Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Shirayuki: New Limited Express Train in the Niigata Area

EMU JR East E653-1100 series, limited express Shirayuki, arrives at Niigata station

Along with the new commuter train namely the E129 series, I found another new train at Niigata Station. It was a new limited express "Shirayuki" operating between Niigata and Joetsu-Myoko stations. Shirayuki means white snow, as it is operated in a snowy area.

The train commissioned as Shirayuki is the EMU JR East E653-1000 series. This model was originally launched in 1997 under the car number of the E653-0 series. It was operated as a limited express, Fresh Hitachi, on the Joban line. 16 years later, the E653-0 series was replaced by a new model, E657 series. The E653-0 series was forced to move to the Niigata area. Before re-debuting under the car number of the E653-1000 series in the Niigata area, the vehicles were renovated properly. For instance, major equipment was modified to be snow-proof and cold-proof.

Eventually, the E653-1000 series debuted as a limited express Shirayuki in 2015. Two years have already passed since the E653-0 series, limited express Fresh Hitachi, disappeared from the Joban line. The total operating length of Shirayuki is 153 kilometers. Shirayuki functions as an access train between Joetsu Shinkansen (Niigata) and Hokuriku Shinkansen (Joetsu-Myoko). The color scheme of the train bodies is very vivid. Passengers associate the color white with snow, the color blue with the Sea of Japan and the color red with the sunset over the Sea of Japan.

I saw many passengers boarding Shirayuki at Niigata station. Shirayuki is indeed the new star train in the Niigata area.

Joetsu Shinkansen train (left) and limited express Shirayuki (right) stand at Niigata station

Official information about limited express "Shirayuki" (in Japanese):

Monday, 25 June 2018

Unique Kiosk on the Tokaido Main Line

Unique kiosk at Fujisawa station on the Tokaido main line

Whenever I take the Tokaido main line, I see a unique shed on the platform 3 and 4 at Fujisawa station. It has two tones of green and orange colors. It is made to look like a train. What is that?

The answer is a kiosk which looks like the EMU 80 series. The 80 series was launched as a long distance train by the Japanese National Railways (JNR) in 1950. Before debuting the 80 series, the long-distance trains on the Tokaido main line were coaches pulled by locomotives. They were decrepit and outdated. Passengers had expectations for the emergence of a new age train. The 80 series appeared at this time.

The EMU 80 series was a 1500 V DC train with DC motors. The electric control system was rheostatic. The driving system was nose suspension. A total of 632 units were built by Nippon Sharyo, Kawasaki Sharyo, Kinki Sharyo and others. Its two large frontal windows and a large rounded top light are definitely my favorite.

The 80 series was called Shonan Train. Shonan is a 30 km long beach facing the Pacific Ocean located southwest of Tokyo. The Shonan Coast has been one of the top-rated residential areas in the Tokyo metropolitan area since the 1950s because the area has a beautiful beach and a historical city such as Kamakura. The 80 series had been active on the tracks for 33 years.

The unique kiosk at Fujisawa station makes us recall the past days of the Tokaido main line.

Entrance of unique kiosk at Fujisawa station

Friday, 22 June 2018

New Standard Commuter Train in the Niigata Area

EMU JR East E129 series arrives at Niigata station

I recently visited Niigata City for the first time in four years. What was new with this local city on the Sea of Japan coast?

Firstly, I found that the JR East Niigata station had been renovated. The platforms of conventional lines were remodeled on the newly completed elevated tracks. Four years ago, the elevated platforms were designed only for the Joetsu Shinkansen while trains on the conventional lines used the old surface platforms. It was as if I were in another world.

Secondly, I found the new standard commuter trains, the EMU E129 series on the tracks. The E129 series was launched in December 2014 to replace the old 115 series. It is a 1,500 V DC train with induction motors. The electric control system is IGBT-VVVF inverter (variable frequency drive). A total of 55 sets (4-cars and 2-cars), 160 units, were built by J-TREC Niitsu factory.

Technical specifications of the E129 series are similar to those of the E233 series in the Tokyo metropolitan area; however, the E129 series has some special equipment depending on the situations in the snowy country. Major equipment is cold-proof and snow-proof. Front and tail lights are heated for preventing deposition of snow. More importantly, all cars have both electric boggies and trailing boggies (all 0.5Ms) for preventing wheels from slipping in snowy conditions.

Most of the commuter trains I saw at Niigata station were the E129 series. The old 115 series was now quite rare. Everything regarding railways in the Niigata area changes quickly.

New elevated platforms of Niigata station

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

GSE: New Odakyu Romance Car

EMU Odakyu 70000 series, Romance Car "GSE", passes through Shibusawa station

On March 17th this year, Odakyu Electric Railway Company launched a new luxurious train, the EMU 70000 series, "Romance Car GSE (Graceful Super Express)".

What is Romance Car? It is Odakyu's venerable train. Odakyu first launched a resort train in 1935 as the "hot spring express"; however, it was forced to stop operating due to World War II in the 1940's. After the war, Odakyu resumed the operation of the express in 1950 under the name of Romance Car. 

An epoch-making event occurred in 1957, when they launched the EMU 3000 series, Romance Car SE. This train reached 145 kilometers per hour; the world's fastest record of a narrow gauged railway at that time. Then, Odakyu launched new Romance Cars one after another. They are the EMU 3100 series (NSE), the 7000 series (LSE), the 10000 series (HiSE), the 20000 series (RSE), the 30000 series (EXE), the 50000 series (VSE), the 60000 series (MSE) and the 70000 series (GSE).

GSE has an upper-deck cockpit so that the passengers can enjoy the view ahead. It is the same as NSE, LSE, HiSE and VSE. On the other hand, GSE is not articulated cars but standard EMU (electric multiple unit). It is the same as RSE, EXE and MSE. In other words, GSE combines the features of two pre-existing types of Romance Cars.

The body color of GSE is "rose vermilion", which is outrageous for passengers. It is definitely my favorite color. The Odakyu Romance Car is going to a new stage.

EMU Odakyu 70000 series, Romance Car "GSE", passes through Ebina station

Official information about Odakyu Romance Car lineup:
Official movie about the EMU 70000 series, Romance Car "GSE":

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Accumulator Train on the Karasuyama Line: Update

Dropping the pantographs, EMU JR East EV-E301 series travels on the Karasuyama line

I visited the JR East Karasuyama line for the first time in three years. What was new with this local line in Tochigi Prefecture?

Three more sets of the state-of-art accumulator train, EV-E301 series, were introduced to the line on March 4th last year. The accumulator train is an EMU (Electric Multiple Unit), which has lithium ion accumulators. The train is operated with accumulators on a non-electrified Karasuyama line, and the power is supplied by 1,500 V DC catenaries via pantographs on an electrified track, such as the Tohoku main line. 

As a result, all the old diesel rail-cars, namely, the KiHa40 series, disappeared from the Karsuyama line. The KiHa40 series on the Karasuyama line was the only route where we can see these JNR-type old rail-cars in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The last run of the KiHa40 was conducted on March 3rd, 2017.

Incidentally, the Karasuyama line is a 20.4-km-long route, connecting Hoshakuji and Karasuyama stations, and it is a 1,067-mm-wide single track. There are several sightseeing spots along the line, including beautiful waterfalls and natural flower fields

Dropping its pantographs, the EV-E301 series is operated by the electric power supplied by two sets of 600 V-95 kWh lithium ion accumulators. It has induction motors with a VVVF (variable frequency drive) control system. It is also able to recharge its power while braking, using the regenerative braking system. I was surprised that the train operated so smoothly and with such a low noise level.

EMU EV-E301 series is charged up at Hoshakuji terminal for next trip

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Hachioji Castle Ruins: Silence in the City

EMU JR East E233 series arrives at Takao Station on the Chuo main line

I recently visited Hachioji City in the western part of the Tokyo Metropolis for a meeting. After finishing my meeting, I enjoyed walking in the suburban area of the city. My destination was the ruins of Hachioji Castle. The castle was constructed by Hojo Ujiteru, a feudal lord of Musashi Province, in the 16th century. Along with the ruins of Takeda Castle in Hyogo Prefecture, Hachioji Castle was nominated as one of Japan's Top 100 Castles by the Japan Castle Foundation in 2006.

The ruins were located in the steep mountains and surrounded by deep forests. It was a very dark and quiet place even in the daytime, and the only sound was the songs of the birds. Although most of the buildings had been destroyed by the battles in the 16th century, the stone foundations of the castle still remain in the mountain. The scenery of Hachioji City and the western part of Tokyo Metropolis from the top of the mountain were very beautiful.

To visit Hachioji Castle ruins, the nearest station is Takao on the Chuo main line and the Keio Takao line. As you know, the Chuo main line is one of the busiest commuter routes in Tokyo Metropolis. The orange-colored commuter train, the EMU E233 series, is frequently operated, whose electric system is 1,500 V DC overhead. A total of 688 units were built by Tokyu Sharyo, J-TREC, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.

Superb view from Hachioji castle ruins near Takao station on the Chuo main line

Official information about the EMU JR East E233 series (in Japanese):

Sunday, 10 June 2018

EMU 2000 Series: Main Force on the Entetsu Line

EMU Entetsu 2000 series arrives at Enshu-byoin-mae Station (August, 2015)

Following the precious old train, I am going to continue to show you a train of the Enshu Railway (Entetsu) today.

The EMU 2000 series is Entetsu's representative commuter train, which was launched in 1999. It is a 2-car train consisting of one motor car and one trailer (1M1T). A total of 6 sets, 12 units, were built by Nippon Sharyo. The body length is 19 meters, which is quite unique in Japan. The body design is almost same as the older model, namely the 1000 series; however, some new technologies, such as the VVVF inverter (various-frequency drive) electric control system with induction motors, was adopted. It was also equipped with a regenerative brake system.

Although 19 years have passed since the 2000 series debuted, its frontal design is still daring. Specifically, its three large bent windows with angular lights are my favorite. The red-colored bodies with white-colored stripes are also still cool.

I sometimes take the Entetsu Line from Shin-Hamamatsu station and visit the beautiful countryside of Shizuoka Prefecture, such as Lake Hamana-ko and Iinoya-valey. The Entetsu line only has a 17.8-km electrified single track between Shin-Hamamatsu and Nishikashima stations, which takes only 32 minutes from one endpoint to the other, but I get so excited whenever I take the Entetsu line because the red-colored conspicuous train improves the expectation of my trip. Vehicles are very important factors for my traveling.

Writing about my travels made me want to travel more and more.

EMU Entetsu 2000 series stands at Nishi-Kajima Terminal (August, 2015)

Official information about the EMU Entetsu 2000 series (in Japanese):

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Japan's 2nd Highest Mountain on the Minobu Line

EMU JR Central 313 series arrives at Kai-Ueno station on the Minobu line

What is the highest mountain in Japan? It is an easy question for Japanese people. The answer is Mt. Fuji, which is 3,776 meters above sea level. Well, what is the second highest mountain in Japan? It is a difficult question even for Japanese people. The answer is Mt. Kitadake (north peak), which is 3,193 meters above sea level.

There are some reasons why the second question is difficult. It is not number one but just number two. It is not an active volcano. In my opinion, it is because Mt. Kitadake is surrounded by other high mountains. In other words, it is difficult to look at Mt. Kitadake from flatland.

What should we do for viewing Mt. Kitadake? One of the best viewing points is Kofu basin in Yamanashi Prefecture. Specifically, Ichikawa-Misato Town is an excellent place. We can see the snow-capped Mt. Kitadake from the fringe of the basin. The peak of the mountain rises beyond the foothills. It is very beautiful and impressive.

To visit Ichikawa-Misato Town, the JR Central Minobu Line is convenient. The nearest station is Kai-Ueno. The EMU 313 series is the main force for the local trains on the line. It was launched in 1999 to replace the old ex-JNR (Japanese National Railways) models. The stainless body with a white "face" and an orange stripe is very cool. It is composed of two or three cars with four 185 kW induction motors per unit. The maximum speed is 130 km per hour.

Mt. Kitadake (north peak) is 3,193 meters above sea level

Official information about the EMU JR Central 313 series (in Japanese):

Monday, 4 June 2018

Good-bye to the Old Entetsu Train

EMU Enshu Railway 30 series stands at Shin-Hamamatsu station (October, 2017)

Following the EMU Keikyu 2000 series, another red-colored great train retired from the track. On April 30th, Enshu Railway (Entetsu) operated the special train using the EMU 30 series, which was Entetsu's oldest model. It was for rail-fans to say good-bye to the 30 series. Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to visit Entetsu, but I personally said good-bye to the 30 series, when I visited there last year.

The EMU 30 series was introduced from 1958 to 1980 to replace Entetsu's old rolling stock. A total of 30 units were built by Nippon Sharyo. Recently, only one set, namely MoHa25-KuHa85, survived and was operated as a special train during the vacation seasons. The 30 series had two large frontal windows, which showed a typical design of the 1960s to 1970s era. The EMU Jomo Electric Railway 700 series,  and the Ooigawa Railway 21000 series have similar frontal designs. The red-colored body with white-colored stripes was cool, as it was similar to that of Keikyu trains in Tokyo. More importantly, the running sound of the old nose suspension driving system was very nostalgic for rail fans.

For your information, Entetsu is a local railway company in Shizuoka Prefecture, about 260 km west of Tokyo. It has a 17.8 kilometers electrified single track between Shin-Hamamatsu and Nishikashima stations. The gauge size is 1,067 mm and the electric system is 750 V DC overhead.

Sayonara (good-bye) and arigato (thank you), the EMU 30 series. 

Close up of Unit KuHa 80 of the EMU Enshu Railway 30 series (October, 2017)

Friday, 1 June 2018

Kofu: City of Warring Lord

EMU JR East E353 series, limited express Super-Azusa, arrives at Kofu Station

Kofu is the main city of Yamanashi Prefecture, about 130 kilometers west of Tokyo. The urban area of Kofu City is located in the center of Kofu basin, which is surrounded by mountains as much as 2,000 meters high.

Historically, Kofu was known as the capital city of the Takeda family. Specifically, a warring lord, Takeda Shingen (1521 - 1573), is very famous among Japanese people. Shingen was not only excellent in military affairs, but also a good poet. He unfortunately died during an expedition to present day Shizuoka prefecture. Shingen's dreams, namely the unification of Japan, had not come true; however, he still stays in local people's minds. We can see a large bronze stature of Shingen in front of Kofu station. 

To get to Kofu from Tokyo Metropolis, a limited express train, Super-Azusa, is convenient. It takes less than 90 minutes from Shinjuku, a sub-center of Tokyo. A new model, the EMU JR East E353 series, was recently launched on this route. The E353 series is a successor of the E351 series. It is an express train for a 1,067 mm-wide gauge track with 1,500 V DC electric systems. The E353 series has a special air suspension type tilting system to pass through tight curves in the mountain areas keeping at high speed. The maximum operating speed of the E353 series is 130 kilometers per hour.

If Shingen had lived until today, he would be surprised at the progress of transportation technologies in the 21st century.

Takeda Shingen (1521 - 1573) bronze stature in front of Kofu station

Official information about the EMU E353 series (in Japanese):