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News Update

By Anthony Robins

December 2013

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Autumn Changes     Asahi Shimbun/JR East/Kintetsu/Tetsudo Fan/Yahoo

The 28th September timetable change saw further E6 operation of Tokyo-Akita services, with the number of E6 'Super Komachi' services increased from four to seven and the number of E3 'Komachi' services reduced from eleven to eight.  At the same time, the number of E5 sets in operation increased from 24 to 28, with the number of E5 operated departures from Tokyo up from 70 to 86 out of a total of 167 services.  A pair of 'Inaho' services (7 and 8) operating between Akita and Niigata switch to E653 operation, a type previously used on 'Fresh Hitachi' services on the Joban Line. Time saved is 2 to 3 minutes and capacity of the 7-car E653 set at 428 seats is 46 seats greater than the usual 6 car type 485.

30th September saw Kintetsu introduce its converted 3-car EMU 'Tsudoi' (Gathering) for operation mainly on weekends.  To celebrate the renewal of Ise Shrine every twenty years, it is running between Ise-Shi and Kashikojima.  Seating eighty in casual style, including window facing seats with tables, and even a pretend driver's seat for children, the fare supplement is 300 yen (150 yen for children).

One of the strangest new rail vehicles, is a 'Kiha 32' type railcar in the guise of a 0 series shinkansen, complete with dome, it has been constructed to enter service on the JR Shikoku's Yodo Line between Kubokawa and Uwajima in Spring 2014.  

The Namegame    JR East

A competition held between 31st May and 30th June to name trains on the Hokuriku Shinkansen when it opens to Kanazawa realised 144,931 entries, with 11,672 different suggestions.  The first choice 'Hakutaka' as used currently for limited expresses, with 9,083 votes, will be used for stopping services between Tokyo and Kanazawa.  The fourth choice 'Tsurugi', with 4,906 votes, will be used for shuttle services between Toyama and Kanazawa.  The fifth choice, 'Kagayaki', with 4,906 votes will be used for fast services between Tokyo and Kanazawa.  Finally, the seventh choice, 'Asama', as currently used for Nagano Shinkansen services, with 3,281 votes will remain in use for these services.

Testing Resumed     Asahi Shimbun/Japan Today

Following extension of the test section of JR Tokai's Maglev line in Yamanashi Prefecture from 18.4 kms to 42.8 kms, testing resumed on 29th August for the first time since September 2011.  The type now being tested is the five car L0 type.  In a test run joined by journalists, a speed of 500 km/h was reached 4.8 kms from  the boarding point.  While the interior ride was smooth, the noise of a passing set was described as 'deafening'.

Weather disruption and recovery   J-Trains/Asahi Shimbun/JR West/Mainichi Shimbun

While the 34.6 kms section of JR Kyushu's Houhi Line between Miyaji and Bungo-Takeda was back to full operation on 4th August after more than a year of disruption to services between Kumamoto and Oita following heavy rain in July 2012.  Repairs cost 4.5 billion yen and included strengthening the roadbed to reduce future such disruption.  In contrast, this summer has brought heavy rain to a number of areas.  28th July saw sections of JR West's Sanin and Yamaguchi Lines cut by landslides and bridge collapse following such heavy rain.  Services were replaced by buses on these sections and the 'SL Yamaguchi', featuring C57 1, has been cancelled for the rest of this year's season.

17th August at around 0105 saw a JR Freight train derail at Yakumo, on JR Hokkaido's Hakodate Line, between Sapporo and Hakodate, with the locomotive and three out of the 20 wagons coming off the track.  Heavy rain had swept away ballast and the train also hit a large section of fallen tree.  40 other trains were halted, affecting around 7,000 passengers.

Fair Fares?  Chunichi Shimbun/The Japan Times/Yomiuri Shimbun

With a rise in the consumption tax approved for April 2014, from 5% to 8%, railway companies are varied in their approaches to raising fares.  JR East, operating in the Kanto area, where use of ‘Suica’ (44.42 million) or ‘Pasmo’ (23.64 million) IC cards is around 80%, will raise fares using cards in one yen increments.  Although such cards have offered benefits when changing from train to bus, they have not previously offered a noticeable immediate advantage compared with cash fares, as with London’s ‘Oyster’ or the pioneer, Hong Kong’s ‘Octopus’. Actually, there is a possibility that where there is no increase in a low cash fare, IC card fares, with one yen increments will be higher.  However, operators in the Kinki (Osaka) areas, where IC card use is lower and in the Chubu (Nagoya) area, with use for JR Tokai (75%),

Collision Avoidance
   The Japan Times

Mazda Motors and its research partners, including the University of Tokyo, have developed a system to prevent collisions between vehicles and trams.  Consisting of a danger detection sensor system mounted on cars, a wireless communication system, and a tram mounted wireless signal emitter, the car's sensor can detect signals from a tram up to 100 metres away.  This contrasts with previous systems which were limited to a few dozen metres.  A trial in Hiroshima, Mazda's home city, will involve an experimental ASV-5 version of the company's Atenza saloon.

Bowing Out      Mainichi Shimbun

The two undersea stations in the Seikan Tunnel between Honshu and Hokkaido were scheduled to be dismantled in Spring 2014 to make way for final preparations for extension of shinkansen services from Hakodate to Aomori.  As experienced on a past JRS tour, it has been possible to get off a service running through the tunnel, visit either Tappi-Kaitei or Yoshioka-Kaitei stations, and board a subsequent service.   At one time, Tappi Kaitei attracted 40,000 visitors a year but recently the number has fallen to nearer 4,000.  However, the impending demise revived interest in the tours.

Age-related incidents  Japan Today/Nikkei Shimbun

As has been reported before in 'News Update', there are often delays to trains in Japan caused by incidents where people, suicidal or not, are hit by trains.  On 9th August related to an incident involving the death of a 91 year old man with dementia, Nagoya District Court ruled that his family was responsible for keeping track of him and must pay compensation to JR Tokai for costs resulting from the disruption.  The man had wandered on to the tracks at Kyowa Station on the Tokaido Line between Okazaki and Nagoya in December 2007 and was hit by a train.  

In a much publicized incident on 1st October, a 40 year old woman waiting in a car at a JR East Yokohama Line level crossing between Nakayama and Kamoi Stations, rushed onto the tracks to help a 74 year old man who had fallen.  While he survived, with head and back injuries, she was hit and died.  in recognition of her sacrifice, a letter and medal from the Prime Minister were presented to her family a week later.

Translated   The Japan Times

For the first time, much of a rail accident report has been translated into English.  The report is into the April 2005 crash at Amagasaki which killed 106 passengers and the driver.  It has taken some time, as the original Japanese report was compiled in June 2007.  Five chapters of the report's seven chapters have been translated and the remaining two may follow.  The can be downloaded from the Japan Transport Safety Board's website at:

Overseas Expansion and Cooperation    Asahi Shimbun/J-TREC

Kinki Sharyo, based in Higashi-Osaka, is to produce its first overseas built cars, following a 360 million dollar order from Los Angeles County.  The order consists of 97 two part light rail sets.  They will be built at a plant near Los Angeles which is scheduled for completion by Summer 2015.  Delivery of the vehicles will be between 2017 and 2019.  An earlier order for 78 sets was built by another maker using components produced in Higashi-Osaka.

On 19th June, J-TREC, the JR East owned successor to Tokyu Car, signed a memorandum of understanding with Alsthom concerning business cooperation in LRT systems for the Japanese domestic market.  J-TREC will market Alsthom's Citadis and investigate use of its catenary-free systems.

Martial Staff     Japan Today

Previous 'News Updates' have referred to concerns about attacks on railway staff. 29th August saw one 'hit back' when a female station staff member at Keihin-Kyuko's Yokohama station performed a 'seoi nage' judo shoulder throw on an unruly 34 year old male passenger.  He had transferred from JR East but attempted to leave the station without paying the extra Keihin-Kyuko fare portion.

Second Life
     Tetsudo Journal

With the opening up of Myanmar/Burma, including to inbound tourism, five of fifteen former JR West type 181 cars which arrived in 2012 have been formed into a sightseeing train aimed at foreign tourists. It was launched at a ceremony at Yangon’s/Rangoon’s central station on 7th September.

6th November saw JR East announce that in November, 180 former Saikyo & Kawagoe Line type 205 cars were to be assigned to operations near Jakarta.  10 engineers will also go to advise on operation and maintenance of the cars.

Going Up      The Japan Times

Kintetsu’s ‘Abeno Harukas’ in Osaka, opening on 7th March, is the tallest building in Japan.  At 300 metres high, with an observation deck at 288 metres, it will replace Yokohama’s Landmark Tower (296 metres) as the tallest, although it is still dwarfed by the Tokyo Skytree Tower which is 634 metres high.  Group bookings for the observation deck opened on 1st November.

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