Friday, July 29, 2016

Slope Car on Mt. Sarakura

Slope car on Mt. Sarakura in Kita-Kyushu City

Following my last post, I am going to show you the access route to Mt. Sarakura in Kita-Kyushu City.

After getting off the funicular at Sanjo Station, I transferred to the Slope Car to get to the summit of the mountain. What is the Slope Car? It looks like a monorail or a funicular, but it is different from both of them. The Slope Car is a climbing vehicle that uses an electric motor with a rack-and-pinion driving system. You can see a similar transportation system in Asukayama Park in Tokyo and at a resort hotel on Hakone Mountain.

Connecting Sanjo Station on the Sarakurayama Cable Line to Tembodai (observatory) Station, its route length is 159 m. The maximum inclination of the route is 35 degrees. The operation interval is 20 to 30 minutes. It takes 3 minutes from Sanjo to Tembodai Station. The vehicle, which can accommodate 40 passengers, was built by Kaho Monorail Company in 2007. The operation is driver-less, but an attendant is on board.

The view from the summit was wonderful. I could see the large Yahata Steel Works in the city and Honshu Island (the mainland of Japan) across the Kanmon Straits. It was cool. It was a different world from the downtown area, where the maximum daytime temperature was higher than 30 degrees Celsius. I saw some people drinking beer at the summit, but they looked a bit cold. You should bring long-sleeved clothes, even in the summer, when you visit Mt. Sarakura.

Interior of Slope Car

Official information about Sarakurayama Slope Car (in Japanese):

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Modern Funicular on Mt. Sarakura

Funicular "Haruka" travels on the Sarakurayama Cable Line

Mt. Sarakura is a reputable sightseeing spot in Kita-Kyushu City, Fukuoka Prefecture, about 1,100 km west of Tokyo. The summit is 622 meters above sea level. This mountain is specifically famous for being a night viewing spot among the local people of Kyushu Island. I recently visited this wonderful place taking the funicular route, Sarakurayama Cable Line. Even though it was daytime, not evening, I could fully enjoy a magnificent sight.

Sarakurayama Cable Line was opened by Hobashira Cable Company (present Sarakurayama Tozan Railway) in 1957. Connecting Sanroku (at the foot of the mountain) to Sanjo Station (at the top of the mountain), its route length is 1.1 km. The track gauge size is 1,067 mm. The height difference between the two stations is 440 m and the maximum inclination of the route is 27.8 degrees. The operation interval is 20 to 30 minutes. It takes 5 minutes to get from Sanroku to Sanjo Station.

The vehicles are second generation ones called Haruka and Kanata. Haruka is yellow, while Kanata is blue. Both of them were built by CWA in Switzerland in 2001. Each car can accommodate 112 passengers. With the introduction of the current model, the overhead wire on the track was removed to provide passengers with the better visibility. Instead, the electric power is provided by the accumulator on board.

I like these rounded shaped modern funiculars. The only disadvantage is that the vehicles don't have air-conditioning, which is probably because the electric power supply from the accumulator is insufficient.

To be continued...

Funicular "Kanata" stands at Sanroku Station

Official information about Sarakurayama Funicular (in Japanese):

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Iris Festival on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line

EMU Seibu 2000 series arrives at Higashi-Murayama Station on the Seibi-Shinjuku Line

Along with hydrangeas, irises are typically seen during the rainy season in Tokyo. Large colorful blossoms, specifically, the bluish purple-colored "Edo-murasaki" is my favorite. It is gorgeous, but elegant as well.

I visited Higashi-Murayama City in the western suburb of Tokyo Metropolis with my family last month to see full blown irises. Our destination was Kitayama Park, where the 2016 Iris Festival was being held. The irises were of course good, but the festival event was also attractive. We saw a welcome dance performed by local children, who wore traditional masks and danced in front of the visitors. It was very entertaining.

To get to Kitayama Park, we got on the Seibu-Shinjuku Line train and got off at Higashi-Murayama Station. Our vehicle was the EMU 2000 series. The 2000 series was launched in 1977 to reinforce Seibu Railway's transportation capacity. There were two types of the 2000 series on the Seibu lines. One was the old 2000 series and the other was the new 2000 (2000N) series. Our vehicle was the former. 

A total of 102 units of the old 2000 series had been built by Seibu-Tokorozawa Factory for three years. The technical specification of the 2000 series is rather old, but it still keeps its position as the main fleet of the line. The 2000 series is indeed a strongly build train. I slept well on the train, as the sound of its DC motors was very comfortable, like a lullaby for me.

Welcome dancing is performed by local children at the site of Iris Festival

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

EMU 701 Series in the Akita Area

EMU JR East 701 series stands at Akita station yard

On what occasion do you feel "I came far away from home" while traveling? You may feel like that, when you hear strange local dialect, or when you eat strange local food. In my case, I felt like that when I saw a strange local train while traveling.

Last month, I visited Akita City, as something came up. Akita is far from Tokyo. It takes about four hours by the Shinkansen train. After my long travel, I saw a strange local train at Akita Station, when I got off the Shinkansen train. What was it? It was a commuter train, EMU JR East 701 series. Its pink and purple-colored stripes made me feel "I came far way from home".

The EMU 701 series is an alternate current (AC) commuter train, which we can't see in the Tokyo metropolitan area. As you may know, most of the trains in Tokyo are operated by direct current (DC) electric systems; so, AC commuter trains are strangers to me.

The 701 series was launched in 1993 to replace old coaches in Tohoku District. It has 20,000 V AC and 50 Hz electric systems. There are two kinds of gauge sizes... one for the 1,067 mm gauge track and another one for the 1,435 mm. The 701 series in the Akita area has pink and purple-colored stripes, while the Sendai and Morioka areas' ones have other colored stripes.

Strange local trains always make me excited while traveling.

EMU JR East 701 series stands at Akita Station on the Oou Line

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Top View from the Skytree

EMU Tobu 200 and 10030 series are seen from Tembo Galleria of Tokyo Skytree

I recently visited Tokyo Skytree with my family for the first time. What is Skytree? It is a TV and radio broadcasting tower located in front of Tokyo Skytree Station on the Tobu Line. At 634 meters high, Skytree is known as the world's tallest freestanding broadcasting tower. Tobu Railway group started construction of this new tower in 2008, and completed it in 2011 just after the 3.11 giant earthquake in the eastern part of Japan.

Since it was opened in 2012, Skytree has become a reputable sightseeing spot in Tokyo, but it is always crowded with sightseers. I had been hesitant to visit there. It was not a place I wanted to go out of my way to visit. So why did I change my mind recently? It was simply because it is hot and humid every day. I just needed to escape from the recent intense heat, but I didn't expect much there.

After my visit, I have totally changed my opinion. The view from Tembo Galleria, an observation deck located 450 meters above ground level, was excellent. I could see the Tobu trains running beneath my feet including the EMU 200 series, a limited express train, and the EMU 10030 series, a commuter train. Those trains looked like miniatures on a model railway. I could also see the large Hikifune Station on the elevated tracks, numerous small buildings surrounding the station, and two large rivers meandering between the forest of buildings ... it was fantastic! 

Tokyo Skytree... it is worth visiting at least once.

Top view from Tembo Galleria (450 m above ground level) of Tokyo Skytree

Thursday, July 14, 2016

EMU Tobu 200 Series: Taiwan Color

EMU Tobu 200 series, Taiwan color train, passes through Takenoduka Station

Following the Keikyu Electric Railway, Tobu Railway has also launched a Taiwan Color train. On December 20th, last year, Tobu concluded a Friendship and Cooperation Agreement with Taiwan Railway Administration (TRA). In accordance with the agreement, Tobu launched one set of special poster train, "Puyuma-color Ryomo", on June 17th this year.

Puyuma is one of the representative express trains in Taiwan. It is an EMU operated between Chaozhou and Taitung via Taipei. The vehicle is the TRA TEMU2000 series, built by Nippon Sharyo from 2013. Its white colored bodies with red colored stripes are very vivid. The maximum speed of the TEMU2000 series is 130 km per hour, but more importantly, it has the advanced tilting system to pass through tight curves at high speed.

Tobu's Puyuma-color Ryomo is the imitation of the TRA's Puyuma Express train. It has been modified from Set 208F of the EMU 200 series. The 200 series was launched in 2011 as Ryomo Limited Express, connecting Asakusa Terminal in Tokyo Metropolis and the northern cities in Kanto District. The modification of Set 208F was just changing its body colors, but the new appearance of Set 208F, namely Puyuma-color Ryomo, is very similar with that of the original Puyuma Express train. It is probably because both Puyuma Express and Puyuma-color Ryomo have streamlined bodies.

Puyuma-color Ryomo is popular among rail-fans. I often see them standing on the platforms to shoot this vivid limited express train. I hope that this train promotes interchange between Taiwanese and Japanese people.


EMU Tobu 200 series, Taiwan color train, stands at Tokyo Skytree Station

Official information about the trains of Taiwan Railway Administration:

Monday, July 11, 2016

New Colors of Mitake Tozan Railway: Part 2

Funicular "Musashi" arrives at Takimoto Station on the Mitake Tozan Railway

I am going to show you another new colored funicular on the Mitake Tozan Railway. It has a green colored "face" on the car.

Mt. Mitake (929 m above sea level) is located 50 km west of downtown Tokyo. To climb up this steep mountain, Mitake Tozan Railway is convenient. It was opened in 1934 as a funicular route. Connecting Takimoto and Mitakesan, its line length is 1,107m. The height difference between the two stations is 423.6m. The gauge size is 1,049 mm, which is quite unique. The maximum inclination of the route is 25 degrees.

In 2014, the color of the funiculars was changed in commemoration of the 80th anniversary of the company. The one vehicle was changed to red and another is green. The name of the vehicles was also changed. One was changed from Aozora (blue sky) to Mitake and another was changed from Hinode (sunrise) to Musashi (old name of Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture). One car can accommodate 115 passengers.

To visit Mt. Mitake, please take the JR East Ome Line, and get off at Mitake Station. It then takes 10 minutes by bus to Takimoto Station on the Mitake Tozan Railway. The operating interval of the funicular is every 15 to 30 minutes depending on the congestion situation. Travel time between Takimoto and Mitakesan stations is 6 minutes.

I wish to visit Mt. Mitake again at the weekend to escape from the hot and humid city. It will be a paradise for the city dwellers.

The track of Mitake Tozan Railway

Friday, July 8, 2016

EMU 2000 Series: Keikyu’s Great Cars of Yesteryear

EMU Keikyu 2000 series passes through Hacchonawate Station

The EMU Keikyu 2000 series is one of the popular trains among rail-fans. It was launched in 1982, replacing the old limited express model, the 600 series. A total of 12 sets, 72 units have been built by Tokyu Sharyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries for 6 years. The 2000 series is a 4 or 8-car train, for 1,500 V DC and 1,435 mm standard gauge size tracks. Its red body is vivid and my favorite. The growing sound of its DC motors is exciting. The 2000 series won the 1983 Blue Ribbon Prize by Japan Rail-fan Club as the best train that debuted in 1982.

This reputable model has been operated as the limited express train on the Keikyu Line, but it was converted to standard commuter trains in 2000, as the new limited express model, the EMU 2100 series, debuted. The number of doors had increased from four to six per car. The cross seats had also been changed to long ones.

The 2000 series then started to retire from the track in 2012. So far, a total of 6 sets, 28 units have already disappeared. That is the flow of the times. Nobody can struggle against advancing age. Currently, the 2000 series is often used as airport access trains operated between Shin-Zushi and Haneda Airport Domestic Terminal. It is convenient for passengers who live in Kanagawa Prefecture.

The EMU 2000 series... the great cars of yesteryear are showing the last flickering of stage lights before they burn out.

EMU Keikyu 2000 series stands at Kanagawa-shinmachi Station

Official information about the Keikyu trains (in Japanese):

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Magariya on the Kamaishi Line

DMU KiHa 100 series passes through Glasses Bridge (Miyamori-gawa Railway Bridge)

It is July already. We are halfway through this year. Before a blazing midsummer, it is time to plan my next vacation. Although I am very busy, I wish to take one week's summer holidays at least.

Last summer, I visited Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in Tohoku District. Two years ago, I also visited Tohoku District in midsummer, but way up north... Iwate Prefecture. I remember that it was a very impressive journey, as traditional Japanese scenery and buildings remained there. For instance, I saw Magariyas, traditional houses, in Toono City. Magariya is a house horizontally bent at a right angle, because it is composed of a main house and a stable. There used to be many Magariyas in Toono City. Local people took care of their farm horses as their family.

To visit Toono City, a local train on the JR East Kamaishi Line is convenient. Passing through the photogenic Glasses Bridge (Miyamori-gawa Railway Bridge), it takes about 1 hour 50 minutes from Shin-Hanamaki Station on the Tohoku Shinkansen. Our vehicle was diesel rail-cars, the KiHa 100 series. It is a 16.5 meter-long diesel rail-car, launched in 1990. A total of 46 units have been built over three years by Niigata Tekko and Fuji Heavy industries. The train runs without conductors on board, which means that the driver operates the train doors. Different from the 110 series, the 100 series has driver's seats on both sides of the car.

I wonder where to go this summer?

Magariya near Toono Station on the Kamaishi Line

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Kansai: The 103 Kingdom

EMU JR West 103-3500 series stands at Himeji Station on the Bantan Line

The human body is subject to metabolism. The same for railways. The old trains are constantly being replaced by the new models in Japan. The old commuter trains, which have been introduced by ex-Japanese National Railways (JNR), are being replaced by new ones by JR group companies.

The EMU 103 series is a typical example. The 103 series was launched in 1963 by JNR. A total of 3,447 units have been built for 21 years by many manufacturers such as Kisha Seizo, Tokyu Sharyo and Kinki Sharyo. Its technical specification is rather old, so, most of the 103 series have already been retired from the tracks and scrapped. We can't see it in the Tokyo metropolitan area any more. It is just a memory for Tokyoites.

But wait a moment! Don't forget about the Kansai area! We can still see many 103 series there. For instance, please visit Kyoto Station, some 500 km west of Tokyo. The light-green colored 103 series, 4-car trains, frequently arrive at and depart from the platform number 8, 9 and 10 on the JR West Nara Line. Another example is Himeji Station about 640 km west of Tokyo. The wine-red colored 103-3500 series, 2-car trains, are seen at platform number 1 and 2 on the JR West Bantan Line. For your information, the 103-3500 series is operated without a conductor on board.

The Kansai area... it is the kingdom of the 103 series, old nostalgic JNR commuter trains.

EMU JR West 103 series stands at Kyoto Station on the Nara Line