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News Update

By Anthony Robins

  August  2018

New Faces Mainichi Shimbun/Tetsudō Fan/JR East/Chunichi Shimbun

On 14th March, JR West announced that a type 500 used on ‘Kodama’ services between Shin-Ōsaka and Hakata would operate in a pink ‘Hello Kitty’ livery with a ribbon motif.

The start of service was scheduled for 30th June. The interior of car 2 will be decorated with images of the popular character and regions served by JR West will be introduced in car 1. A JR West spokesperson said that, “We would like to connect passengers to regions with Hello Kitty’s ribbon and tie them together.”

26th March saw two new type 6000 cars, 6129 and 6229, moved locally by road from Kawasaki Heavy Industries’ Hyōgo plant to Kōbe City Underground’s Seishin/Yamate Line’s Myōdani Depot.

27th March saw JR Hokkaidō unveil a 1981 built KiHa 40 1720 renewed at its Naebo Works in Sapporo for its ‘Ryūhō Megumi’ themed train which operates on its Sōya and Sekihoku Lines. The cost of renewing the exterior plus a wood dominated interior is put at 8.5 million yen. Coming next will be KiHa 40 1779, KiHa 40 1809 and KiHa 40 1780 for operation in various parts of Hokkaidō.

27th March also saw Tosaden, the tram operator in Kōchi, introduce its type 3000 low-floor three part (A+C+B) 3001 set. Produced by Alna, it has a capacity of 71 (28 seated). Maximum speed is 40 km/h and 3001 is in a green, white and orange livery.

Announced as “the world’s newest steam locomotive” was the first operation of No.7, a 2.6 m oil burning steam locomotive at Narita Yume Bokujo (Narita Dream Dairy Farm), in Chiba Prefecture. The locomotive, built by enthusiasts, is based on a former Joshin Railway (Gunma Prefecture) locomotive from 120 years ago.

Due for introduction between February 2019 and 2022 is Tōkyō Metro’s type 2000 for its Marunouchi Line. A total of 318 cars (53 six car sets) will feature retro style circular end windows and a ‘free space’ near doors features two recharging points and wi-fi.

Spring 2020 will see JR East introduce its type E261 for operation between Tōkyō or Shinjuku and Izu-Shimoda, with 2 eight-car sets featuring car 1: a premium green car with 1+1 seating, cars 2 and 3: green cars with compartments, car 4: a noodle bar, and cars 5-8: green cars with 2+1 seating. The total capacity of a set will be 164. Planned livery is mainly metallic blue, with design by Ken Okuyama Design.

Underway and Delayed  
NHK/Yomiuri Shimbun

28th May saw a ceremony in front of Utsunomiya Station to launch the construction of the city’s 14.6 km light rail. Attended by around 190 participants, it marks a key moment in this project which is due to open in March 2022 at a cost of 45.8 billion yen.

Following opening of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Kanazawa in March 2015, redevelopment of Toyama Station, which includes elevation and ultimately the linking of light rail services on either side, was scheduled to be completed by the 2022 financial year. However, it is now expected to take until the 2025 financial year.

Increasing Numbers Tetsudō Journal/Tetsudō Fan/JR East

JR Shikoku’s latest type 8600 is growing in numbers, with the third three car (T+T+M) set (E3), with green car section, delivered from Kōbe Heavy Industries in Hyōgo to Takamatsu on 29th to 30th January, to add to the 2014/15 built three car sets (E1/E2) and two car sets (E11-14).

More JR Freight DF200s have been appearing at the operator’s Aichi (Inazawa) depot. On 25th March, three could be seen including DF200 216 and DF200 220. On 21st January, DF200 223, accompanied by DD51 1801 had reached Shiohama, south of Yokkaichi in Mie Prefecture, a major oil tanker location.

The 2018 summer period of 92 days from 1st July to 30th September sees JR East planning to operate 4,705 additional trains, 3% more than in 2017. Of those, 2,676 are shinkansen services. While extra Tōhoku Shinkansen services are 120%, Hokuriku Shinkansen services will only be 87% of those in 2017.

Chunichi Shimbun/Taipei Times/Tetsudō Fan/ Mainichi Shimbun/Tetsudō Journal/The Japan Times

Major cargo company, Seino, in association with JR Freight launched a new daily Ōsaka-Sendai service from 9th May. Under the brand of ‘Kangaroo Liner SS60’, the train with 20 container wagons can carry as much cargo as sixty 10 tonne trucks.

In Taiwan, Kaohsiung MRT operated a bear themed train for a month between 19th May and 18th June on its Red Line, combining three bear mascots: Taiwan’s ‘OhBear’, Kaohsiung’s ‘Hero’ and ‘Kumamon’ from Kumamoto, which also appears on Kyushu Shinkansen trains.

On 12th June, JR East and Japan Post announced an agreement to cooperate to help regional revitalization through moving post office facilities to stations, with JR East entrusting station work to Japan Post. In addition, Japan Post hopes to offer its financial products at urban stations to enable reaching office workers who cannot get to post offices when they are open. One such facility will be at Ecute Tachikawa, in Tachikawa Station on the Chūō Line west of Tōkyō. Another plan is for Japan Post to deliver harvested crops for same day transportation to Tōkyō by shinkansen.

‘News Update’ in issue 96 referred to an Ōsaka Monorail type 1000 operating in Keikyū livery. This is both to publicize the railway’s use after flying to Tōkyō’s Haneda Airport and the twentieth anniversary of company’s terminal station. Further to that, Nagasaki’s 1203 and Kagoshima’s 9504 trams, as well as an Okinawa Monorail type 1000 set, are in similar liveries.

Tōkyō Metro and two consulting companies, Oriental Consultants Global and Almec, are involved in a technical cooperation project led by J.I.C.A. (Japan International Cooperation Agency) to establish and operate the Philippine Railway Institute. They will devise training systems and train local instructors through to June 2023 for city networks in the Philippines.

The outlook in Malaysia declined however when the election of veteran politician, Matahir Mohamad, returned him to the position of prime minister. He indicated on 28th May that he was scrapping a planned high speed line for the 350 kms between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore on cost grounds. Japanese companies were among those interested in bidding for the line which was aimed to be completed by 2026.

Bowing Out Tetsudō Journal/Tetsudō Fan/JR Hokkaidō/Asahi Shimbun

First introduced in 1997, Tōkyō City (Toei) operated type 10-000 saw its last run, with an eighth variant set 10-280 operating for the final time on 11th February and with an empty stock run the following day. A sticker indicated ‘sayonara’ in Japanese and ‘Final Run’ in English.

March 2018 saw Keikyū’s type 2000 end service after three decades of service. The 72 cars, formed of six sets each of four cars and eight cars, were built between 1982 and 1987.

Late March saw JR Hokkaidō confirm that its 16.1 km Shin Yūbari to Yūbari branch will close on 1st April 2019 under the government’s ‘Railway Business 28-2’ rule on railway closures.

JR West’s 108.1 km Sankō Line in Hiroshima and Shimane Prefectures closed on 31st March, 88 years after the opening of the first section, with the completion of the line actually only taking place in 1975. The final day was crowded with a total of 3,274 passengers. However, others who wanted to travel but could not get on trains, had to travel by additional buses. Delays resulted from this, as well as a delay in the final train arriving at Gōtsu. It arrived 24 minutes behind schedule after a collision with a wild boar! Fireworks and an illuminated viaduct at Uzui featured.

7th April saw former ‘Super Azusa’ E351 sets, S3 and S23, make a last run as a group special between Matsumoto and Shinjuku. Three earlier era type 189 sets, M50-M52, including M51 in JNR era cream and red also made last runs between January and April.

A rainy day on 6th May saw ‘Pony’ C56 160 make its last run on the ‘SL Yamaguchi’ after 31 years of operation. Three weeks later, on 27th May, it made its last run on the ‘Kita Biwako-go’, the occasional 22.4 km steam run over the Hokuriku Line between Maibara and Kinomoto. D51 200 was due to take over on this service from 15th July.

Specials Tetsudō Fan/Tetsudō Journal

5th April saw a return test run on JR East’s Ryōmō Line between Takasaki and Oyama by D51 498, five Takasaki based classic carriages and blue liveried EF60 19. This was in preparation for a group special on 19th April between Oyama and Ashikaga.

Testing Times 
Tetsudō Fan/Chunichi Shimbun

The new N700S type for the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (see ‘News Update’ 96) began nighttime testing between Hamamatsu and Shizuoka after the end of scheduled services on 20th March. On 4th June daytime testing began with 30 technicians onboard. Initially tested between Hamamatsu and Shin-Ōsaka, with stops at Toyohashi, Mikawa-Anjo, Nagoya and Kyoto, 5th June saw the train presented to the media. 

Anniversaries Tetsudō Journal/Yomiuri Shimbun

Yokohama’s Green Line subway line celebrated its tenth anniversary on 30th March. To mark that, set 10161F operated in a special green and cream livery from 25th February.

The 50th anniversary of a key meeting place on 10th June at Tōkyō Station, ‘Gin-no-Suzu’, has been celebrated. Located underground on the Yaesu side, the meeting place features bells. The first bell was made in 1968 by an employee from bamboo, ‘washi’ Japanese paper and silver coloured paper. That bell no longer exists, but has been reproduced and was unveiled in a display with two later bells and a new one on 28th May. They were displayed until 17th June.

New and Changing Stations Asahi Shimbun/Tetsudō Fan/Mainichi Shimbun

A new shopping mall development, first mooted as far back as 1991, but with development starting from 2013 is the spur behind a planned new station on JR East’s Keiyō Line located in the 3.4 km section between Shin Narashino and Kaihin Makuhari.

Changes in Tōkyō saw the Saikyō Line realigned at Shibuya during possessions over the weekends of 26th and 27th May and 2nd and 3rd June to create platform space for future relocation of its platforms nearer to those of the Yamanote Line. In both cases, until 22:00 on the Sundays, services using the lines including
Shōnan Shinjuku Line trains, did not operate between Shinjuku and Ōsaki. 16th and 17th June saw the southbound Keihin-Tōhoku Line relocated to the east to facilitate development of the planned new station between Tamachi and Shinagawa. Services using that line also moved from platform 4 to 5 at Shinagawa at that time. Naming that planned station was also opened to the public, with a closing date of 30th June.

Museum Visitor  Tetsudō Fan

An unusually modern museum visitor which spent the period between 20th and 28th January at the Kyōto Railway Museum was JR Freight’s Goryōkaku based EH800-11. Also alongside it at the museum was container wagon KoKi 107-1940.

Blueprints Recovered  The Japan Times 

Taiwan is working to digitize blueprints of railway stations built during its 50-year colonization by Japan. They will be stored on cloud services at its new national railway museum which is due to open in two years. The first one year pilot project concerns more than 300 prints of seven major stations: Keelung, Hsinchu and Taipei in the north, Taichung and Chiayi in the centre, and Kaohsiung and Tainan in the south. There is a plan to deal with smaller stations in the second year and stations which no longer exist in the third year. More than 5,000 railway blueprints were found at the former Japanese Railway Administration Building when renovation was planned in 1998. The work is time-consuming, taking up to a year to repair a drawing.

Bad Braking  Asahi Shimbun

Tōhoku Shinkansen service ‘Yamabiko 59’ bound from Tōkyō to Morioka overshot its platform position at Sendai on 1st April by 20 metres. Initially, the driver claimed that he mistook the stopping point, but on 13th April, he admitted that he had fallen asleep briefly and had had to brake suddenly. No passengers were injured, but as a result, the train had to be reversed and a delay of 90 seconds resulted.

Resurgence The Japan Times

March 2019, 8 years after the Great East Japan earthquake, will see the reopening of JR East’s former 55.4 km Yamada Line in Iwate Prefecture as part of the 3rd-sector Sanriku Railway. Together with the existing two parts of the latter, it will create a 163 km line from Sakari to Kuji, the longest of any 3rd-sector railways. Although the Sanriku is optimistic that it will make its operations more efficient, it still faces challenges. The existing sections carried 2.64 million passengers in their first financial year (1984), but fell to slightly below 300,000 in the challenging 2011 financial year, recovered to 690,000 in the 2014 financial year, but dropped back to 510,000 two years later. The 2014 figures were partly related to publicity from the NHK drama ‘Amachan’, which concerned a fictitious rail company based on the Sanriku. The company is looking at other ways to boost patronage and to balance appeal to both local users and tourists. However, as its president, Ichiro Nakamura, said, “Making Sanriku Railway profitable is an extremely difficult task.”

Curated Chunichi Shimbun

On 27th March Odakyu Electric Railways announced the welcome news that its historic ‘Romance Car’ limited expresses will be preserved and on show at a museum on its network at Ebina in Kanagawa Prefecture. Due to open in Spring 2021, it aims to attract 270,000 visitors a year and will cost 3.2 billion yen to develop. With two floors, the lower level will feature five types of‘Romance Car’ and pioneer ‘MoHa 1’..

Under Pressure Mainichi Shimbun

Tension is on the rise concerning women-only cars The cars were first introduced by Keio in 2001, followed by JR East on its Saikyō Line in 2002. By April 2018, there were such cars on 87 lines belonging to 32 operators, variously either rush-hour only or throughout the day. Although men do actually use the cars, recent more assertive use, accompanied by arguments, has led to arguments and disputes. Delays have occurred, as at Nezu on Tōkyō Metro in the morning on 16th February, which led to a delay of 15 minutes, and around the same time at Katsura on Hankyū’s Kyōto Line, where police were called and a delay of 10 minutes occurred. 

Technical Solutions Mainichi Shimbun/Asahi Shimbun/Yomiuri Shimbun

With the ever rising number of inbound tourists, Kanto area operator, Keikyū, claims to be the first to use an interactive speech translation system which uses tablets combined with a cloud based system. The system can handle four languages: Japanese, English, Chinese (Mandarin) and Korean. When a passenger asks a question, the system shows both the question and reply by employees in Japanese and the tourist’s language. Developed by Hitachi, Bricks (a translation and interpretation firm) and the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology, the system was due to be available at all stations except Sengakuji.

JR East has developed an app containing about 4,700 English sentences for train crews to provide passengers with information following disruptions. First used on the Jōban Line, May saw it being introduced on other lines including the Chūō, Keihin-Tōhoku and Yamanote Lines. The app can confirm the name of the affected line, expected duration of delay and use other information to show a list of possible announcements on the devices used by train crews, who can then play audio to be broadcast to passengers. A previous system only had 600 fixed phrases and required more input by train crews.

In contrast, the spur to innovation is declining numbers of maintenance and inspection workers. In 2015, about 24% of 25,000 such workers were in their fifties. JR East is increasingly using monitoring equipment mounted on service trains, such as the E233 (Keihin-Tōhoku, Chūō and Sōbu Lines) and E235 (Yamanote Line). First introduced on the Keihin-Tōhoku Line in 2013, equipment includes rapid sequence cameras to take images of track condition and a diagnostic imaging system using red light which can identify rail distortion and broken rails. The government has allocated about 290 million yen in subsidies for technological developments in the private rail sector in the current fiscal year.

Crossing Risks The Japan Times

Over 70% of Class 4 level crossings where accidents involving 38 deaths and 67 injuries took place in the five year period up to March 2017 had had no changes to improve features which are limited to ‘crossbuck signs’ but lack barriers or bells. The Transport Ministry has called for such crossings to be upgraded to Class 1 crossings or eliminated. However, railway companies face difficulty in gaining the agreement of local residents and users. Overall, such Class 4 crossings are large in number, with 1,516 on JR Group lines, accounting for 54% of all such crossings.

United We Stand? Mainichi Shimbun

No less than 32,000 members, or almost 70%, left the East Japan Railway Workers’ Union in the three months up to 1st May. Previously, the union’s membership had comprised almost 47,000 of JR East’s 56,000 employees. This was indicated as being in reaction to the union’s demand for a basic pay rise in February. After being rejected, a strike was called by the union, the first since privatization. Although cancelled, members who had not been prepared to take such action continued to leave and have generally not joined any of the eight other unions.


The reference in the last issue of ‘News Update’ (96) to the Chuggington themed tram in Okayama being introduced in March rather jumped the gun.

It will be introduced in the 2018 financial year.

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