Tuesday, 20 January 2015

The Setting of the Big Dipper

Over night sleeper train "Hokutosei" pulled by the EL, Type  EF510, stands at Ueno Station
On December 19th last year, JR East made a press release, announcing that the regular operation of the overnight sleeper train, "Hokutosei (the Big Dipper)" will be discontinued after March 15th this year.

Hokutosei is operated between Ueno in Tokyo Metropolis and Sapporo in Hokkaido Prefecture, passing through the Seikan Submarine Tunnel. It covers a distance of 1214.7 km in about 16 hours. This train was launched in 1988, when the Seikan Submarine Tunnel was opened. Although the luxury of the interior doesn't come up to that of Cassiopeia, Hokutosei is also very popular among tourists.

JR East's electric locomotive (EL), the Type EF510 pulls the blue-colored passenger cars (the 24 series), between Ueno and Aomori. The EF510 is, then, switched to the special EL, Type ED79, at Aomori Station to pass through the Seikan Submarine Tunnel because it is a steep track with a unique signal system.

JR East explains that the operation of Hokutosei train stands in the way of the test run train for the Hokkaido Shinkansen in the Seikan Submarine Tunnel. As you may know, commercial trains of Hokkaido Shinkansen will also use the Seikan Submarine Tunnel (1,067 and 1,435mm-size dual gauge) from March, 2016.

According to JR East, Hokutosei will continue to run as a special train during the peak season; however, many rail fans believe that it will be abolished before the opening of the Hokkaido Shinkansen.

The Big Dipper will go below the horizon soon.
Side view of the electric locomotive (EL), JR East EF510-508