the EMU 415-1500 and the E531 series.

The 415-1500 series was launched in 1986. It is a 4-car train, which has bolster-less bogies. The electric control system is an old-fashioned rheostatic with a field weakening mechanism. The E531 series was launched in 2005. It is mainly operated on the Joban Line with a maximum speed of 130 km per hour to reinforce its competitiveness against its adjacent new railway, Tsukuba Express.

The Mito Line is a fascinating unique route for rail-fans.

EMU JR East E531 series travels on the Mito Line

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Preserved Dead Track in Yokohama City

EMU JR East E233-1000 series stands at Yokohama Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line
Yokohama is located some 20km southwest of Tokyo. It is the second largest city in Japan. This mage-city has a population of 3.7 million and has been developed as Tokyo's outport since the 19th century. With the development of the port of Yokohama, passenger and freight railways to each pier had been constructed.

Currently, most of the railway tracks have already been abolished, but some of them are preserved as industrial heritages by Yokohama City Office. They are well-groomed trails and open to the public. I enjoyed a stroll on the preserved track with my family last weekend joining a special walking event held by JR East.

Our walk started from JR East Kannai Station. We headed to the preserved track of the ex-Yokohama Harbor Line, which was opened in 1910 and abolished in 1987. There are many historical constructions on the ex-track such as a platform and truss bridges. My most favorite spot is Yokohama Seamen's Club & Inn Building, which was constructed in 1999. Why is this new building my favorite? It is because this building was constructed over the ex-railway track to preserve the heritage. In other words, the preserved railway track penetrates under the building.

To visit this interesting spot, JR East Keihin-Tohoku Line is convenient. It takes only five minutes from Yokohama to Kannai Station on the light blue colored train. It is the EMU E233-1000 series, one of JR East's standard commuter trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Preserved dead track passes under International Seamen's Club & Inn Building in Yokohama City

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Old Monorail Train from Danish Rail-fan's Photo Album

EMU Tokyo Monorail 700/800 series leaves Tennoz Isle Station (1996)
Photo: Nicolai Okkels
Following the EMU Keikyu ex-1000 series and the JR East 253 series, I am going to show you the other old train picture from a Danish rail-fan's photo album.

The Haneda Airport Line of Tokyo Monorail Company is the second oldest monorail route in Tokyo. To be technically accurate, the Haneda Airport Line is "the oldest straddle-beam system monorail route" in Tokyo. It was opened between Hamamatsu-cho on the JNR (present JR East) Yamanote Line and Haneda Airport in 1964 as an airport access route from downtown Tokyo to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda).

The EMU 700/800 series was launched in 1982 as the first air-conditioned cars on the line. A total of 19 units had been manufactured for five years by Hitachi. The body was made of aluminium alloy for weight saving. The specifications were just standard at the time, as it had traditional DC motors with a rheostatic control system.

The top photo was probably taken near Tennozu Isle Station in the mid-1990s. A 6 car southbound train was leaving the station and heading to Tokyo International Airport (Haneda). The design was rather old, but the red-colored body with a white stripe is my favorite. This classic coloring has recently been revived as a special train on the Haneda Line. The EMU 700/800 series was retired from the track in 1998 to be replaced by a new model, the EMU 2000 series.

Thank you again Nicolai-san for providing this blog with your precious train photograph.
EMU Tokyo Monorail 2000 series approaches Ooi-keibajo-mae Station (2014)
More information about the EMU Tokyo Monorail 2000 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Nip of Fall in the Chichibu Area

EMU Seibu 10000 series, New Red Arrow (NRA), heads to Seibu-Chichibu

It is still a bit hot in the daytime in Tokyo even though October has come. I must escape from the city and visit a cool piedmont on a weekend like this. My next destination will be the Chichibu area of Saitama Prefecture to see Aki-no-nanakusa. Chichibu is located 70km northwest of downtown Tokyo. It is a quiet suburban area within the Chichibu Mountains.

What is Aki-no-Nanakusa? It means the seven representative autumn flowers in Japan including bush clover, golden lace, kudzu, large pink, boneset, Chinese bellflower and silver grass. They are small and tiny, but their simplicity has been very much admired by Japanese people.

Among these, I found a beautiful bush clover flower community. They are dark pink and white-colored small blossoms planted in the garden of Dosho-in Temple. Blowing in a gentle autumn breeze, they were swinging slowly. Autumn is only just around the corner.

To visit the Chichibu area, Seibu Railway is convenient. Seibu is one of the major railway companies in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Seibu operates limited express trains using special EMU, the 10000 series. The specification of this train is rather old in this day and age, but it is still Seibu's flagship model called New Red Arrow (NRA). The NRA is a 7-car train, which was launched in 1993. A total of 12 sets, 84 units, have been manufactured so far by Hitachi, Ltd. I am fond of the NRA, because the reclining seat is cushioned adequately enough for comfort.

Full-blown bush clover in Dosho-in Temple in the Chichibu area

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Keisei Chiba Line: Secondary Route to the Main City

EMU Shin-Keisei 8800 series arrives at Makuhari-Hongo Station on the Keisei Chiba Line
Chiba, which is located 40km east of downtown Tokyo, is the main city of Chiba Prefecture. This city is famous for heavy industries and a large port. Its population is nearly one million. To get to Chiba City from Tokyo, the JR East Sobu Rapid Line is convenient. It takes about 45 minutes from Tokyo Station. The trains depart frequently from underground platforms 3 and 4.

How else can we get to Chiba City? One of the alternative routes is the Keisei Chiba Line. Connecting Keisei-Tsudanuma and Chiba-Chuo, its total route length is 12.9 km. It is a double track, and the electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. The gauge size is 1,435 mm.

Some of the trains are directly operated onto the Keisei-Main, Keisei-Chihara and Shin-Keisei Railway lines. So, rail-fans can enjoy seeing both Keisei and Shin-Keisei trains on the track. For instance, the EMU Shin-Keisei 8800 series is my cup of tea. It was launched in 1986 with the then current technologies such as induction motors with VVVF (Adjustable Voltage Adjustable Frequency) inverter control system. Its ivory colored body with brown stripes is also my favorite.

Although, it is a route to the main city of Chiba Prefecture, the Chiba Line seems like just a local one. For instance, the train operation interval is 10 minutes during the daytime, which isn't so often. The 6-car train is the longest train on the line. There is no express train. Has Keisei forgotten about trying to compete with JR East?

EMU Keisei 3000 series arrives at Makuhari-Hongo Station on the Keisei Chiba Line
More information about trains on the Keisei Electric Railway (in Japanese):

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Shinkansen: Toward the Next Half Century

A junior rail-fan and the EMU N700 series trains on the Tokaido Shinkansen
On October 1st, the Shinkansen celebrated its 50th anniversary. That day, 50 years ago, in 1964, people became able to travel between two mega-cities, namely Tokyo and Osaka, in four hours with a maximum speed of 200 km per hour.

Since then, the Shinkansen has continued to evolve. A total of eight routes have been opened one after another. Currently, the maximum speed is 320 km per hour. The operating interval is every three minutes in rush hour. Nearly one million passengers use the Shinkansen every day.

JR Central, which is the operator of the Japan's first Shinkansen (Tokaido Shinkansen), has recently opened a special website to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Tokaido Shinkansen. Although it is described in Japanese, you can get to learn about the history of the Shinakansen from the videos and photos. I particularly enjoy the nostalgic TV commercials, "Xmas Express" in the 1980s. They are a series of love stories in the Christmas season on the Shinakansen trains.

What is the plan of the Shinakansen toward the next half century? With regard to its maximum speed, the next target is 360 km per hour. It will be realized in the near future, when Shinkansen is required to reinforce its competitiveness against the airlines.

The next step will be the operation of a magnetic levitation railway (SCMAGLEV) called Chuo Linear Shinkansen, which is planned to be opened in 2027. The super express train with a maximum speed of 500 km per hour (311 MPH) will be operated to connect Tokyo and Nagoya in 40 minutes.

The Shinkansen era is going to go on.

Side view of the N700A series (modified car)

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tokai-kan and Super-view Odoriko Train

EMU JR East 251 series, "Super-view Odoriko", stands at Yokohama Station
Ito is a main city in the Izu Peninsula of Shizuoka Prefecture, some 120 km west of Tokyo. This city is well known among Tokyoites as a resort with many hot springs.

One of the must-see spots in the city is Tokai-kan, which is a classic three-story wooden building. This construction was completed in 1928 as a traditional Japanese style inn. It is said that local carpenters vied with each other in art for construction. Since then, plenty of guests including famous novelists had been staying at Tokai-kan. Unfortunately, the inn was closed in 1997, but the building is open to the public as the owner moved to Ito City.

To get to Ito, the JR East Tokaido - Ito Line is convenient. It takes 100 minutes from Tokyo or 80 minutes from Yokohama Station. A unique designed limited express train, the EMU 251 series called "Super-view Odoriko" is my recommended train to Ito. The 251 series was launched in 1990 as a sightseeing train. As the train name, "Super-view", suggests, the 251 series boasts a superb view from the cabin, since the floor is higher than that of a normal train.

For your information, Odoriko means "a dancing girl", which comes from the famous novel, "Izu no Odoriko (The Dancing Girl of Izu)" by Japanese novelist Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968, as the first Japanese novelist to receive the award.

A wooden retro buiding, Tokai-kan, is located near Ito Station on the JR East Ito Line

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Exhibition of New Nambu Line Train

New Nambu Line train, set N1 of the EMU E233-8000 series is exhibited at Noborito Station
Following the Saikyo Line and the Yokohama Line, JR East has introduced a new model called the EMU E233-8000 series onto the Nambu Line. On Sunday, September 28th, JR East held a special exhibition of the E233-8000 series at Noborito Station, as it waited for its launch.

When I arrived at Noborito, I saw plenty of rail-fans, families and couples flocking to the station. According to media, 3,000 people joined the exhibition that day. The brand new train, set N1 of the E233-8000 series, was stood at platform number 2.

The specifications of the E233-8000 series are basically the same as the other E233 series being operated on the Chuo, Keihin-Tohoku, Saikyo and Yokohama lines, but the E233-8000 series is a 6-car train made up of 4 motorcars and 2 trailers (4M2T). It has stainless bodies with yellow, orange and brown-colored stripes. Special logos for the Nambu Line can be seen on the sides of the train.

JR East has announced that commercial operation of the E233-8000 series will commence on October 4th. A total of 35 sets, 210 units, are planned to be introduced onto the Nambu Line by the end of March 2015.

I wander where the present Nambu Line trains, the EMU 205 series, will go in the future? Are they going to move to Indonesia or just be scrapped? I can't stop thinking about that. I can't even sleep well.
Side view of the top number car, KuHa E233-8001 of Type KuHa E233-8000

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Indonesian Railway Update: Ex-Yokohama Line Train

Set H4 of the EMU KRL Jabodetabek (ex-JR East) 205 series stands at Manggarai Station
Photo: Faris Fadhli
I have received news from an Indonesian rail fan again. The ex-JR East Yokohama Line train, the EMU 205 series, has debuted in Jakarta. My thanks go to Mr. Faris Fadhli, who kindly sent me the photos.

The 205 series is 1,067 mm gauge and 1,500V DC EMU, which was originally launched in Japan in 1985. It has been widely operated on the urban routes in the Tokyo metropolitan area. This model has a stainless body and DC commutator motors with a resistor control system.

Two decades have passed since the 205 series debuted. Following the 180 units of the ex-Saikyo Line 205 series, about 170 units of the ex-Yokohama Line 205 series were then moved to Indonesia after the retirement from the tracks in Japan. The local railway operator, KRL Jabodetabek (Jakarta Metropolitan Commuter Electric Railway), was pursuing the modernization of the trains in this rapidly growing city. They have been importing air conditioned secondhand EMUs from Japan since the 2000s.

On September 25th, the first commercial operation of the ex-Yokohama Line 205 series was conducted in Jakarta. It was set number H4, which used to belong to Kamakura Rail Yard in Japan. The ex-Yokohama Line 205 series is an 8-car train, while the ex-Saikyo 205 series train is a 10-car train. The KRL Jabodetabek has started to operate the ex-Yokohama Line 205 series right out of the box... 8-car trains.

I wish the ex-Yokohama Line 205 series well for its new life in Jakarta.

Set H9 of the EMU JR East 205 series stands at Yokohama Station (September, 2013)