The longest commuter service in Tokyo
A series 209 set rolls down an elevated track section in downtown Yokohama showing its typical commuter train figure, at Ishikawacho, September 2001.
The Keihin-Tohoku Line is a common name given for the JR East's EMU train service running over a route between Omiya-Ueno-Tokyo-Yokohama-Sakuragicho-Ofuna, a long run of 81.2 km across the three prefectures of Saitama, Tokyo and Kanagawa. The service length of 81.2 km is the longest among commuter EMU services in JR East's territory. There are 46 stations on the route including historic Ueno, Tokyo, Shimbashi, Kawasaki, Yokohama and Sakuragicho. It takes more than two hours to travel through the whole length. Its formal name is the Tohoku Line between Omiya and Tokyo, the Tokaido Line between Tokyo and Yokohama, and the Negishi Line between Yokohama and Ofuna. The nature of the service is local trains covering every intermediate station in the Tokyo metropolitan area and its suburban areas, particularly on the Omiya to Ueno and Tokyo to Yokohama sections, as opposed to longer-distance trains of the Tokaido Line and Tohoku Line that do not stop at most of these stations. The southern section of the service is along the Negishi Line, diverging from the Tokaido Main Line at Yokohama, which goes through Yokohama's downtown area, heavy industrial area, and then suburban residential area. In contrast to the historic background of the Tokyo to Sakuragicho section, the Negishi Line section is quite new, having been extended in the 60s and the 70s. Now, the line is served solely by a fleet of sleek 10-car 209 series stock, including some sets of a new version of the series numbered in the 500s. However, the old 72 series, ex-JNR's most common equipment used for urban EMU service in the Tokyo area, was dominant on the entire service for a long time after the War until modern stock of the 103 series was introduced around 1965.
Click here to see a route map of the Keihin-Tohoku Line.
A 103 series train running through the Oji area in Tokyo. This
set is a later version of the series equipped with air-conditioners and
ATC. Until the introduction of the 209 series, this type used to be
dominant on the service.
The service segment was extended southwards in December 1915 up to
the current Sakuragicho when the main Yokohama station moved to the
former Takashimacho from Sakuragicho (Note7). In November 1925, as the
elevated tracks between Tokyo and Ueno were completed, the
Toyko-Sakuragicho 'Shosen Densha' service was extended northwards to
Ueno. This was a quite historic milestone for the government railway's
EMU service in the Tokyo area with the commencement of the circular
operation on the Yamanote Loop Line. The Chuo Line's electric car
service was converted to just between Tokyo and Nakano, ceasing through
operation with the Yamanote Line (Note8). The service was soon further
extended northwards to Tabata one month later. The Akabane extension
was completed in February 1928, followed by the full opening of the
service as far as Omiya in September 1932.
The service remained in this route form for a long time through the
War period. After the War, evolution took place at the southern end of
the line in Yokohama. The construction of the Negishi Line progressed
southwards from Sakuragicho, reaching Isogo in May 1964. The Yokodai
extension was completed in March 1970. The line finally reached Ofuna
in April in 1973, completing the current entire service route.
Change of Line Name:
The service was first called 'Keihin sen', an abbreviation of Tokyo-Yokohama. As the service extended northwards over the Tohoku Line section, the line seems to have called as the 'Tohoku-Keihin sen' for a particular period, but the current 'Keihin-Tohoku sen' was finally established around the War period. However, the historic name of 'Keihin sen' is still heard even nowadays through the platform announcement of the Keihin-Tohoku Line at Tokyo station.
A cut-away model of Deha 43200 exhibited at the Transportation Museum in Tokyo. April 2001.
The symbol colour of the Keihin-Tohoku Line is blue, and stainless steel built 209 series cars in the fleet are all liveried with two blue stripes below and above the windows. This symbol colour was established when 103 series was first introduced in 1965 following the Chuo Line's orange and the Yamanote Line's green.
In terms of traffic direction, since the line runs through Tokyo
station and Ueno station, the operation is classified as North-bound
and South-bound, as opposed to Up and Down common among other railway
lines in Japan. The Line's operation is most frequent between Akabane
and Kamata, every two minutes at the peak time, with the service
patterns comprising Omiya to Kamata, Omiya to Tsurumi, Omiya to
Sakuragicho, Omiya to Isogo, Omiya to Ofuna, Minami-Urawa to Ofuna and
Akabane to Ofuna. There are a few trains which are terminated at
Higashi-Jujo and Ueno North-bound, and Higashi-Kanagawa South-bound in
the late evening. The southern section in Yokohama from
Higashi-Kanagawa is also served by through trains coming from the
Yokohama Line. Most of the Yokohama Line through trains are terminated
at Sakuragicho, with a few going as far as Isogo and Ofuna.
Going up through downtown Tokyo between Shimbashi and
Yurakucho from the front of a north-bound train. In this area, the line
features two double tracks shared with the Yamanote Line, which uses
the inner two tracks. The train on the right is a south-bound
A south-bound rapid train passing through Shimbashi.
A Yokohama Line's 205 series set rolling down to Sakuragicho
leaving Yokohama station. During off peak hours, some trains from the
Yokohama Line operate over the Negishi Line from Higashi-Kanagawa as
far as Sakuragicho, Isogo and Ofuna.
With the advantage of the Yamanote Line running parallel between
Tabata and Tamachi, the Keihin-Tohoku Line trains are operated as a
rapid service on this segment during the day time between 10:00 AM and
15:00 PM. During this time, the Keihin-Tohoku Line trains stop only at
Ueno, Akihabara, and Tokyo. This rapid service was introduced in March
1988 a little while after the JNR was privatized. This service has
become established these days, although there was some confusion in the
early stage. However, you need to be careful when you travel to an
intermediate station from the north or south outside this service
segment during the off-peak time.
Nowadays, all stock in the Keihin-Tohoku Line fleet is concentrated at Urawa depot, but they used to be distributed at four depots, Kamata, Higashi-Kanagawa, Shimo-Jujo and Urawa. There are Y tracks for return operation at Ueno, Kamata, Tsurumi, Sakuragicho and Isogo. Sidings for overnight layover are at Shimo-Jujo (depot), Kamata (depot), Higashi-Kanagawa (depot), Isogo and Hongodai. Crews are based at those depots of Urawa, Shimo-Jujo, Kamata and Higashi-Kanagawa. Crew changes are seen at Minami-Urawa, Shimo-Jujo, Kamata and Higashi-Kanagawa.
A freight train emerging to enter the Negishi Line from a
flyover tunnel of the south-bound main track located just north of
Sakuragicho. The train on the left is of the Tokyu Toyoko Line.
Recent Major Milestones of the Keihin-Tohoku Line:
I have long been a daily patron of the Keihin-Tohoku Line since I settled down in Yokohama with the start of my career. With this background, I have been seeing the evolution of this service through my daily rides. My ride is mainly on a southern section between Tsurumi and Yokodai, commuting for about 30 minutes. When I began to use this line, the rolling stock in use was 72 series, a reminiscence of old 'Shosen Densha' retaining dignity in its dark maroon livery with varnished wooden interior. In spite of the line's glorious history, the status of the line around that time was rather declined against other major commuter lines, the Chuo Line and the Yamanote Line. The 103 series, categorized as the ex-JNR's high-performance stock following the 101 series, came rather late to the Keihin-Tohoku Line after these other lines. The re-signaling with the ATC system was at the same time as the Yamanote Line, but its benefit was subtle for passengers, although it was quite innovative from the technological aspect. The introduction of air-conditioned stock also started several years later after the Chuo and Yamanote Line, although it was quite thankful in muggy summers.
No big changes are expected to occur for a while in the near future
on the Keihin-Tohoku Line, but it will continue providing a quite good
quality of service with neat rolling stock of 209 series as well as
reasonable operation frequency.