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News Update

By Anthony Robins

from 'Bullet-in' #49 January - March 2004

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New Faces (Kato News/Tetsudo Journal)
The Y500 is the new type for operating on the 4.1 kms 'Minato Mirai' Line which opened on 1st February between Yokohama Station and the city's Chinatown. The 8-car type is derived from JR East's E231 and Tokyu's 5000. Livery is mostly unpainted but with branding vinyls on the ends of carsides.

Hankyu's new 9300 type is a typically smart type for services on its Kyoto Line. Against the trend towards unpainted types, it is in traditional Hankyu maroon with white roof. Formation is Mc+T+T+T+T+T+M+Mc.

KuYa 31 is a modern single departmental car introduced into full use in April 2004 by Odakyu. Its appearance is similar to the company's type 3000 but with only one set of doors and two side windows. It is branded as the 'Techno Inspector'.

28th November saw the rollout of the first 'Max' E1 (Joetsu Shinkansen) with updated livery to better match the more recent E2 and E3 types. A new Max symbol features 'toki' (ibis) and interiors are also upgraded.

Operating on the Saikyo Line in the Kanto area between 26th October and 28th November was a 205 set with advertising for the model maker, Kato, including headboard.

After a tape cutting ceremony featuring DF200 and wagons in November, the following month saw the start of regular LNG transport between Tomakomai and Asahikawa in Hokkaido. It is the second LNG route after Niigata to Kanazawa, and is expected to amount to 20,000 tonnes in 2004.

On the way out (Tetsudo Journal)
With passengers down to 1.77 million passengers in 2002, compared with four times as many at its peak in 1961, Hitachi Dentetsu is considering ceasing rail operations in 2005.

December was due to see the beginning of the replacement of H formation type 200 shinkansen sets by JR East with all due to be withdrawn by March 2004.

Yet Faster (Associated Press (Japan Times)/Tetsudo Journal)
On 15th November a train on the Yamanashi test line broke the previous speed record of 552 kph set in April 1999. While there had been 13 people on board when the previous record was set, on this occasion nobody was on board. 31st October had also seen 78 return workings over the 18.4 kms test line between 0700 and 2100 set a new daily test record of 2,524 kms.

Power Cut (Asahi Shimbun)
The introduction of the new Tokaido Shinkansen timetable from 1st October was the latest stage in the process of cutting electricity consumption and costs. While JR Tokai spent 29.8 billion yen on electricity during the 1990 financial year, that fell to 24.8 billion yen in 2002. In the case of JR West Sanyo Shinkansen services, electricity costs dropped from 17.6 billion yen in 1995 to 14.1 billion yen in 2002. Successive types have used less electricity, with the type 700 using about a third less than the type zero.

Kyushu Shinkansen Fares (Kotsu Shimbun)
30th October saw fares revealed for the Kyushu Shinkansen, which opened between Shin Yatsuhiro and Kagoshima Chuo (previously Nishi Kagoshima) on 13th March. The limited express charge has risen more greatly over short distances, but in some cases the rise in limited express charges is compensated for by a reduction in the basic fare. The latter reason means that Shin-Yatsuhiro to Kagoshima Chuo remains at 5,330 yen (reserved seat) but made up of 2,420 yen (basic fare) plus 2,910 yen, compared with 3,150 yen plus 2,180 yen for the comparable present journey. Hakata to Kagoshima Chuo has risen from 8,270 yen to 9,420 yen.

Up and Down (Japan Times)
Sales and pretax profits were both up at JR Tokai for the first half of the 2003 business year (April to September). Sales were up 900 million yen from the period one year before to 683.2 billion yen, while pretax profits stood at 88.6 billion yen, up 6.6 billion yen.

Construction costs for the 15.2 kilometres third-sector West Nagoya Port Line between Nagoya Station and Kinjo Futo (Kinjo Wharf), an elevated line running over the route of a former freight line which is due to open in October 2004, are estimated to have fallen by 18 billion yen to a lower amount of 65 billion yen, helped by costcutting and the effects of deflation.

Back in Time (Kotsu Shimbun/Tetsudo Journal)
On 14th December D51 498 made its first official appearance at Ueno Station since it hauled the visiting Orient Express in 1988. The occasion was to commemorate the 120th anniversary of the station.

One set of Odakyu's type 2600, its first 20 metre type introduced in 1964, has been returned to Odakyu's earlier smart yellow and blue livery. It was due to stay in the livery until withdrawal in Spring 2004. A set of Kanto Tetsudo's type 350, consisting of 353 and 354, is back in its earlier cream and orange livery to commemorate the operator's 90th anniversary. Sets of Meitetsu's type 5500, dating from 1959, remained in three liveries used during its history in which they were repainted for special runs.

Baseball Blues (Asahi Shimbun)
Although Kintetsu now has a policy of eliminating businesses which stay in the red for three years, the railway company's baseball team, the Buffaloes, has so far been exempted. Although still Japan's preeminent sport, baseball is past its peak and the Buffaloes are located in the Kansai area, which has particularly suffered from economic recession. The team has posted a loss of around 1.5 billion yen annually for the last four years. What is more, it is no longer based on a Kintetsu route, as it was previously at Fujidera, but is now based at Osaka Dome.

JR East Blues (Asahi Shimbun/Japan Times/Mainichi Shimbun)
JR East faced a chorus of criticism over its Tokyo area operations in late September and October. It started with problems resulting from the overnight switch of tracks between Mitaka and Kokubunji on the Chuo Line as a transition stage in the elevation of this section over a period lasting until the year 2010. Services were due to resume from 0700 but point wiring problems were not rectified until around 1350, with 234 trains cancelled affecting about 180,000 passengers on both local and long distance services. JR East was further blamed for concentrating on rectifying the fault rather than circumventing it to get trains running. Potentially more serious was an incident on 6th October when the first Omiya bound Keihin Tohoku Line train of the day hit an excavator bucket left on tracks between Omori and Oimachi at about 0430. Nobody was injured but Keihin Tohoku trains between Kamata and Higashi Jujo were cancelled for four hours, adjacent Tokaido Line trains were also affected, and about 132,000 commuters were estimated to have been inconvenienced. The media focussed on the rise in outsourcing and subcontracting of work with resulting loss of overall control. In addition, while JR Tokai and JR West have a 'double-check' system of final inspections of completed work, JR East lacked this in spite of the fact that it carries out over 200,000 maintenance projects a year and five times as many large projects (those involving at least 300 workers) than either JR Tokai or JR West. Further problems followed in the form of level crossings on the Chuo Line section awaiting elevation. Interim widening has led to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers being trapped and having as little as two minutes in a an hour to cross tracks. On the personal intervention of Prime Minister Koizumi, the transport ministry decided to construct overpasses for pedestrians and cyclists to relieve the problem. Additionally, things were not helped by two foreign men 'playing dead' at a crossing in Musashino on 16th November, causing a limited express to make an energency stop and delaying other trains for almost 10 minutes, affecting about 5,500 passengers.

He's on the phone (Yomiuri Shimbun)
In mid November a 42 years old JR Tokai shinkansen driver was suspended after being found to have sent pictures of scenery and other trains which he took with a mobile phone camera between Autumn 2001 and September 2003 to a female friend. Supposedly, it was her husband who let the cat out of the bag. A passenger also reported a driver for smoking and using a mobile phone while at Kazusakameyama Station in Chiba Prefecture.

On the cushions (Kotsu Shimbun)
A new feature offered on 'Hikari Railstar' services from 19th December is a 'child cushion' to support small children (under 15 kilograms) between reserved seats in car 8. The service is available free.

Bid Rigging (Yomiuri Shimbun)
The frequent problem of bid rigging on construction projects surfaced again when it was found that Keio decided the winners of contracts to put 3.7 kms of lines in the Chofu area underground no less than three years before official bidding was supposed to begin in September. The total cost of the project was 114.9 billion yen, 49% of which was to be public money made up of funds from the Chofu municipal government, Tokyo metropolitan government and subsidies from central government.

Hitting the Buffers (Chunichi Shimbun/Japan Times)
18th October saw the first and third cars of a Meitetsu express from Toyokawa derailed when the driver failed to stop the train in time as it approached the terminus at Shin-Gifu at 1711. Four passengers were injured.

Lit Up (Tetsudo Journal)
12th and 13th October saw the third 'night objet' (written in Japanese, so mixing English, French and Japanese) at Umekoji Steam Museum in Kyoto. Illuminated were the contrasting shapes of C62 1, D51 200 and B10 20.

Be Seated (Yomiuri Shimbun)
Yokohama City Underground is the first operator in eastern Japan to make all seats on its trains priority 'silver seats' for the elderly and disabled. It is partly seen as an attempt to boost ridership on its 40.4 kms line, which has been operating in the red since it opened in 1972. Osaka based Hankyu instituted the same measure in April 1999. Yokohama is using celebrity announcements to publicize the measure. An advisory body to the city's mayor, chaired by JR East chairman, Masashi Matsuda, submitted a report in September recommending use of OPO trains and outsourcing of some staff to reduce costs.

Station Developments (Asahi Shimbun/Mainichi Shimbun/Yomiuri Shimbun)
The Shinagawa Tokaido Shinkansen Station opened on 1st October with a ceremony attended by 700 people, including JR Tokai President, Yoshiyuki Kasai. Prominent was advertising featuring popular boy group, Tokio, and the slogan 'Ambitious Japan', also carried on the side of a 700 set. About 51,000 passengers per day used the station in its first week. Keihin Kyuko also hopes to benefit at its nearby station where it expects around 2,000 extra passengers a day. New amenities available there include what is claimed to be the first hair salon on a platform in Tokyo, where up to four clients can have 10 minute haircuts at 1,000 yen.

Meanwhile various developments are progressing to revitalize central Osaka. 'Herbis Ent' is an office, shop and restaurant complex developed by Hanshin encompassing 32 stories, including 4 underground, south west of Osaka Station. 80% of space is already reserved at this project where Hanshin has invested 100 billion yen, three times its annual revenue. JR West is planning a new Osaka Station building including a Mitsukoshi department store and Nankai recently opened a large office and shopping complex called Namba Parks. The latter beat expectations in attracting 3.5 million visitors in its first month after opening on 7th October. Its features include a 10,000 square metre garden park, a theatre in the round and a 30 storey office building.

Cargo Bullets (Tetsudo Journal)
1st October saw a cargo service provided on three daily Tokyo-Nagoya shinkansen workings in addition to the eight Tokyo-Shin Osaka workings available since 5th June. Operated in conjuction with the Seino cargo company, which uses a kangaroo image, the service is called 'Chotokyubin' (super express mail).

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