Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Teramae: Two-faced Station on the Bantan Line

EMU JR West 103-3500 series stands at Teramae Station yard

JR West's Bantan Line penetrates Hyogo Prefecture from south to north. As I posted before, this route has two faces, one as a city line for urban commuters, and one as a local line in the countryside. The southern section is the urban commuter line; while the northern section is the typical local line. Teramae is the mid-point station of the Bantan Line, where you can see both the commuter trains for the southern section and the local diesel rail-cars for the northern section. That is the must-see station for rail-fans.

The commuter train standing at the station yard is the EMU 103 series. The 103 was launched by the ex-Japanese National Railways in 1963 . A total of 3,447 units have been built for 21 years by many manufacturers. In the Tokyo metropolitan area, all 103 series have already been retired from the tracks, but on the Bantan Line, we can still see the modified 103 series, namely the 103-3500 series. The wine-red colored 103-3500 series are operated without a conductor on board. The 103-3500 is a new special name after modifications to the EMU operated without conductors.

The local diesel rail-car standing at Teramae Station is the KiHa 40 series. The KiHa 40 is a standard diesel rail-car for local lines. It was also launched by the ex-Japanese National Railways in 1977. Its vermilion-colored body is called "metropolitan color" among rail-fans. The KiHa 40 stands out against the scenery of the beautiful forests and agricultural areas.

Diesel rail-car, JR West KiHa 40 series stands at Teramae Station yard

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Himeji White: Castle and Shinkansen

EMU N700A series arrives at Himeji Station on the Sanyo Shinkansen

I visited Himeji City for the first time in two years. As I posted before, Himeji is the second largest city in Hyogo Prefecture. It is well known as an old castle city.

Himeji Castle, also called Shirasagi (egret) Castle was completed in 1617 by Honda Tadamasa. As its name suggests, it is a white colored castle. The main tower with some attached buildings remains as it was at that time. Himeji Castle was designated as a World Heritage site in 1993. I visited this heritage site last month with my family. It was a very hot and humid day. To make matters worse, there were no air-conditioners in the castle, because it was an old building. When I climbed up the seven-storied castle tower, my head was giddy. 

To visit this historical castle, the closest station is Himeji. It takes three hours from Tokyo by Nozomi super-express on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. Our vehicle was a white colored EMU, the N700A series. On June 28th, JR Central made a press release announcing that a new shinkansen model, the N700S, will be launched in 2020. The N700S looks similar to that of the N700 and the N700A, but the outer design will have more sharp bends on the front of the train, so that the N700S will decrease the tunnel boom. The braking performance will also be improved to stop the train quickly, if a large earthquake happens. The N700S is going to replace the old shinkansen train, the EMU 700 series soon.

Himeji Castle near Himeji Station

Official information about the design of the N700S series (in Japanese):

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

EMU 70000 Series: New Model on the Tobu Line

EMU Tobu 70000 series arrives at Nishi-Arai Station

Following the new train on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, I am going to show you a gleaming new model on the Tobu Line today. 

On July 7th this year, Tobu Railway, the largest private railway company in the Tokyo metropolitan area, launched a new model, the EMU 70000 series on their Isesaki Line. The 70000 series are directly operated onto the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, so that the 70000 series has many things in common with the Tokyo Metro's new model, the 13000 series, which I posted last time. How similar are the Tobu 70000 series and the Tokyo Metro 13000 series?

Firstly, both models have 20 m-long bodies with eight doors per car. One set is composed of seven cars. This unification is provided for the installation of automated platform gates in the future. Secondly, the positions of priority seats for the aged and physically handicapped are unified between both models. Thirdly, travelling devices, such as the type of steering trucks, are the same to reduce manufacturing costs. On the other hand, both Tobu and Tokyo Metro keep their own basic design concept, for instance, the outer design of the train bodies and the mechanisms of door operating devices.

According to Tokyo Metro, 22 sets of the 70000 series will be built by Kinki Sharyo, and will replace the old 20000 series by 2020, when the automated platform doors start to operate on the Tobu- Isesaki and the Tokyo Metro-Hibiya Line.

EMU Tobu 70000 series stands at Nishi-Arai Station

Sunday, 20 August 2017

EMU 13000 Series: New Model on the Hibiya Line

EMU Tokyo Metro 13000 series arrives at Nishi-Arai Station on the Tobu Line

I am posting a topic on the Subway Hibiya Line for the first time in four years. What has become of this busy commuter line?

On March 25th this year, Tokyo Metro, an operator of the subway lines, launched a new model, the EMU 13000 series, on the Hibiya Line. The introduction of the new model was for the first time, indeed, in 29 years. What was the difference between the old 03 series and the new 13000 series?

The largest difference is the size of the train bodies. The old 03 series has short 18 m-long bodies; while the new 13000 series has long 20 m-bodies. The Hibiya Line is an old route opened in 1961. There were many tight curves just below street intersections. The introduction of the large sized trains had been blocked for a long time, but there was no fighting against the trend of the times. Tokyo Metro has eventually removed the obstacles beside the tracks on the tight curves, and enabled the 20 m-long body trains to operate on the line. According to Tokyo Metro, 44 sets of the 13000 series will be built, and will replace the 03 series by 2020.

In the meantime, the trains on the Hibiya Line are directly operated onto the Tobu Line, which is also one of the transportation arteries in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Tobu has also recently introduced the new model. I am going to report it soon.

To be continued.

Side view of the EMU Tokyo Metro 13000 series

Official information about the EMU Tokyo Metro 13000 series:

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Access to the Place of Ascetic Training

Mt. Shosha Ropeway in Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture

Shosha-zan (Mt. Shosha) is a small mountain (371 m above sea level), where a rich natural environment remains. It is located in Himeji City of Hyogo Prefecture about 650 km west of Tokyo. Engyo-ji temple is in the center of the mountain. Along with Enryaku-ji temple on Hiei-zan (Mt. Hiei) in Kyoto Prefecture, Engyo-ji is known as a place of ascetic training for Buddhists.

Engyo-ji was opened in 966 by Shoku, who was a Buddhist monk. Among the many beautiful halls in the temple precinct, I like Jikido best. It is a wooden, full two-story structure originally opened in 1194. The current building was supposed to be re-constructed in Muromachi period (1336-1573). It is designated National Important Cultural Property of Japan.

To visit this holy place, please take aerial tramway Mt. Shosha Ropeway. Connecting Sanroku and Sanjou stations, its operating length is 781 meters. The height difference between the two stations is 211 meters. Its operating speed is 5 meters per second and it takes 4 minutes to get to Sanjou Station. The operating interval is 15 minutes on average.

Mt. Shosha Ropeway was opened in 1958 by the Transportation Bureau of Himeji City. The current two gondolas, which were built by Anzen-sakudo Company, were launched in 1992 as the third generation of gondolas. The riding capacity is 71 passengers in each one. The passengers can enjoy a beautiful view of Himeji City.

Mt. Shosha Ropeway... an access to the place of ascetic training.

Jikido hall in Engyo-ji temple near Sanjou Station on the Mt. Shosha Ropeway

Official information about Mt. Shosha Ropeway (in Japanese):

Monday, 14 August 2017

Two-faced Diesel Rail-car on the Bantan Line

Diesel rail-car Class KiHa 41 of the JR West KiHa 40 series arrives at Takeda Station

When I visited Takeda Castle Ruins last month, I came across a rare diesel rail-car, which had two kinds of "faces", at Takeda Station on the JR West Bantan Line. What was it?

It was the Class KiHa 41 diesel rail-car. The KiHa 41 was originally built as a single cab car namely the Class KiHa 47. It was, then, renovated as a double-cab diesel rail-car, and renamed the Class KiHa 41. The rounded face on one side is the original one; while the flat face on the other side is attached as a renovation. Thanks to the double-cab, the Class 41 is able to be operated in two directions as a single-car train. I like this rare two-faced diesel rail-car as a rail-fan. You also probably feel that way.

In the meantime, the JR West Bantan Line also has two faces. The section between Himeji and Teramae is electrified and is a typical urban commuter line. The EMU 103-3500 series is operated every half an hour on average. On the other hand, the section between Teramae and Wadayama is un-electrified and a typical local line. The Class KiHa 41 or the KiHa 40 series diesel rail-car is operated every hour on average. It is similar with the JR East Hachiko Line, which also has an electrified urban commuter section and a local un-electrified section.

Two-faced diesel rail-car and the two-faced route, we can derive great pleasure from the Bantan Line.

Diesel rail-car Class KiHa 41 of the JR West KiHa 40 series stands at Teramae Station

Friday, 11 August 2017

Japanese Machu Picchu on the Bantan Line

Unit number 2007 of the diesel rail-car JR West 40 series, "Sky Castle"

Takeda Castle Ruins is located in Hyogo Prefecture about 700 km west of Tokyo. It had been an obscure historic spot for a long time, but the situation drastically changed in 2006. The ruins was nominated as one of Japan's Top 100 Castles by Japan Castle Foundation. Since then, visitors to Takeda Castle Ruins have been rapidly increasing.

Takeda Castle was originally built by Yamana Sozen in 1431. It is located at the top of Mt. Kojo. We can see many impregnable stone walls on the steep mountain slopes. The current stone walls were constructed in the 16th century. Because of its scenery, the name of the castle ruins was generalized to "Japanese Machu Picchu (famous remains of the Inca Empire in Peru)" by the media as time went by. In fact, the castle ruins covered by autumn fog look like Machu Picchu.

To visit this ruins, the nearest station is Takeda on the JR West Bantan Line. The Bantan Line is a local route connecting Himeji on the Sanyo Shinkansen and Wadayama on the San-in Main Line. Its operating length is 65.7 km. The track is single and partly electrified. Takeda is located on the mid-point of the un-electrified section.

Diesel rail-cars, the KiHa 40 series, are the main rolling stock on the Bantan Line. A special poster train, "Sky Castle" is operated to promote tourism to Takeda Castle Ruins. Sky Castle train is unit number 2007 of the KiHa 40 series. It has the images of the castle ruins on its body.

Takeda Castle Ruins near Takeda Station on the JR West Bantan Line

Official information about Sky Castle train (in Japanese):

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Thomas Land Train on the Fujikyu Line

EMU Fujikyu 5000 series, Thomas Land Train, passes through Tokaichiba Station

Thomas Land is an outdoor theme park operated by Fujikyu Railway Company in Yamanashi Prefecture. It constitutes a part of Fujikyu Highland Resort, which was originally opened as a large skating rink in the early 1960's. As you noticed, Thomas is named after a British TV series, "Thomas and Friends". It is very popular among Japanese kids. Catching onto the popularity of this TV series, Fujikyu opened Thomas Land in 1998.

To visit Thomas Land, the nearest station is Fujikyu Highland on the Fujikyu Line. If you visit there with small children, I recommend you ride a special train, named "Thomas Land Train" from Otsuki Terminal. Thomas Land Train is a poster train with Thomas and his friends' characters on the bodies. The interior of the Thomas Land Train is also fantastic. For instance, there is an imitation cabin just behind the real cabin, so that kids can feel what it's like to drive the train in the cabin.

The vehicle, which goes into service as Thomas Land Train, is the EMU 5000 series. It was originally built by Nippon Sharyo in 1975. Its specification is rather old at this distance of time, but the 5000 series has some advanced equipment of those days, for example, a speed-reducing brake system as a measure against a steep falling gradient.

For your information, you are not required to pay any extra charge to ride Thomas Land Train. You can ride it with only a standard ticket. It will be valuable information for travelers.

An imitation cabin is equipped for children inside Thomas Land Train

Official information about Thomas Land Train (in Japanese):

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Unique Spot on the Yamanote Line, Part 2

Underpass between Tamachi and Shinagawa stations on the JR East Yamanote Line

Following the only railway crossing between Komagome and Tabata stations, I am going to show you the other unique spot on the JR East Yamanote Line today.

Please look at the picture. It is a railway underpass between Tamachi and Shinagawa stations. It looks to be a railway underpass like any other, but it has only a slight amount of head clearance. Its height limitation is 1.5 meters. Only sedans can narrowly pass through this underpass. Adults have to duck their heads to get through there. The length of the underpass is about 230 meters. It passes through not only the Yamanote Line, but also the other lines, namely the Keihin-Tohoku Line, the Tokaido Main Line, the Yokosuka Line and the Tokaido Shinkansen. The inside of the underpass is dark even during the daytime. 

I wonder why it is so narrow. It was probably originated from the topography. The railway between Tamachi and Shinagawa stations was originally located on the sea. In other words, the track was constructed on reclaimed land more than 100 years ago. The height above sea level was almost zero so that the underpass must have been constructed above sea level to prevent the risk of flooding. It was impossible to pump out water from the underpass at that time.

I found a signboard set at the entrance that said this underpass was planned to be cleaned soon. I am looking forward to seeing the reborn underpass soon.

Inside the underpass

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A Unique Locomotive in Hachioji Station Yard

Diesel locomotive Class JR Freight HD300 stands at Hachioji Station Yard

I have recently visited Hachioji City in Tokyo Metropolis, as something came up. After finishing my meeting, I came across a unique locomotive at Hachioji Station on the way back home. Please look at the picture. It is a hybrid locomotive, Class HD300, owned by JR Freight (hereafter JRF). I saw this high-tech locomotive for the first time in a while. The last time I saw it was when I visited JRF Sumidagawa Freight Station three years ago to join the 2014 Sumidagawa Station Freight Festival.

The Class HD300 is a switcher locomotive working in station yards. It was launched in 2011, and a winner of the 2012 Laurel Prize awarded by Japan Rail Fan Club. A total of 26 units have been built so far by Toshiba. They currently belong to JRF Tokyo, Niiza, Koshigaya and Sumidagawa freight stations, JR East Hachioji Station and so on. The HD300 has dual electric power sources, namely a diesel generator and lithium-ion rechargeable batteries. Permanent magnet synchronous motors (PMSM) with VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive) electric control system are on-board.

The HD300 is a quiet, eco-friendly and state-of-the-art locomotive, but its design is not my cup of tea to be honest. It looks like LEGO, a toy. The other or more serious problem must be its manufacturing cost. Unfortunately, JRF stopped to additionally introduce this unique locomotive in 2017, probably because of its high manufacturing cost. The Class HD300 locomotive would be no longer built.

Side view of the Class HD300