By Anthony Robins
from 'Bullet-in' #54 April 2005
Tetsudō Fan/Tetsudō Journal
Odakyū’s stylish type 50000 EMU returns to the classic romance car style with an overhead cab and clear view ahead for passengers in the front seats. Its branding is the VSE (Vault Super Express), with “vault” giving an impression of movement. There are two ten-car sets with each car motored. Total capacity is for 358 passengers, with eight cars having seating for 40 or 48 passengers, but two cars seat 12 and 10 respectively, as they have buffet facilities and toilets. Wood features strongly in the interior, with matching colours for seats. External livery is white with a red stripe below window level. Information displays are in four languages: Chinese, English, Japanese, and Korean. Total cost of the two sets is 3.5 billion yen. Displayed together with accompanying new uniforms at Sagami-Ōno Workshops, which has twice been visited on JRS Japan tours, on 29th November, they enter service in March.
Another type 50000 is Tōbu’s new ten-car (Tc+M+M+T+M+T+T+M+M+Tc) type EMU. Basically unpainted, there is orange relief between the side windows and below the cab windows. Top speed is 120 km/h with longitudinal seating providing capacity for 153 or 154 (51 or 54 seated) in intermediate cars and 139 (48) in end cars.
Developed by Kinki Sharyō, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Tōyō Electrical is a new domestically produced low-floor tram. The makers term it the “U3-ALFA Vehicle”. U3 stands for Ultimate, Urban and User friendly, while ALFA stands for Advanced Low Floor Articulated. The first version is Hiroshima Dentetsu’s type 5100 “Green Mover Max”. A five-part tram, in comparison with the Siemens/Alna 5000, it is slightly shorter in length at 30 metres as opposed to 30.52 metres, and carries 149 passengers (56 seated) as opposed to 153 (46 seated). Livery is white and turquoise with some yellow relief.
Appearing in January was Ōsaka City’s new linear-motor type 80 for the 12.1 km Line 8 (Itakano to Imazato) which has been under construction since 1999 and is due to open in 2006. In white with yellow relief, the type 80 is a four-car all-motored type.
Two types which are gradually replacing existing underground stock are Toei (Tōkyō City’s) 10-300 (5M+3T), similar to the JR East/Tōkyū E231, superceding its 10-000. However, some of the latter cars will be used together with new cars in type 10-300R sets (6M+2T). The other type is the Tōyō Express Railway’s type 2000 EMU. Similar to Tōkyō Metro’s type 05, the first three 10-car sets were due to appear in the 2004 financial year, with another four in the next two years. They are set to replace the 1000s (former Tōzai line type 5000s) which have provided services since the railway opened in 1996.
New Lines and Stations
1st December saw the 0.9 km extension of the Tōkyō Monorail from its Haneda Kūkō (Haneda Airport) station, now called Haneda Kūkō Dai Ichi Biru (Haneda Airport Terminal 1), to Haneda Kūkō Dai Ni Biru (Haneda Airport Terminal 2). The former terminal now mainly serves JAL, while the new terminal mainly serves ANA.
Fuji Kyūkō opened its first new station for 43 years on 16th November at Tsuru Bunka Daigaku-Mae, serving Tsuru University, located 1.2 km from Yamura-machi and 0.9 km from Tōka-Ichiba.
New Year’s Results
The New Year period (31st December to 3rd January) saw contrasting results for the sixteen major non-JR private railways. Helped by snow on New Year’s Eve which diverted some passengers from buses, the nine Kantō area operators saw 18,795,000 passengers (up 2.7% from the previous year). In contrast, at 9,058,000 passengers, the five Kansai operators were down 2.9%. The remaining two operators were both down: Meitetsu down 0.6% at 1,898,000 and Nishitetsu down 6.7% at 560,000.
The seventieth anniversary of the Gotemba Line in Shizuoka Prefecture was marked by two days of special trains on 20th and 21st November. Motive power was provided by JR Tōkai’s Shizuoka-based EF58 122 (brown) and EF58 157 (blue) plus a set of type 14 coaches based at Mino-Ōta, north-east of Nagoya.
15th January saw a “sayonara” run of an 11-car (7-car + 4-car) type 115 EMU on JR East’s Utsunomiya Line. 115 duties have now been taken over by the E231s.
To mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Sanyō Shinkansen line to Hakata, an all reserved 6-car 0 series with a capacity of 478 passengers was due to be operated, leaving Shin-Ōsaka at 0815 and arriving at Hakata at 1122 as “Hikari 345” on 10th, 19th, 20th and 26th March as well as 2nd April. An up working (Hikari 340) from Hakata at 0939 reaching Shin-Ōsaka at 1320 was due to run just on 10th March.
The Japan Times/JR Shikoku
The evening of 2nd March saw a serious crash when JR Shikoku’s “Nanpu 17” limited express failed to stop at its terminus at the end of the third-sector Tosa Kuroshio Railway. The 31-year-old driver was killed and ten others injured, including the 24-year-old guard. There was extensive damage to the train and the relatively new station, including a stairway and elevator, preventing removal of the driver’s body for nearly three days after the accident. Government investigators arrived the following day to consider reasons for the crash, including automatic train stop failure. In the immediate aftermath, services were cut back to Nakamura, the former terminus.
Brake problems on a train between Akenobashi and Ichigaya on the Toei Shinjuku Line on the afternoon of 18th February led to about 450 passengers being stranded on the train for more than 70 minutes. Assistance from a following train was only partly successful, and finally the passengers had to walk for about 100 metres to Ichigaya Station.
A similar incident also happened on 22nd December when emergency brakes were activated on a Keisei train between Nihonbashi and Ningyōchō on the Toei Asakusa Line. Around 300 passengers had to walk a distance of about 270 metres.
The roof of an entrance to Toranomon station on the Ginza Line was badly damaged at around 2130 on 21st February when the arm of an excavator on a passing truck and trailer hit it and damaged four columns supporting the roof. Fortunately nobody was injured.
With reconstruction at Ōsaka station, a number of sleepers were diverted along the freight lines between Suita and Amagasaki on a number of nights between October 2004 and February 2005, stopping at the latter in lieu of Ōsaka.
Testing the Timetable
January and February is the all-important school and university entrance examination season in Japan. Sympathy for the pressure this puts on the jukensei (exam candidates) was shown on the morning of 2nd February when a student heading from Fukushima to Kōriyama for an exam at Tōhoku Gakuin University got on a Tōhoku Shinkansen train which was not due to stop at Kōriyama. The student persuaded the crew to make an unscheduled stop at Utsunomiya, and he backtracked from there to Kōriyama, arriving on time for the exam.
Students making their way to university entrance examinations on 25th February were delayed when one of the locomotives on a JR Freight train on the Chitose Line failed. The remaining locomotive lacked sufficient power and the train was stuck causing delays at the important junction, Tomakomai.
Mainichi Shimbun/Tetsudō Journal
On 24th October, a car which crashed through a guardrail on an icy road on a bridge over the Keisei Chiba Line east of Makuharihongo Station injured the driver and passenger and led to 35 trains being cancelled, affecting 13,000 commuters.
On the evening of 11th February, trains on JR Hokkaidō’s Hakodate Line were halted for about 70 minutes after the driver of a Shin-Chitose Airport bound train spotted a car en route in the opposite direction. A search for the car proved elusive and it appears that the driver exited the permanent-way at a level crossing about a kilometre away.
This year’s winter saw heavy snow, particularly affecting the Sanyō Shinkansen on 1st and 2nd February. Fortunately, none of its 400 passengers were injured when a Jōetsu Line train derailed at Muikamachi station after hitting a snow mass on 1st February. Heavy snow also delayed restoration of JR Tōkai’s Takayama Line between Hida-Furukawa and Inotani, which was damaged by Typhoon 23 on 20th October 2004. The Hida area saw 48 cm of snow in the 24 hours to midday 2nd February. The first March snowfall in seven years caused delays in the Kantō area on 4th March.
Back in Time
Ueda Kōtsū’s 7200 set (7253 + 7553), formerly a Tōkyū set, is currently running with “wrapping” (vinyls) as “marumado densha” (round-windowed train) recalling the earlier type 5250 stock withdrawn in 1986.
The third flow of LNG (liquefied natural gas) containers is between Himeji and Toyama, and started on 9th November. Initially, two containers are being carried daily, with the number expected to increase to ten by 2006.
Asahi Shimbun/Yomiuri Shimbun
10th December saw the government coalition (LDP and New Komeito) give the go-ahead for three sections of shinkansen lines: Aomori to Hakodate (Hokkaidō Shinkansen), Toyama to Kanazawa (Hokuriku Shinkansen) and Takeo Onsen to Isahaya (Kyūshū Shinkansen Nagasaki Line). The aim was to start all three projects in 2005 and complete them in about ten years. The cost of 1.16 trillion yen estimated by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport faces opposition from some quarters, including an editorial in the Asahi Shimbun which pointed to declining population and Japan’s household and government debt. Six days later, it was announced that only some of the above lines would be completed by 2015, as opposition to the Takeo Onsen - Isahaya section exists among local governments. It was also mooted that JR companies should return a share of the profits from newly opened sections to the government. The coalition’s commission on this issue also decided to complete the following sections by the end of the 2010 financial year, two years earlier than planned: Hachinohe to Shin-Aomori (Tōhoku Shinkansen) and Hakata to Shin-Yatsushiro (Kyūshū Shinkansen).
Still Going Forward
JR East in cooperation with Sony and NTT Docomo plans to extend its “Suica” contactless card to allow passengers to pass through its ticket barriers using their mobile phones from January 2006. In the 2007 financial year, they also plan to extend the service to allow shinkansen reservations.
Following the series of typhoons described in the last “News Update”, typhoon 27 particularly caused disruption in the Kantō area with winds of up to a record 40.2 metres per second in Tōkyō and 47.8 metres per second in Chiba Prefecture. Early bullet train services between Tōkyō and Shizuoka were initially suspended for about 20 minutes, then resumed, and suspended again after a plastic sheet caused a short circuit. 18,200 passengers were delayed up to 83 minutes.
Briefly the Longest
The Japan Times/Yomiuri Shimbun
The final bedrock on what is at least briefly the world’s longest land tunnel was blasted on 27th February. The Hokkoda Tunnel on the extension of the Tōhoku Shinkansen between Hachinohe and Shin-Aomori is 26.5 kilometres long and has cost 66.7 billion yen during its six and a half years of construction. High-sulphur bedrock has been sealed to reduce the danger of potential contamination from sulphuric acid. Fame is short-lived as the 34.6 kilometre long new Lötschberg Tunnel in Switzerland is due to have its breakthrough this Spring.
JR West urged junior high and senior high school students to reflect on their behaviour by installing hand mirror-like posters at major stations on 26th November. Students are advised that “It’s not only your appearance that matters” and “If you’re well-groomed, please be well-mannered, too.” The campaign is aimed to reduce behaviour which causes complaints, such as being noisy and sitting on the floor around doors. Each poster measures 103 by 73 centimetres and is made of paper coated with aluminium film.
Back in Action
The last service affected by the Niigata-Chūetsu Earthquake, the stretch of Jōetsu Shinkansen between Echigo-Yuzawa and Nagaoka restarted on 28th December, with journeys taking about fifteen minutes longer than before, as speeds remained slower on the section that was damaged. The initial trains (Toki 300 and Toki 301) were well-loaded.
Fuel Cell Challenge
A bit further into the future is the Railway Technical Research Institute’s development of a fuel-cell powered train. February saw the successful test of a prototype bogie, and the aim is to have a functioning two-car train by 2010. Although basically the same technology as that currently developed for fuel-cell powered cars, the challenge is even greater. The two-car set is planned to consist of one car equipped with a set of four motors, a transformer and a battery, and another equipped with fuel cells and a hydrogen cylinder. However, to generate the 600 kilowatt hours to make it capable of running at 120 km/h for 300 to 400 kilometres needs a reduction of about two thirds in the size of current fuel-cells.
Food for Thought
Ekiben, the lunchboxes sold at stations are an iconic item in Japan, and the lunchbox business has featured in previous “News Updates”. However, all is not rosy, as a result of a combination of factors including branch line closures, a decline in rice consumption, aging vendors and even the lack of opening train windows which allowed platform sales. Although some companies have diversified to sell their products at motorway service areas, sales continue to decline. The number of retailers belonging to a nationwide trade association declined from 275 in 1979 to 131 in April 2004. Sales of perhaps the most famous ekiben of them all, those sold in bowls at Yokokawa, the starting point of the Usui Pass section of the Shin-Etsu Line, have only declined from a peak of 5 million to 4.3 million. However, only 15% are sold at stations or on trains. Key sales venues are now ekiben events such as Keiō department store’s annual 13-day event which features 200 lunchboxes from 100 companies, with sales of 650 million yen. Similarly, Nippon Restaurant Enterprise’s new outlet at the Yaesu side of Tōkyō Station clocks up daily sales of about 1 million yen, helping the company’s total sales grow from 4.7 billion yen in 1979 to 6.7 billion yen in 2004.
Nice Not to Meet You
BBC/The Japan Times
Seibu Railways’ travails, referred to in the last two issues of “News Update”, continued with the revelation that its board of directors did not meet for about seven years until Spring 2004 in violation of Japan’s Commercial Code. 3rd March saw the arrest of Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, who succeeded his father in the “bubble” period, and was once considered to be the richest person in the world.
Yomiuri Shimbun /The Japan Times
On 13th January, Fukui District Court sentenced three former Keifuku Electric Railway officials to suspended prison terms ranging from 18 months to three years for the December 2000 crash on the railway caused by brake failure which killed a driver and injured 27 others. The three were found to have failed to ensure proper maintenance and inspection.
A week later, Ōsaka District Court acquitted two JR West employees and sentenced three to suspended sentences of either a year or eighteen months in connection with an accident on 6th November 2002, which killed one ambulanceman and injured another. The JR West employees were found to have presumed that others would ensure the ambulance crew’s safety, and the company was found to have placed too great a priority on a return to normal schedules.
Trading Thin Air
Two buildings on either side of Tōkyō Station are increasing their heights by “buying” the unused but potential development space totalling 180,000 square metres above Tōkyō Station. This system, known as “spatial superficies”, was developed in the U.S. Although not stipulated by law in Japan, it is quite common, particularly in built-up areas such as Tōkyō’s Ōtemachi. One of the four buildings being increased in height is the Tōkyō Building (JR East/Mitsubishi Estate), which is being increased from nine storeys to thirty-three storeys. Increased rental income will be used to finance the restoration of Tōkyō Station to its original three-storey height.
Stop Press: Tragic Derailment in Amagasaki
Various TV and online news sources
A 7-car 207 series EMU belonging to JR West derailed between Tsukaguchi and Amagasaki stations on the Fukuchiyama Line on 25th April, careering into an apartment block close to the line and killing 107 passengers, including the 23-year-old driver of the train.
The precise cause of the derailment is still under investigation, but the fact that the train entered the 300 metre radius curve with a speed restriction of 70 km/h at a speed of at least 100 km/h is thought to have been a major factor behind the train overturning and leaving the tracks. The driver was believed to have been attempting to make up lost time following a 90-second delay caused by an overrun at the previous stop at Itami station.
The tragic death toll in this accident is the worst since a multiple train collision at Tsurumi station in 1963, which left 162 passengers dead.