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News Update

By Anthony Robins

January 2016

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New Faces     Tetsudō Fan/Tetsudō Journal/Oliver Mayer/Chunichi Shimbun/Yokkaichi City/Kyoto Museum/Asahi Shimbun/Tetsudō Hobidas

'Belles Montagnes et Mers' is the name of yet another sightseeing train. Converted from classic KiHa 40 2027 at Kanazawa depot, it began operation on the two lines either side of Takaoka, the Himi and Jōhana Lines, with two return workings on Saturdays and Sundays respectively from 10th October. Livery is a very smart deep green and gold, while seating is box type facing (one side) and outward facing with counter (other side) with a total capacity of 39.

Another attractive but more complex red, black and gold livery, somewhat like a lacquer box, is worn by another sightseeing train, the two car 'Hanayome no ren'. It is formed of KiHa 48 4 and KiHa 48 1004 which can accommodate a total of 52.

27th September saw a change at the Asunaro Railway in Yokkaichi in Mie, the 762 mm operation which was formerly part of Kintetsu, with the entry into service of a 'new' train, actually refurbished end cars 161 and 261, plus a new middle car 181. Featuring external LED lights, air conditioning and two wheelchair spaces, livery is white (upper) and blue (lower).

Following the closure of the Umekōji Steam Locomotive Hall in Kyōto and transfer of stock from the former JR West museum in Bentenchō, Ōsaka, the grand opening of the new Kyōto Railway Museum took place on 29th April.

There is another special livery for Nankai’s ‘Rapi:t’, with a ’Star Wars’ themed mainly black livery for a set operating four to eight return trips daily on most days between Namba in Ōsaka and Kansai International Airport from 21st November until 8th May.

28th November saw the start of appearances by 'Pepper', a humanoid robot, at Keihin Kyūkō's Haneda Airport International Terminal Station. The robot will be available to advise passengers in English and Japanese between 06:00 and 23:00, with a break between 10:00 and 14:00.

Bowing Out   JR Tokai/Norimono News/Mainichi Shimbun/ō Hobidas

Orders for 20 more N700A sets in the 2016 to 2019 financial years see the end of the use of type 700s. One N700A set will be added in 2016, followed by seven in both 2017 and 2018, and five in 2019. These sets will feature new brake linings and pantograph features. Cost for the new sets and updating existing sets will be 104 billion yen.

Keisei’s 2nd generation ‘Skyliner’, the AE100 type in white livery with blue and red stripes, saw its final operation on 29th November. Latterly operating the ‘Cityliner service’, its use had decreased to a return run on Saturdays and Sundays from November 2014, meaning that 29th November was the final day, although the timetable change was actually from 5th December.

The Spring 2016 timetable change sees ticket checks in reserved cars on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen phased out, as with greater automation through ticket barriers and around 30% of passengers using the automated ‘express yoyaku (reservation)’ system, ticket checks have been rendered obsolete.

Although Spring 2016 marks a milestone for JR Hokkaidō, with the opening of the Hokkaidō Shinkansen, retrenchment will also take place. Due to the ageing state of its DMU fleet, 79 local train runs will be discontinued or reduced in length.

After temporary winter closures in 2013 and 2014, two stations on JR East’s Yamada Line, Ōshida and Asagishi, will close permanently with the next timetable change.

Number One  Nikkei Trendy/Mainichi Shimbun

The Hokuriku Shinkansen, which started operation  on 14th March, was crowned ‘No. 1 hit product of 2015’ by Nikkei Trendy, a Japanese business magazine. In  the first six months of service, 4.82 million passengers used the service, up 303% from ridership of the preceding ‘Hakutaka’ and ‘Hokuetsu’ limited expresses. Visitors from the Kantō area have overtaken the traditional Kansai heartland and have even increased in Fukui Prefecture, although it will not be extended there until 2023.

Road to Recovery         The Japan Times

The Wakayama Electric Railway’s Kishigawa Line, former home of famed cat, Tama, and now Nitama, is due to gain renewed financial assistance. Wakayama Prefecture and two cities, Wakayama itself and Kinokawa, plan to provide more than 1 billion yen over the ten years from the 2016 financial year. Assistance since the line was taken over from Nankai in 2006 has amounted to 1.2 billion yen, through covering losses. The latter have fallen from 500 million yen in the 2005 financial year to around 80 million yen in the years since 2008, while passengers have risen from just over 1.9 million in the 2005 financial year to close to 2.3 million in the 2013 financial year.

Hit by the March 2011 earthquake, Sendai’s eastern Wakabayashi Ward received a boost on 6th December with the opening of the 13.9 km Tōzai Line from Arai in that ward to Yagiyama Dōbutsukōen in the west of the city. This underground line, Sendai’s second, has 13 stations and a journey takes 26 minutes. The city government expects about 80,000 passengers daily, with a rise of 3% annually, and hopes to make a profit within a decade and eliminate cumulative losses by its 24th year of operations.

Preparations      JR East

In readiness for the opening of the Hokkaidō Shinkansen through the Seikan Tunnel, rare (by British standards) track occupations will take place, with trains such as the ‘Hakuchō’, ’Super Hakuchō’ and ‘Hamanasu’ not operating on the nights of 31st December and 1st January, as well as the latter day itself, while a four day period from 22nd March immediately before opening, will see similar service suspensions.

Teething Problems           Asahi Shimbun/Nikkei Asian Review

JR East's new type for Tōkyō's Yamanote Line, the E235, faced difficulties on its first public service on 30th November. The difficulties included overshooting at Meguro and both train doors and platform doors not functioning at 
Ōsaki. Finally, it stopped short of its target at Ōtsuka. Passengers were then told to disembark and the set was taken out of operation, inconveniencing around 17,000 passengers. The next day’s operation of the 11 car set, the first of 51 sets due to enter service by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, was cancelled. The type features innovative technology, including analysis of data collected via image sensors which can detect rail flaws, and a faster communication system called ‘Interos’. A JR East official stated that it was “pretty much unprecedented” for a new model to suffer major malfunctions on its first day. Although it had run over 10,000 km in trials since mid-April, full capacity conditions had only been tried in simulations.

Another hundred in sight     Tetsudō Shimbun

Sōtetsu (Sagami Tetsudō) has reached its centenary and 5th November saw it announce its ‘Design Up Project’, with renewal of stations and rolling stock, particularly its 9000 series, which will feature a deep blue ‘Yokohama Navy Blue’ livery and new interiors from 2016. This is in readiness for through services to JR East in 2018, with a 2.7 km link from Sōtetsu to the Tōkaidō Freight Line, followed in 2019 by a 10 km link between Sōtetsu and Tōkyū

Elevated           Mainichi Shimbun

In preparation for the extension of the Hokuriku Shinkansen to Fukui in 2020, the local 3rd-sector Echizen Tetsudō has risen to use the shinkansen's future elevated platform at Fukui. 23rd September saw five return test trains operate over the 1.3 km between Fukuiguchi and the elevated terminus. Regular service began on 27th September. Such a use is somewhat similar to Hankyū using a section of the unfinished Tōkaidō Shinkansen in 1963.

Station Matters           Asahi Shimbun/The Japan Times/Mainichi Shimbun/Traffic News

September 30th saw Frankfurt Hauptbahnhof join Tōkyō as its fourth sister station, following Amsterdam Central, Grand Central in New York and Hsinchu in Taiwan. Deutsche Bahn invited JR East to make this relationship, based on similar numbers of daily passengers, 450,000 for Frankfurt versus 420,000 at Tōkyō.

To prevent both accidental and deliberate fatalities, chest-high platform doors are due to be fitted at 800 stations around the country by the 2020 financial year, up from the 583 stations covered by the end of the 2013 financial year. By the end of the 2015 platform door installation at 23 out of 29 JR East Yamanote Line stations will have been completed, with work at Nippori, Ueno and Kanda. That leaves six more to be completed, at major stops at T
ōkyō, Shimbashi, Hamamatsucho, Shinagawa, Shibuya and Shinjuku.

Ahead of the 2020 Tōkyō Olympics and Paralympics, Tōkyō Metropolitan Government, Shinjuku Ward and railway companies have set up a joint panel to standardise information signage and increase barrier-free facilities at Shinjuku station, which is used by an average 3.58 million passengers. One motivation is to avoid discrepancies in signage, as for example the use of Keio Shinsen Line by 
Tōkyō Metropolitan Government but Keio New Line by the railway company which operates it.

19th September saw JR West ban 'selfie sticks' on its platforms, reasoning that they can annoy other passengers and could cause safety issues by making contact with trains or power lines. They were already banned on the section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Nagano and Kanazawa from when it opened in March. In contrast, JR West has installed nearly 50 cameras at busy Ky
ōbashi in Ōsaka to detect unusual movements by passengers, particularly those who are drunk and who periodically fall onto tracks. Meanwhile, on 2nd November, JR East in cooperation with three mobile phone service providers, started a campaign with posters reading “Stop using your smartphones while walking!” While three years ago the company only received a handful of complaints from people who had been put in danger, this had grown to more than 100 in 2014. Apparently, several people fall off platforms every year while looking at phones.

Moving Forward           Tōyō Keizai/The Japan Times/Mainichi Shimbun

In early November, following a visit to the Maglev test route in Yamanashi prefecture, the latest U.S. dignitary to ride the line, Anthony Foxx, the U.S. Transport Secretary, offered support for the planned Washington DC – Baltimore maglev project which JR Tokai has championed.

Late November saw Japanese public-private fund, the Japan Overseas Infrastructure Investment Corporation for Transport and Urban Development, in the final stage of negotiations to invest about 4 billion yen towards the expected 1.5 trillion yen (12 billion dollars) cost of a planned high-speed line between Dallas and Houston, which aims to go into operation in 2021 with trains using JR Tokai shinkansen technology taking 90 minutes for the 400 km. The fund will also take a stake in the project’s managing company, Texas Central Partners.

Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, and Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, signed a bilateral accord in New Delhi on 12th December which included collaboration on a 505 km long high speed route between Mumbai and Ahmedabad in Western India, based on shinkansen technology. Previously referred to in ‘Bullet-In 78’, it is estimated to cost 980 billion rupees (14.6 billion dollars or 1.81 trillion yen) and will be begun in 2017, with the aim of starting operations in 2023. Top speed is projected to be 320 km per hour, allowing a journey as fast as 2 hours 7 minutes. The Japanese government expects to provide loans covering up to 80% of the project, excluding land acquisition costs.

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