Monday, 31 March 2014

2014 Sakura Season in Tokyo

EMU JR East E231 series arrives at Ochanomizu Station on the Chuo-Sobu Local Line
 
Along with Chidorigafuchi, my other favorite Sakura viewing spot is Ochanomizu, which is located in downtown Tokyo. We can see many Sakura trees on the banks of Kanda River. Their blossoms are very beautiful backed by the blue sky and clear river water.

Ochanomizu (tea water) was named after the nearby Kanda River from which water was extracted to make the Shogun's tea during the Edo period. After the Meiji restoration in the 19th century, it became a town of universities. The Meiji, Juntendo, and Tokyo Medical and Dental universities are all located in this area.

The railways in the Ochanomizu area are quite unique. The track of Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line crosses Kanda River near Ochanomizu Station. The "subway" train runs above ground. You can see two tunnels both on the right and the left sides of the riverbanks. It's a very rare sight in the center of Tokyo.

The JR East Ochanimizu Station is also quite unique. We can see both the Chuo Rapid and the Chuo-Sobu Local Line trains at this station. Passengers can transfer between the two lines on the same platform. It is very convenient.

In the meantime, JR east Ochanomizu Station was built on the cliff of Kanda River. Recently, the railway company has started renovating the station. It is a very difficult task, since the work area is limited. A tentative work bridge is being constructed over Kanda River to access the station building.

2014 Sakura season is just beginning in Tokyo.

 
Sakura blossom is seen near Ochanomizu Station on the JR East line

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Promise of 2014 Sakura Season

EMU Tokyo Metro 07 series (left) and Toyo Rapid 2000 series (right) on the Tozai Line
 
On March 25th, the Meteorological Agency of Japan declared that the Sakura (cherry) blossoms had opened in Tokyo. The agency predicted that the Sakura trees would fully blossom about a week after they started to bloom. "Sakura front" is moving up the Japanese archipelago from south to north.
 
Before the exciting season, I am going to show you last year's fully bloomed Sakura in Tokyo as a preview. The following photo was taken at Chidorigafuchi in the downtown Tokyo area. The Sakura trees are planted along a moat of Edo Castle. The inside of the moat is currently open to the public as large Kitanomaru Park.

To get to this viewing spot, take the Subway Tokyo Metro-Tozai Line, and get off at Kudanshita Station. Connecting Nakano and Nishi-funabashi (30.8km), the Tozai Line penetrates downtown Tokyo from east to west. The trains directly merge into the JR East Chuo Local Line to Mitaka and the Toyo Rapid Railway to Toyo-Katsutadai; therefore, we can see not only Tokyo Metro trains, but also JR East and Toyo Rapid trains on the track. It is also fun for Sakura-loving rail fans to see the variety of trains on the Tozai Line.

The EMU Toyo Rapid 2000 series is just my cup of tea among the trains on the Tozai Line. It was launched in 2004 to replace the old 1000 series. The red and orange colored stripes on the aluminum body are my favorite.

 
Full bloomed Sakura is seen at Chidorigafuchi near Kudanshita Sta. on the Tozai Line (March, 2013)

Thursday, 27 March 2014

EMU 60000 Series: New Model on the Noda Line

EMU Tobu 60000 series arrives at Masuo Station on the Noda Line
 
What is your impression of the Tobu-Noda Line? Perhaps, nine out of ten Tokyoites will answer that it is a dowdy local line, but this is no longer correct. On June 15th, 2013, Tobu Railway launched a brand new train EMU 60000 series on the Noda Line.

Tobu is the largest private railway company in the Tokyo metropolitan area. They operate 463km of track, and the routes extend from Tokyo to four northern surrounding prefectures; Saitama, Chiba, Tochigi, and Gunma. The Noda line, which is a part of their network, is a circular route in the eastern half of the Tokyo metropolitan area, connecting Omiya and Funabashi. The major fleet on the route had been an old EMU 8000 series, which was launched in 1963.

The EMU 60000 series repaired a bad reputation of the Noda Line. It has a futuristic lightweight aluminum body. Many state-of-the-art technologies, such as IGBT-VVVF control system with a speed sensorless control device, are equipped. LED lights, which reduce the electric consumption, are equipped in all cars. I like its comfortable interior design such as glass gangway connection doors to brighten the interior of the train.

Apart from the introduction of new trains, Tobu Railway is currently very aggressive in diversifying their business as well. Their latest biggest news was the grand opening of the Tokyo Sky Tree, the 634 meter-high world's tallest broadcasting tower near Oshiage Station. At the same time, Tobu has also renovated Asakusa Station building in the northeastern part of downtown Tokyo.

 
Interior design of the EMU Tobu 60000 series
 
More information about the EMU Tobu 60000 series (in Japanese):
More information about the Tobu EMUs (in Japanese):
http://www.tobu.co.jp/corporation/rail/vehicles/

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Three Years Since Then

EMU E257-500 series, limited express Shiosai runs on the Sobu Main Line in Asahi City
Three years have passed since the 3.11 giant earthquake hit the eastern part of Japan. Nearly 20,000 people were killed mainly by a giant tsunami, which followed the powerful quake that day.

The epicenter of the earthquake was located offshore of the Tohoku District, far north of Chiba Prefecture; however, Asahi City in the prefecture, some 80km east of Tokyo, could not escape the disaster. This city suffered from the largest tsunami in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Its maximum height was 7.6m. A total of 13 people were killed and 320 houses were washed out.

Last weekend, I visited Cape Gyobu in Asahi City. I saw many tourists in the picturesque viewpoint park, where visitors could look over the disaster area. Today, most of the coastal area has been reconstructed. Many new houses are seen along the prefectural highway, but there are still plots of land that remain idle. I had no idea of where the residents had gone. A young couple was looking over their hometown from the viewing point without saying a word.

Fortunately, there was no severe railway damage in Chiba Prefecture. The tracks were saved by earthquake resistant constructions. Most of the routes are a bit far from the coast. I saw limited express train Shiosai, the EMU E257-500 series being operated on schedule as usual on the JR East Sobu Main Line in Asahi City.

Pray for the disaster area.


A young couple looks over their hometown from the viewpoint of Cape Gyobu in Asahi City

Sunday, 23 March 2014

EMU 7300 Series: New Model on the Yurikamome Line

EMU Yurikamome 7300 series leaves Ariake-tennis-no-mori Station
 
On January 18th, 2014, Yurikamome launched a brand new train, EMU 7300 series on their track.

Yurikamome is an automated guide way transit (AGT) system in the Tokyo Bay area. The route was opened between Shimbashi, a subcenter of Tokyo, and Ariake in the Tokyo Bay area in 1995. It was later extended to Toyosu, a newly developed waterfront residential quarter in 2006. The current total operating length is 14.7km.

The EMU 7300 series is a small-sized driverless train with rubber-tires instead of steel bogies, which is same as the existing 7000 and 7200 series. One set is composed of 6 units, and all trains are operated automatically without drivers. So, the passengers can enjoy the view ahead sitting on the "rail fan's seat" at the end of the train.

Major differences between the 7300 and 7000 series are the interior of the train and doors. Long seats are equipped on the 7300 series to increase passenger capacity; meanwhile, the 7000 series has cross seats. Double doors are equipped on the 7300 series to save passengers' boarding and alighting time; meanwhile, the 7000 series has single swing doors. The running performance of the 7300 series is almost the same as that of the existing 7000 series.

The body design of the 7300 series is futuristic. The black face with a white octagonal frame is vivid, set off against the blue sky. The 7300 series will replace the old 7000 series gradually. Yurikamome plans to introduce a total of 18 sets, 108 units by 2016.

 
Interior design of the EMU 7300 series
 
More information about the Yurikamome trains (in Japanese):

Friday, 21 March 2014

Nostalgic Depot on the Kominato Railway

Diesel rail car, Kominato KiHa 200 series stands at Goi Teminal
 
Today, most of railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area are modernized. They are elevated double-double tracks, underground tracks constructed below the state highways and so on.

I know that it is true; but, not all railways that are seen in the Tokyo metropolitan area are modern. Kominato Railway in Chiba Prefecture, some 80km east of Tokyo, still keeps a feeling of nostalgia.

Kominato is a part of the trans-peninsula railway, which connects Goi on the west coast and Ohara on the east coast of the peninsula. This railway forms the western part of the trans-peninsula railway that was opened in 1925. There are 18 stations over a total operating length of 39.1km. The route is single track and non-electrified.

Kominato Railway has a depot in the vicinity of Goi Terminal. It is very nostalgic and just my cup of tea. The two main buildings have delta roofs. They are similar to those of factories and storage facilities that I saw here and there in my childhood.

When I visited there last month, several diesel rail cars were giving their bodies a chance to rest. They are two-toned classic rail cars, KiHa 200 series, which is the only model being operated on the Kominato Railway. A total of 14 units were manufactured between 1961 and 1977 by Nippon Sharyo. They are rather old, but they are still in good condition.

Kominato Railway always attracts reminiscent rail fans like me.

 
Diesel rail cars KiHa 200 series are seen in Goi Depot on the Kominato Railway
 
More information about Kominato Railway (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Brand New Train on the Nagano Shinkansen

EMU JR East Shinkansen E7 series arrives at Tokyo Station
 
On March 15th, 2014, a new timetable started on the JR lines. Synchronizing the new timetable, JR East launched the new EMU E7 series on the Nagano Shinkansen.

The main purpose for the introduction of the E7 series is 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 Shinkansen train, the E2-N series. Although the operating speed of the E7 series is limited up to 260km/hour, many innovations are implemented in this brand new train. For instance, it has an active suspension system for ride quality improvement.

The interior of the E7 series is more sophisticated than those of the other Shinkansen trains. It has a modern design with a traditional Japanese style. LED lights, which reduce the electric consumption, are equipped in all cars.

I saw the E7 series at Tokyo station on the first day of the new timetable. It was the third E7 train arriving at and leaving Tokyo Station that day, but there were still plenty of rail fans thronging on platform 20 to see the brand new Shinkansen train. I could see the E7 series easily, since I was standing at the opposite platform on the Tokaido Main Line. I know Tokyo Station yard like the back of my hand, as it is my everyday use terminal.

I look forward to riding the E7 series sometime soon.

 
Side view of the E7 series
 
More information about the EMU JR East E7 series:

Monday, 17 March 2014

Seven Deities of Good Fortune on the Karasuyama Line

Classic DMU JR East KiHa 40-1000 series arrives at Kohnoyama Station on the Karasuyama Line
 
After taking pictures of the test run scene of the brand new accumulator train, I headed to Hoshakuji Junction to ride a classic DMU on the Karasuyama Line. Enjoying the brand new and the classic trains... it is a good balance.

The JR East Karasuyama Line is a short local route, connecting Hoshakuji Junction on the Tohoku Main Line and Karasuyama Terminal in Tochigi Prefecture, some 100km north of Tokyo. It is a 1,067mm gauge, non-electrified and single track. The total operating length is 20.4km. There are several sightseeing spots such as beautiful waterfalls and natural flower fields on the line. I particularly love the gorgeous Nippon Bell blossoms, which are seen on a hill in early spring.

The DMU KiHa 40-1000 series is the an only group of vehicles operated on this route. They were manufactured in 1979 and 1982 by Fuji Heavy Industries and Niigata Tekko. Today, the Karasuyama Line is the only JR East route where we can see the KiHa 40 series in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

I saw lovely illustrations on the bodies of DMUs and signboards of the stations on the Karasuyama Line. They are seven deities of good fortune, who appear in Japanese mythology and folklore. It is said that each deity has its own role. On the Karasuyama Line, local people believe that each deity watches over each station, since there are seven stations on the line.

I also felt seven fortunes while riding the train on the Karasuyama Line... maybe.

 
A signboard of the seven deities are seen on the platform of Hoshakuji Station

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Kawazu Sakura on the Keikyu Line

EMU Keikyu 1000 series and Kawazu Sakura blossoms are seen near Miura-kaigan Station
 
As I mentioned before, Kawazu Sakura, otherwise known as "winter cherry" was found by chance in 1955 in Kawazu Town, Shizuoka Prefecture. It is thick and pink-colored, and blooms for longer than standard Sakura. It has been lovingly cared for and planted by local people. Today, visitors can see the beautiful Kawazu Sakura blossoms in February, which is two months earlier than the standard Sakura.

The Kawazu Sakura was, then, replanted in Miura City, Kanagawa Prefecture in 2000. Currently, a total of 1,000 Kawazu sakura trees are in full bloom. It is marking the ending of winter and the advent of spring. I visited Miura to enjoy this seasonal gift with my family last weekend.

To get to Miura City, we took the Keikyu Line from Shinagawa Terminal in Tokyo and got off at Miura-kaigan (Miura Beach) Station. The fully bloomed Kawazu Sakura trees were seen along the railway track between Miura-kaigan and Misaki-guchi stations. A crossover on the railway track adjacent to Komatsugaike Park was the best position to take a picture of the blossoms with a Keikyu train. The red colored EMU 1000 series was very vivid backed by the pink colored blossoms and clear blue sky.

After looking the beautiful blossoms, we visited the sandy beach bordering Tokyo Bay. The geologic beds, which protruded out of the ground and dipped north, were our favorite. They exerted our imagination... just like a dolphin jumping.

We enjoyed an early spring mood on the Keikyu Line.

 
Dolphin-shaped geologic beds are seen on the Miura Beach near Miura-kaigan Station

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Soon-to-be-launched: JR East's Accumulator Train

EMU JR East EV-E301 series leaves Utsunomiya Station for a test-ride event
 
Along with the Shinkansen E7 series, JR East is gearing up to launch another EMU for the new timetable starting on March 15th. It is the EV-E301 series on the Karasuyama Line.

The EV-E301 series is Japan's first accumulator train for non-electrified tracks. One set is composed of two cars that have two sets of 600V-95kWh lithium ion accumulators for power supply. The power is charged from 1,500V DC catenaries on an electrified track via pantographs and charging facilities constructed on a non-electrified track.

The actual operation of the EV-E301 series is planned as follows.

The train is operated as an ordinary EMU on the electrified Tohoku Main Line between Utsunomiya Terminal and Hoshakuji Junction. While the train is operated, the power is charged from the catenary to the accumulators on the train via pantographs. After arriving at Hoshakuji Junction, the train starts running with the accumulators on the non-electrified Karasuyama Line (20.4km) dropping the pantographs. Finally, the train reaches Karasuyama Terminal and charges up for a return trip with the charging facility.

For your information, the EV-E301 series has induction motors with a VVVF control system; therefore, it is also able to recharge its power while braking with the regenerative braking system.

Last weekend, a test-ride event of the EV-E301 series was held by JR East. The test run train was operated between Utsunomiya Terminal and Hoshakuji Junction. A total of 80 people including local kids were invited by lot as guest passengers.

The EV-E301 series... soon-to-be-launched.

 
Lithium ion accumulators are seen on the EMU JR East EV-E301 series
 
More information about the EMU JR East EV-E301 series (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The 700 Series: Hiroden's Standard Streetcar

Electric car, Hiroden 700 series stands at Gembaku Dome-mae Stop
 
Hiroshima is the largest city in Chugoku District, some 1,000km west of Tokyo. The population now stands at 1.14 million, which makes it the eleventh largest city in Japan. Hiroshima is well known as Japan's largest tram network city. A total of eight labyrinthine routes are operated by private railway company, Hiroshima Electric Railway (Hiroden). Its total operating length is 35.1km. The track gauge is 1,435mm and the electric system is 600V DC overhead.

Hiroden has a rich variety of streetcars. Currently, 299 units are operated on the tracks. It is the largest tram rolling stock in Japan. Hiroshima is a paradise for rail fans.

The electric car 700 series is one of the major fleets on the Hiroden. It was commissioned as Hiroden's new standard streetcars in 1982 to reinforce their transportation ability. A total of eleven units have been manufactured so far by Alna Koki (present Alna Sharyo). Each one is 13.5m long and carries 91 passengers.

The spec of the 700 series is rather old. For instance, the nose-suspension drive system is still used for seven units of this series. It is out of date; but the running sound is very nostalgic and comfortable for a rail fan like me. I am also fond of its large pantograph that is installed on the center of the roof. A big air-conditioner box on the roof is also very impressive.

The electric car 700 series... it is an unforgettable memory of the trip to Hiroshima.

 
Electric car, Hiroden 700 series approaches Dobashi Stop

Sunday, 9 March 2014

How do you pass through ATG with a single ticket?

Automatic ticket gate (ATG) at the Marunouchi-north Entrance in Tokyo Station
 
In response to my blog on the Pasmo and Suica IC cards, one of the readers sent me questions asking...

1. Is a single railway ticket available in Tokyo?
2. If yes, how do you pass through an automatic ticket gate (ATG) with a single ticket?

As I mentioned before, Pasmo and Suica are prepaid IC transit cards for railway and bus passengers in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The function of Pasmo and Suica are the same. The only difference is the issuer. Pasmo is issued by private railway and bus companies, whilst JR East issues Suica.

Once you get a card and deposit some money, you can take almost all railway and bus routes in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Today, Pasmo or Suica is a must-have card for Tokyoites, but if you don't have Pasmo or Suica, how do you take the railways in Tokyo?

It is no problem at all. You just buy a single ticket at the automatic ticket vending machine. The ticket has magnetic data on the back; therefore, you can then just insert the ticket into an ATG and pass through it. A single ticket is convenient for a foreign traveler, who doesn't have Pasmo or Suica. As a Tokyoite, I also use a single ticket sometimes. For instance, when I leave my Pasmo at home, I buy a single ticket.


It is as simple as that.
 
Automatic ticket vending machines at the Marunouchi-north Entrance in Tokyo Station

Friday, 7 March 2014

EMU 117 Series: Preserved Urban Train in Kansai Area

EMU 117 series is preserved in SCMAGREV and Railway Park
 
The Kansai area including Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto City, is Japan's second largest megalopolis. As of the year 2010, it had an estimated population of 18.64 million. In this area, railways have been evolving in a unique way under severe competition. As a result, passenger services in the Kansai area are better than those of Tokyo in general.

There are many railways in close proximity in the Kansai area. For instance, JR West, Hankyu and Hanshin have separate routes between Osaka and Kobe City. These companies have been fated rivals of each other.

Japanese National Railways (JNR) was no exception. JNR is present JR West that has the largest railway network in the Kansai area. In the late 1970s, JNR was suffering from financial difficulty. It was caused by unremunerated local lines; but JNR didn't give up. They developed a reputable commuter train from their limited budget. It was the EMU 117 series for the Kansai area.

The 117 series provided the passengers with express train-level services. For instance, it was fully air-conditioned and had switched cross seats. The interior of the train was non-combustible wood grain, which added a touch of class to the room. The 117 series gave the greatest satisfaction to the commuters in the Kansai area.

Currently, three units are preserved in the SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya City. It is an unforgettable train for me.

 
Interior of the EMU 117 series
 
More infomation about rolling stock in SCMAGLEV and Railway Park:

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Tokyo Snow Scene: Tokyu Setagaya Line

Electric car Tokyu 300 series arrives at Yamashita Stop
 
Setagaya Ward is a typical residential area in Tokyo Metropolis. Many people go to their offices in the city center by taking commuter railways such as the Tokyu, Odakyu and Keio lines. Most of them are modernized railways, for instance, an elevated double-double track and an underground double track constructed below a state highway.

Although a modern railway system has been developed, there is still a traditional tram route in Setagaya Ward... the Tokyu-Setagaya Line. When Tokyo was in for a heavy snowfall three Saturdays ago, I visited the Yamashita stop on the Setagaya Line to take pictures of rare snow tram scenes on the Setagaya Line. Fortunately, the trains were being operated on schedule and I saw snow-crusted trams, EMU 300 series, arriving at and leaving the stop. I was able to shoot the colorful trams backed by snow-capped tracks.


For your information, the electric car 300 series on the Setagaya Line was launched in 1999. The vehicle is articulated and composed of two cars. A total of 10 sets have been manufactured. Each set is a different color such as red (photo at the top), light blue (photo at the bottom), dark blue, green, yellow and ex-Tamaden colors.

After boarding the tram, I saw a thick blanket of snow through a train window. There was snow as far as the eye could see. It was out-of-the-ordinary and exotic. We call that "gin-sekai (the silvery world)" in Japanese. I wondered where I was. Was I in Hokkaido (the northernmost island in Japan)?

Electric car Tokyu 300 series stands at Yamashita Stop

Monday, 3 March 2014

New Timetable: Coming Soon

New timetable poster is seen on the platform of Inagi-Naganuma Station
 
I can't believe that it's March already. Time really flies. March is a season of "new timetables". Needless to say, many railway companies change their timetables during this month. For instance, JR East plans to change their timetable on 15th March. According to their press release, there are two topics on Shinkansens.

Firstly, JR East plans to raise the maximum speed of the EMU E6 series from 300km/hour to 320km/hour. The E6 series debuted in March last year. It is a so-called mini-shinkansen train, which took over the E3 series on the Tohoku and the Akita Shinkansen. The E6 series is coupled and operated with the E5 series, "Hayabusa", from Tokyo to Morioka. The E6 is then detached after arriving at Morioka Station, and runs by itself to Akita, since the route between Morioka and Akita is constructed as a mini-shinkansen. All E5+E6 coupled trains; "Hayabusa+Komachi" will be operated with the maximum speed of 320km/hour starting March 15th.

Secondly, JR East plans to launch a new shinakansen train, the EMU E7 series on the Nagano Shinkansen. Connecting Takasaki, a northern city in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and Nagano, the route length of the Nagano Shinkansen is 117.4km. All trains on the Nagano Shinkansen are directly operated into Tokyo via Joetsu and Tohoku Shinkansens. The brand new train, the E7 series will replace the present E2-N series gradually. The maximum operating speed of the E7 series will be 260km/hour.

The new timetable is coming up soon.

 
Cockpit of the EMU JR East E6 series
 
More information about new Shinkansen, EMU JR East E7 series (in Japanese):
http://www.jreast-shinkansen.com/e7.index.html
More information about EMU JR East E6 series (in Japanese):
http://www.jreast-shinkansen.com/e6.index.html
More information about EMU JR East E5 series (in Japanese):
http://www.jreast-shinkansen.com/e5.index.html

Saturday, 1 March 2014

EMU Seibu 8500 Series: Leo Liner

Set number V2 of the EMU Seibu 8500 series arrives at Seibu-kyujo-mae Station
 
Seibu Yamaguchi Line is a rubber-tyred automated guideway transit (AGT) system straddling the border between Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo. The line length is only 2.8km between Seibu-yuenchi-mae (Seibu Amusement Park) and Seibu-kyujo-mae (Seibu Baseball Stadium) stations.

The Yamaguchi Line was completed in 1985 as the fifth oldest AGT route in Japan. The route was constructed along the outer road of Seibu-en Golf Course. Unlike the new AGT routes, such as the Yurikamome Line, Kanazawa Seaside Line and Nippori-Toneri Liner, a driver operates each train on the Yamaguchi Line. It is not a driver-less operation. The entire route is an electrified single track with one signal station for a passing loop. The electric system is 750V DC using a "third rail" without catenaries.

The lovely EMU, the 8500 series is the only group of trains operated on the Yamaguchi Line. It was launched in 1985, when the route was opened. One train is composed of four 8m long cars. A total of 3 sets have been manufactured so far by Niigata Tekko. VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive) control system with induction motors is equipped for this train. The maximum operating speed is 50km/hour.

In the meantime, a nickname of the 8500 series is "Leo Liner". It is taken from the mascot of Seibu owned professional baseball team, "Saitama Seibu Lions". You can see Leo, a white lion, on the front of the 8500 series. It is very popular among local baseball boys and girls.

 
Set number V2 of the EMU Seibu 8500 series runs on the Yamaguchi Line
 
More information about the EMU Seibu 8500 series (in Japanese):