Thursday, 30 April 2015

Scenic Gorge on the Oofunato Line

Diesel rail cars, JR East 100 seires, passes through Satetsu River near Geibikei Station

It is mid-spring in Japan. Before the best tourist season this year, I am going to look back a bit on my trip last year.

Last summer, I visited a famous valley, Geibikei, with my family. It was located in the precipitous mountains in Iwate Prefecture. Geibikei is a steep-sided gorge along the Satetsu River. It was designated as a place of scenic beauty by the government in 1923. The height of the limestone cliffs exceed 50 meters. We enjoyed a boat tour to see the fog-shrouded gorge. It was cool there even in summer... and it was also an extremely quiet location.

To visit this scenic gorge, we took the JR East Oofunato Line and got off at Geibikei Station. The Oofunato Line is a local route connecting Ichinoseki on the Tohoku Main line and Sakari stations. The total operating length is 105.7 km. The whole route is single and non-electrified. Currently, the section between Kesennuma and Sakari stations (43.7 km) is interrupted due to the earthquake and giant tsunami in 2011. So, passengers have to take BRT (bus rapid transit), which are provided by JR East.

A diesel rail car, the JR East KiHa 100 series, is a main fleet on the Kesennuma Line. Two-car or three-car trains are operated on the line every two hours on average. I saw a two-car train passing through over railway bridge near Geibikei station just before sunset. I will never forget the memory of this fantastic rail scene as my 2014 summer trip.

Boat tour is held near Geibikei Station on the JR East Oofunato Line

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Morning Romance Car on the Odakyu Line

EMU Odakyu 60000 series (MSE), Romance Car, Metro-Sagami, arrives at Machida Station

In Tokyo, we have to endure the daily hell of packed commuter trains. Odakyu Electric Railway is no exception. Specifically, the trains which arrive at Shinjuku Station between 7.30 and 8.30 are extremely overcrowded. Although, Odakyu makes an effort such as the construction of double-double track and launching 10-car train sets, it is not easy to increase its transportation capacity anymore. Can't we do anything?

Wait a minute! We are not done talking yet! Please get up early just a bit and leave home. You can use a morning "Romance Car" from suburban commuter towns to the city center. It will be a comfortable journey to work for you. The Romance Car, "Metro-Sagami number 70", which leaves Machida Station at 6.41, is one such example. It is slightly earlier than peak rush hour. So, Odakyu still has transportation capacity to spare and can operate this special train. It is directly operated onto the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line.

While in the car, you are able to take a nap, enjoy reading or listening to music. It is a "Petit-zeitaku" (small luxury and gratification) for urban commuters. One hour later, you will reach Otemachi Station, which is a business center of Tokyo Metropolis. It is composed of 10 cars, but one set can be broken up into six and four car sections to enhance operational flexibility. Timber-styled non-burnable materials are used heavily for the interior, such as the passenger seats and the walls, to offer passengers peace and comfort.

EMU Odakyu 60000 series (MSE), Romance Car, Metro-Sagami, arrives at Otemachi Station

Saturday, 25 April 2015

JRW's First Self-developed Commuter Train

Set number H13 of the EMU JR West 207 series stands at Osaka Station on the Tokaido Main Line

Japan's first railway was opened between Shimbashi, a downtown part of Tokyo, and Yokohama, an outport of Tokyo, in 1872. Since then, it has been extended bit-by-bit, and its current total operating length is 27,337 km. A total of 24 billion passengers use it every year.

Japanese National Railways (JNR) had been playing the largest role in rail transportation; however, it was split into seven private companies as the JR Group in 1987 due to financial difficulties. During the JNR era, plenty of rolling stock were introduced to tracks throughout Japan, but each JR group company has become to develop its own rolling stock since JNR was abolished.

JR West (JRW) was no exception. The EMU 207 series is JRW's first self-developed commuter train launched in 1991. It is a 1,067mm-gauge and 1,500V DC train in the Osaka area. JRW first adopted VVVF inverter (variable-frequency drive) as an electric control system on this model. The front shape looks slightly rounded from the side. It is similar to that of the E233-2000 series operated on the Joban Local Line in Tokyo.

In 2005, JRW launched a new commuter train called the 321 series as a successor of the 207 series. Furthermore, in 2014, JRW made a press release announcing that a new model, the 323 series, will debut on the Osaka Loop Line in 2016 to replace the old model such as the 201 series.

Rail fans can't keep their eyes off JRW.

Side view of KuHa 207-113 of the EMU JR West 207 series

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Gentle Breeze on the Isumi Railway

Unit number 206 of the diesel rail car 200' series travels on the Isumi Railway 

I visited Ootaki Town in Chiba Prefecture last week, as something came up. After finishing my meeting, I searched the countryside for spring sceneries.

What came into sight were beautiful rice paddies. Urban consumers can obtain delicious and safe rice produced in Ootaki Town, as it is cropped by organic farmers. For instance, cultivation of Chinese milk vetch prior to cropping the rice is one of the organic farming methods. Chinese milk vetch absorbs nitrogen in the ground and is used for rice cropping after running dry. Needless to say, the rice is produced without the use of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. I also found carp streamers in the paddy fields. A carp streamer is a symbol of power for children to grow up. Parents celebrate their children's birth and pray for their healthy growth by putting up carp-shaped banners in their paddy fields. The carps were whipping in the gentle breeze.

After enjoying a stroll, I headed to Shiromigaoka Station on the Isumi Railway. Connecting Ohara and Kazusa-Nakano, there are 14 stations over a total operating length of 26.8km on this local railway. The route is single track and non-electrified. The diesel rail car, 200' series is the oldest model on the line. It was launched in 1988 as the first rail car on the newly established Isumi Railway. A total of 7 units have been manufactured by Fuji Heavy Industries, but, currently, only two units, namely unit number 202 and 206, remain on the track.

A carp streamer is seen near Shiromigaoka Station on the Isumi Railway

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Baton Pass from the 115 to the 211 Series

Set number M5 (Yokosuka Color) of the EMU JR East 115 series (retired in 2014)

On Marh 14th, a new timetable started on the JR lines. The largest news was obviously the opening of Hokuriku Shinkansen between Nagano and Kanazawa stations, as I have already reported. Underneath the spectacular news, a reputable train, the EMU JR East 115 series is close to extinction on the Chuo Line. The 115 series is a standard local train commissioned by the Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1963. Nearly 2,000 units had been manufactured for 20 years, but most of them have already been scrapped.

There are two kinds of the 115 series on the Chuo Line. One of them is the so-called Yokosuka-color train, which has a traditional two-toned (dark blue and beige) color design developed by JNR. All units belonged to Toyoda Depot in Tokyo Metropolis, but, currently, only one set is operated on the track belonging to Nagano Depot in Nagano Prefecture. The other one is the so-called Nagano-color train, which belongs to Nagano Depot. They have ivory colored bodies with light blue and emerald colored stripes. Currently, four sets are operated on the track, but will disappear soon.

Who is the successor of the 115 series? It is the EMU 211 series coming from the Takasaki, Utsunomiya and Tokaido lines. The 211 series has a stainless steel body with light blue and emerald colored stripes the same as Nagano-color trains.

Everything flows, nothing stands still.

EMU JR East 211-3000 series stands at Matsumoto Station

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Spring in Full Bloom: The Itsukaichi Line

EMU JR East E233 series stands at Haijima Station on the Itsukaichi Line

It is mid-spring in Tokyo. I visited the countryside of Tokyo Metropolis with my family at the weekend. Our destination was Otsu Hana-no-sato (Otsu Flower Village), where we can enjoy beautiful spring blossoms here and there. It was the best season to see cherry, weeping cherry, azalea and canola flowers. The field was filled with blossoming colorful plants. Specifically, the ground of Ryushuin temple was a paradise-like hill. Spring is in full bloom.

To visit this flowery neighborhood, please take the JR East Itsukaichi Line and get off at Musashi-Itsukaichi terminal. The Itsukaichi Line was opened in 1925 by ex-Itsukaichi Railway Company. Connecting Haijima on the Ome Line and Musashi-Itsukaichi, there are 7 stations over the total operating length of 11.1 km. The track is a 1,067-mm-gauge single track and the electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead.

From an operational point of view, the Itsukaichi Line is a branch route of the Chuo Line. JR East's standard commuter train, the EMU E233 series (a 6-car train with a vermillion colored stripe), is operated every half an hour on average. This E233 series is same as the Chuo Line train. Direct trains between the Chuo and the Itsukaichi lines are operated at the end of each week for holidaymakers. Different from the Chuo Line, passengers have to push the manual operation button when they get off at stations, as the Itsukaichi Line is a local route in the countryside. The door operation is not provided by the conductor.

Ryushuin Temple near Musashi-Itsukaichi Station on the JR East Itsukaichi Line

Thursday, 16 April 2015

EMU 3000 Series in Keio Rail Land

KuHa 3719 of the EMU Keio 3000 seies is preserved in Keio Rail Land

Keio Rail Land is a railway museum owned by Keio Electric Railway Company. It was opened in 2012 in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Keio Line. This museum exhibits five units of historical trains in an outside covered facility. They are the EMU 6000, 5000, 2400, 2010 and 3000 series, which were retired from the Keio and Inokashira lines. I am going to introduce you to the EMU 3000 series today.

The 3000 series was launched in 1962 as the first stainless steel body commuter train on the Inokashira Line, and was operated until its retirement in 2011. A total of 29 sets, 145 units, had been manufactured over 30 years by Tokyu Sharyo. One of the features of this EMU is that each train set shows a different color on the front mask and the side lines. Those are lilac (photo at the top), blue-green, ivory white, salmon-pink, light-green, beige and light-blue... the seven colors of the rainbow.

I was born in a western suburb of Tokyo, along the Inokashira Line, so I had been using the 3000 series for long time to go to school and the office. I have always had a special fondness for these trains. Even after retirement from the Inokashira Line, I sometimes visited local railways to meet with the re-homed 3000 series, such as Alpico, Iyo, Gakunan and Jomo Electric Railway.

EMU Keio 3000 series... it holds a lot of memories for me.

EMU Keio 3000 (left), 5000 (center) and 2010 (right) series

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

TJ Liner: Relaxing Train on the Tobu-Tojo Line

EMU Tobu 50090 series, TJ Liner, stands at Fujimino Station on  the Tobu-Tojo Line

Japanese businessmen and businesswomen in the cities are very busy. They sometimes need something as a treat for themselves, but their journeys home are hard. Needless to say, urban commuter trains are packed on most of the lines in this country.

To save these city commuters, several railway companies operate special trains for passengers, who would like to secure seats on their journey home. For instance, Odakyu and Tokyo Metro jointly operate a special Romance Car,
Metro Home Way in the evening. JR East operates special trains, such as Home Liner Konosu (abolished in 2014), the Shonan Liner and the Rakuraku Train. Once you pay an extra fee (usually 300 to 500 yen), a comfortable seat is secured for you.

Tobu Railway also operates a special train on the Tojo Line in the evening. It is called the TJ Liner. Connecting Ikebukuro, a subcenter of Tokyo, and Ogawamachi in Saitama Prefecture, the operating length is 64.1 km.

The vehicle for TJ Liner is a 10-car train, the EMU 50090 series. It was launched in 2008. A total of 6 sets, 60 units, has been manufactured so far by Hitachi. One of the features of this train is its multi-purpose seat, which the conductor can change from a long seat to a cross seat using a remote control. So, the 50090 series is used as both a standard train and the TJ Liner, depending on the timetable.

TJ Liner... it is a relaxing train on the Tojo Line.

Interior of the TJ Liner, the EMU Tobu 50090 series

More information about TJ Liner (in Japanese):

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Inauguration of Hokuriku Shinkansen

Set number W9 of the EMU JR West W7 series stands at Tokyo Station

On March 14th, a new shinkansen line was inaugurated between Nagano and Kanazawa. It has cut the travel time between Tokyo and Kanazawa from 4 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours 28 minutes.

The new route, Hokuriku Shinkansen, attains a length of 228 km. The most distinctive feature of this line is a trans-mountain route penetrating steep mountainous areas such as Echigo Mountains. It is a bridge-tunnel railway, which connects cities located on the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan.

The main fleet of the Hokuriku Shinkansen is the EMU JR East E7 and the JR West W7 series. They are 25,000 V AC trains with a 50Hz/60Hz dual frequency system. The E7 series was launched in 2014 as a Nagano Shinkansen train; meanwhile, the W7 series newly debuted at the timing of inauguration of the Hokuriku Shinkansen. The specifications of the E7 and the W7 series are mostly the same. The maximum speed is only 260 km/hour, but they can climb up the Usui Pass (a steep incline of 30 per mil) at a speed of 210 km/hour. A total of 27 sets, 324 units, has been manufactured so far.

The fastest train stopping at only major stations is named as Kagayaki (brightness). The other trains are Hakutaka (white halk), Tsurugi and Asama (famous mountains on the line). All trains have Gran and Green Class cars. Construction work is going on to extend the line to Fukui and Tsuruga, which is expected to open around 2020.

Display on the side body of the EMU JR West W7 series

More information about Hokuriku Shinkansen (in Japanese):
Test run movie, "Driver's View", shot between Nagano and Kanazawa:
Promotion video of the JR East E7 series:

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Cherry-filled Night Sky on the Toei-Shinjuku Line

Set number 230F of the EMU Toei 10-000 series stands at Sasazuka Station on the Keio Line
The peak sakura (cherry blossoms) season came in Tokyo last week. We could see fully bloomed cherry trees here and there. I visited Chidorigafuchi Greenway near my office for viewing Yozakura as had happened in the past. It was different from previous years, because I saw more and more foreigners there this year.

What is Yozakura? It is a fully bloomed cherry tree illuminated at night. In some famous sakura spots, we can enjoy Yozakura viewing. Look at the following picture. It is artfully illuminated sakura along Chidorigafuchi Greenway. It was fantastic and dreamy. The cherry-filled night sky with a half-moon would be my best memory in the 2015 sakura season. For your information, all illuminations are supplied by solar photovoltaic power generators in consideration of the environment.

To visit Chidorigafuchi Greenway, it is convenient to get off at Kudanshita Station on the Subway Toei-Shinjuku Line. The Toei-Shinjuku Line was opened in 1978 as Tokyo's 10th subway route. Connecting Shinjuku, a subcenter of Tokyo and Motoyawata, an interchange station with the JR East Sobu Line, the total operating length is 23.5km.

Set number 230F is the oldest active train on the line. It was manufactured in 1988 as a part of the fourth batch of the EMU 10-000 series. Different from the current standard commuter trains in Tokyo, the electric control system of the 10-000 series is a little old... the armature chopper, but I like this train, specifically its nostalgic corrugated stainless steel body.
Cherry-filled night sky near Kudan-shita Station on the Toei-Shinjuku Line
More information about the Toei Trains (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

The Fourth Anniversary of Tokyo Railway Labyrinth

EMU JR East E4 series stands at Tokyo Station on the Joetsu Shinkansen
Tokyo Railway Labyrinth had its fourth anniversary today. I thank all my blog readers for visiting this website over the last four years. I have been introducing you to the labyrinthine railway routes and their trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area. I think that process is going to go on. In commemoration of the fourth anniversary, I am going to show you a train with the number "4" in the name... the EMU E"4" series. Is it a bit of a stretch?

The EMU JR East E4 series is a duplex shinkansen train launched in 1997. Currently, they are only operated on the Joetsu Shinkansen for limited express trains, Max-Toki and Max-Tanigawa. Joetsu Shinkansen is the main transportation artery between the Tokyo metropolitan area and Niigata Prefecture. The E4 series consists of 8 cars, which can accommodate 817 seats in one set. So, a maximum of 1634 seats are available, when two sets of trains are connected. Although its speed is limited to a maximum of 240km/hour, they are utilized as shinlkanesen trains to transport large numbers of passengers during rush hour.

I sometimes ride the E4 series and found that it's more comfortable than I imagined. The best advantage was its good view from the upstairs window, but the design of this train is not my cup of tea, as it looks like a giant squid in the deep sea.

The EMU E4 series... it is a dependable duplex monster train for daily Tokyo.

Side view of the E4 series
More information about the EMU JR East E4 series (in Japanese):

Saturday, 4 April 2015

2015 Sakura Season on the Takasaki Line

EMU JR East 651-1000 series passes through Miyahara Station on the Takasaki Line 

Sakura (cherry blossoms) season has come in the Tokyo metropolitan area again. We can see beautiful faint pink blossoms here and there. Tokyoites are feeling the herald of spring now. With so many cherry blossom viewing spots available, it's hard to select which one is the best. After wavering, I headed to Kumagaya City in Saitama Prefecture last weekend.

Kumagaya is an inland city along the Arakawa River. This city is famous for its National Treasure, Shodendo, in Kangi-in Temple. Apart from the National Treasure, a long row of cherry trees on the bank of Arakawa River is reputable as a sightseeing spot in the city. They were supposed to bloom gloriously with beautiful flowers this season... but, most of the trees had not come into flower yet, when I visited there on the last weekend. Instead of the reputable spot, I visited Kumagaya Central Park, where an early-blooming cherry was seen. It was a small tree, but I could enjoy graceful branches with flowers in full bloom. Spring has come!

To get to this cherry blossom viewing city, please take the JR East Takasaki Line and get off at Kumagaya Station. It takes about one hour from downtown Tokyo. During my journey, I came across a limited express train, Kusatsu, the EMU 651-1000 series at Miyahara Station. The 651 series was once retired from the Joban Line, but came back onto the track
 under the name of the 651-1000 series in 2014 after a full renovation.
Cherry blossoms are seen in the Kumagaya Central Park near Kumagaya Station
More information about limited express train, Kusatsu (in Japanese):

Thursday, 2 April 2015

EMU Sotetsu 7000 Series: The Evergreen Train

EMU Soetsu 7000 series, limited express train, travels on the Isumino Line
Sagami Railway (Sotetsu) is one of major private railways in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Starting from Yokohama, the main city in Kanagawa Prefecture, Sotetsu connects Ebina on the Main Line and Shonandai on the Isumino Line. There are 25 stations over a total operating length of 35.9km.

It is slightly old news, but Sotetsu changed the timetable on April 27th last year. The highlight of this new timetable was the launch of the "limited express train" on the Main and Isumino lines. As a result of this new timetable, we came to see a limited express train using the company's oldest model, the EMU 7000 series. The 7000 series is the Sotetsu's longest-serving active model, which was launched in 1975. A total of 80 units have been manufactured.

I absolutely love this train, because the 7000 series has an afterglow of the 1970s. Its design is rough with angular bodies, simple rounded front lights, and bare jumper cables in the front. From the present viewpoint, its equipment is also rather old, such as DC motors, bare disc brakes, and a resistance control system; however, everything fills me with nostalgia. What's worth more than anything else is that the 7000 series is still commissioned as the company's promotional train, limited express.

When I visited Sotetsu last year, I came across the limited express train using the 7000 series at Ryokuen-toshi Station on the Isumino Line. It was shining in the glare of the spring sun.
EMU Sotesu 7000 series, limited express train, passes through Ryokuen-toshi Station
More information about Sotetsu Trains (in Japanese):