By Anthony Robins
from 'Bullet-in' #62
Asahi Shimbun/Tetsudō Fan
The new N700 type bullet train for the Tōkaidō Shinkansen enters service on eight return services from 1st July. It will be entirely no-smoking except for six sealed smoking compartments. Journey time from Tōkyō to Shin-Ōsaka will be 2 hours 25 minutes, a reduction of five minutes.
The inclusion of double-decker green cars, based on E231 double-deck cars, in E531 sets for the Jōban Line spring timetable change has led to a change around in the E531 fleet. There are now 22 ten-car sets (K401-K422), including a Saro 530 0 (car 4) and a Saro 531 0 (car 5), as well as 16 five-car sets (K451-K466), which are attached to make fifteen-car sets.
3rd sector Matsuura Railway in NW Kyūshū took delivery of four new 18-metre type MR 600 diesel railcars from Nippon Sharyō in mid-December. Livery is white with black window surrounds above a light blue and narrow yellow stripe. Delivery was behind DE10 1557 (Toyokawa to Inazawa), EF200-12 (Inazawa to Hatabu), Moji-based EH500-47 (Hatabu to Kita-Kyushu) and DE10 1745 (Kita-Kyūshū to Sasebo).
Tetsudō Journal/Tōkyō Metro/JR East
Names have been decided for the line and stations on Tōkyō Metro’s 8.9 km Line 13 due to open in June 2008. The line will be called the Fukutoshin Line and will have stations south of Ikebukuro at Zoshigaya, Nishi-Waseda, Higashi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku San-chōme, Kita Sandō, Meiji-Jingumae and Shibuya. It is connected to the “New Line” of the Yūrakuchō Line and through running is planned to be extended to Tōkyū’s Tōyoko Line in 2012. Connections will include the Arakawa tram line at Zoshigaya.
The timetable changes of 18th March saw three new JR East stations open. Taishidō (north of Minami-Sendai on the Tōhoku Line), Tōhoku Fukushidaimae (Tōhoku Welfare University, north of Kitayama on the Senzan Line), and Hirata (south of Minami-Matsumoto on the Shinonoi Line).
Tetsudō Journal/Tetsudō Fan
A new connection at Keisei’s Tsudanuma Station between the Shin-Keisei and Keisei Railways has enabled through running to Keisei’s Chiba-Chūō Station from the timetable change on 10th December. Journey time from Shin-Keisei’s northern terminus at Matsudo to Chiba-Chūō is 62 minutes. This service was used by participants on the JRS February 2007 tour.
Toyota has turned to rail for transportation between far-flung factories. Mid-November saw the start of a return run between Nagoya (South Freight Terminal) and Morioka (Freight Terminal). With EF210 (DC) and EH500 (AC) electric locos hauling twenty Koki 104 and Koki 106 container wagons, the schedule is departure from Nagoya at 2240 with arrival at 1430. Departure from there is at 2116 with arrival at Nagoya at 1431.
Tetsudō Fan/JR West/Yomiuri Shimbun
Iconic 1940-built loco D51 498 was back in service after a major inspection in October. First appearance was on its regular Jōetsu Line run (Minakami to Takasaki) on the three-day weekend 3rd-5th November. After test runs, it also appeared on the “Banetsu Monogatari” on 25th-26th November and on the Uchibō Line in Chiba in February.
JR West continues its approach of refurbishment rather than replacement with the unveiling of the first refurbished type 381 cars entering service on its “Yakumo” service. Cars were due to go on show at Matsue and Izumo on 24th March and at Yonago on 25th March. The first will be used from 3rd April operating over the 220 km run from Okayama to Izumo. Green car configuration is being reduced from four to three per row, smoking will be limited to smoking compartments, and updated toilets will feature. New “bucket-type” seats will reduce motion sickness on these early tilting sets. The tentative name for the sets is “Yuttari Yakumo” (Relaxing Yakumo). All 57 cars will be remodelled over the next four years, and the livery will be off-white, dark-red and green. Refurbishment is deemed necessary with increased competition from buses offering fares which are only just over half and direct operation from Ōsaka, albeit with a journey taking about ninety minutes longer. Bus passengers doubled to 243,000 between 1995 and 2004 while train passengers between the Kansai area and Shimane Prefecture dropped from 451,400 to 352,300.
Mainichi Shimbun/Kyōdō News/The Japan Times
As “News Update” has indicated before, the Chūō Line is particularly susceptible to delays with frequent suicides and its complex timetable. 9th February saw a Toyoda to Tōkyō train hit a man on the tracks at Higashi-Nakano before the Friday rush hour at 0530. The result was the cancellation of twenty trains and delays of up to 51 minutes to other trains affecting around 34,000 passengers, while universities along the line delayed entrance examinations. Just over a month before, on 6th January, a similar number of passengers were affected after a man jumped in front of an Ōtsuki to Tōkyō train just before 1000 and ten trains were cancelled, with 40 others delayed up to 52 minutes.
Early services on Tōkyō’s busy clockwise Yamanote and southbound Keihin-Tōhoku Lines were disrupted on the evening of 5th and early morning of 6th March after signalling problems in the Tamachi area. Although services resumed at around 0645, service levels remained at only 60% to 70% for some time after that. Passengers affected were estimated at no less than 441,000.
Ōsaka City’s 11.9 km Imazatosuji Line only opened in December 2006, but has been facing problems on two fronts. Firstly, while estimates were given of 120,000 daily passengers, the initial reality has been 37,000. Secondly, this line which runs at an average six metres below ground level and crosses below Ōsaka’s main Yodogawa River has been facing heavy water leakage. Water leaks have occurred at about 60 locations at all 11 stations. While the construction company has agreed to pay for repairs for one year and there have been no serious effects on operation, further possible repairs could be a heavy burden if passenger numbers do not rise.
Lucky and Less Lucky Students
Kyōdō News/Mainichi Shimbun/Yomiuri Shimbun
The less wealthy JR Group companies have been more likely to look for earnings through sales of commemorative tickets. Particularly successful recently has been JR Kyūshū with sales of tickets at Kiire Station on the Ibusuki - Makurazaki Line, a line covered on the 2003 JRS/Travel Bureau Tour.
Fortunately for the company, this reading of Kiire means “Joy comes in”. As a result, sales of platform tickets, stamped with “Ganbatte” (do your best) to students facing entrance examinations as well as their relatives has boomed. Between 21st December and early March 11, 352 platform tickets were sold at 160 yen, raising more than 1.8 million yen, almost ten times the corresponding period a year before. In the meantime, a billboard had been erected depicting seven lucky Shinto deities. As a grateful JR Kyūshū spokesperson said, “If a platform ticket calms the person taking the exam like a safety blanket soothes a restless baby, so be it.”
51 people, including the 29-year old driver were injured when a single-car KiHa 54 diesel unit hit a truck which had failed to stop at a level crossing on 1st March. The incident happened between Mihoro and Hiushinai Stations on the Abashiri to Kitami section of JR Hokkaidō’s Sekihoku Line. Normally carrying far fewer passengers, the train was crowded with students en-route to high school graduation ceremonies. The driver of the truck carrying logs was arrested and charged with professional negligence.
“Spur” winter ski trains were first operated from January 1986 and originally involved four JR companies. However, last year’s services were limited to JR West type 485 and 583 EMUs. Winter 2006 saw no such services as the total number of skiers has declined and competition from bus operators has intensified.
Chichibu Tetsudō’s three 3-car type 3000 EMU sets (former JR type 165s introduced at the end of March 1992) were withdrawn on 25th November.
The last switchback in the Kinki area closed with the new timetable from 18th March. Situated at Kitauchi on JR West’s Wakayama Line, it has been in existence since 1896. Last trains to use it were scheduled to be at 2127 and 2158 on 17th March. From 2200 to 1730 on the following day services between Gojō and Yoshinoguchi were due to be replaced by buses while track was modified.
Shimabara Railway in Nagasaki Prefecture was applying at the end of March to withdraw services from the end of March 2008 on its southern 35.3 km section. Part of this section was heavily damaged by the eruption of Mt. Unzen and closed for four years from April 1993.
Japan’s lowest fare of just 60 yen, between Kōge and Yazu Kokomae (Yazu High School) on the third-sector Wakasa Railway was due to be raised to 100 yen from 1st April.
Scandals involving bid-rigging have long been prevalent in Japan. After a bid-rigging scandal over a city waterworks project in Niigata, four major building contractors were removed from bidding on contracts for Sendai’s 13.9 km 273.5 billion yen underground Tōzai Line. The result has been that the first three bids have been won by smaller contractors, with total bids of 16.6 billion yen compared with a projected 26.7 billion yen. This has meant that the average successful bid ratio (contract price compared to the top price that the city government was prepared to pay) has dropped to 62% compared with around 90% on typical bids. However, some critics have described the bids as too low. In contrast, the contractors see them as a loss-leading way in to future big contracts.
Recent years have seen the end of services on a few third-sector railways and the future is less than bright for others. No fewer than 13 of the remaining 28 have never operated in the black, and two (Akechi and Miki) have run out of funds designed to cover their deficits, with another five (Hōjō, Mooka, Sanriku, Tenryū Hamanako and Wakasa) expected to do that by 2009.
In addition to restrictions on smoking reported in “News Update” previously, from 18th March, smoking on JR Central limited expresses are restricted to one non-reserved car on “Shinano” services (Nagoya – Matsumoto - Nagano) and one non-reserved car on the “Shirasagi” (Nagoya - Japan Sea Coast). The “Inaba” (Toyohashi - Iida) is now all non-smoking.
Near and Not so Near Misses
The Japan Times/Mainichi Shimbun
Quick thinking by the driver of a Tachikawa-bound type 205 train on the Nambu Line enabled his train to stop 60 metres before a potential collision with a van. The van had plunged 8 metres down an embankment from a family restaurant car park in Fuchū at around 1120 on 16th December. The 180 passengers onboard walked to the nearest station.
Not so quick thinking on 10th March by the driver of the seasonal “Kusatsu 83” bound from Ueno to Nagano Harakusatsuguchi via Takasaki. He forgot to stop at Honjō Station on the Jōetsu Line and made a belated stop 450 metres past the station leading to a 21 minute delay to this train as well as other trains affecting around 2,300 passengers.
Hanshin services between Nishinomiya and Mikage, in the east part of Kōbe, were suspended and about 10,000 residents were evacuated on 4th March while Ground Self-Defence Force members removed a U.S. wartime bomb unearthed during construction work.
Packed to the Gunwhales
27th November saw the Ministry of Transport release figures on the most overcrowded sections of route during the rush-hour period in the Tōkyō area. Eight out of ten were JR East services. Most crowded was the Yamanote Line from Ueno to Okachimachi (216%), second was the Chūō Line between Nakano and Shinjuku (211%) and third was the Sōbu Line between Kinshichō and Ryōgoku (207%). The 18th March timetable change saw an extra (25th) clockwise Yamanote Line aiming to reduce the above figure to 208%. A 14th train on the Musashino Line aimed to reduce overcrowding between Higashi-Urawa and Minami-Urawa from 201% to 186%.