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News Update

By Anthony Robins

  January  2018

New Faces Gordon Bannister/Asahi Shimbun/Mainichi Shimbun/Seikyo Shimbun

Starting service on 5th August was the ‘Marumaru no Hanashi’, formed of two KiHa 47-7000 cars, operating once daily on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays until 26th November. The ‘Hanashi’ part of the name reflects locations on its Sanin Line route in the west of Honshū: Ha(gi), Na(gatoshi) and Shi(monoseki).

Scheduled to start service in July 2018 is JR West’s ‘Ametuchi’ sightseeing train, running on the Sanin Line between Tottori and Izumo-shi at weekends and on public holidays. Converted from a two-car DMU, capacity will be 59 passengers. The livery will be blue (upper), to represent the oceans and skies in the area, and silver (lower), with wavy lines symbolizing mountains and traditional ‘hamon’ swords. Yoshinari Nishikori and Noboru Yoshida, film and art directors from the area, have been involved in the design, which will feature local materials including, cedar, pine ‘washi’ paper and Sekishu tiles. The fare will comprise the basic fare plus 4,500 yen, equivalent to ‘green car’ for the whole journey.

21st September saw Iyotetsu, based in Matsuyama, introduce two new low-floor cars, type 5000s 5001 and 5002. In a bright orange livery which is also spreading to older cars, the 12.5 metre cars can carry 60 passengers, with 26 seated. That compares with 47, of which 20 are seated, of Iyotetsu’s 2100.

On 1st October, a partially completed N700S test car was shown to the media at Nippon Sharyo’s Toyokawa works. Expected to be completed in March 2018 before testing begins,the N700S features LED headlights and more efficient air-conditioning and heating which will mean a reduction of 7% in energy use.

After a longer period of testing than expected, JR East’s new type 353, for operation of ‘Super Azusa’ services (Tōkyō-Matsumoto), enters service on 23rd December. From that date, it operates four daily return services. From the March 2018 timetable change, it is due to operate eight return services and will replace all the E351s, the previous type introduced in 1993.

Bowing Out Japan Times/Mainichi Shimbun

While the once ubiquitous type 103 has long gone from the Tōkyō area and the Yamanote Line is seeing the third generation (E235) since the 103 entering service, until now they have remained on JR West’s Ōsaka Loop Line. However, as has been reported here, new type 323s are entering service. Therefore, appropriately, 3rd October (10/3) saw their final use, with a ceremonial final service arriving at Kyōbashi at around 11:20. Later type 201s remain in use.

Moving Forward The Guardian/Yomiuri Shimbun/CNN/ Shimbun

A groundbreaking ceremony was held on 14th September for the construction of the Mumbai to Ahmedabad high speed line in India, using shinkansen technology.

Easier Ticketing Asahi Shimbun/Chunichi Shimbun

JR Tōkai and JR West began their ‘Smart EX’ service for travel between Tōkyō and Fukuoka on 30th September. It will allow touching on and off using ten types of IC card, including Suica, Pasmo, Toica and Icoca, providing they have been registered at a dedicated website for credit card booking, with fares just 200 to 210 yen cheaper. By 19th October, 130,000 people had registered for the service. From 30th October, it was also open to tourists from four overseas locations, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States, with use of the smartEX app. and plans for other countries to be added.

Commemorations Yahoo Japan/ Shimbun/Kintetsu

A rare chance to travel free took place on 9th October when Tokyu offered free travel on its Ikegami Line from Gotanda to Kamata to commemorate its upcoming 90th anniversary in June 2018.

15th September saw the millionth passenger on Kintetsu’s ‘Shimakaze’ limited express commemorated. It was introduced between Nagoya and Kashikojima and Namba (Ōsaka) and Kashikojima in March 2013 and joined by a service from Kyōto to Kashikojima in October 2014. Passengers were given a certificate while en route.
8th October saw ceremonies at Uehonmachi Station in Ōsaka (am) and Kintetsu Nagoya Station (pm) to commemorate 70 years of Kintetsu’s limited expresses. Celebrity manager and railfan, Yusuke Minamida, was on hand at Nagoya to unveil a logo on the train making the 15:00 departure for Ōsaka Namba. As media indicated, such all reserved limited expresses were welcome in the austere postwar period when they began. The logo will be carried by one ‘Urbanliner next’ and one ‘Urbanliner plus’ until 30th March

Weathering the Storm Asahi Shimbun/JR Kyūshū/JR Shikoku/JR West/NHK/JR Hokkaidō/ Tōkai/JR East/The Japan Times

Strong Typhoon 18 (Typhoon Talim) brought rainy and windy weather to much of Japan at various times during the three day weekend including ‘Respect the Aged Day’ on 18th September and left two dead and three missing. Particularly affected were JR Kyūshū, with only the Hakata to Kumamoto section of the Kyūshū Shinkansen operating on its network on 17th. At 15:22 on the same day, JR Shikoku had announced that all services were cancelled for the rest of the day. The ‘Sunrise Seto’ overnight service was cancelled in both directions on the night of 17th September. JR West services were also delayed or cancelled, particularly in the Chūgoku area, including Okayama. 18th saw disruption move to Hokkaidō, with morning services between Aomori to Shin Hakodate Hokuto cancelled, before resumption at 12:38, as well as numerous other Hokkaidō services, including 53 limited expresses. On 18th JR Kyūshū’s Nippō Line south of Ōita remained affected by a landslip and Tōkyō bound ‘Tsubasa 120’ hit a tree on the line between Ashizawa and Ōishida. After inspections, Yamagata Shinkansen services were resumed but two trains were cancelled.

Another strong typhoon, Typhoon 21 (Typhoon Lan), led to rail disruption on 22nd October, an election day in Japan. As of late morning, JR Shikoku indicated many services suspended, particularly in the south and east of Shikoku, as well as those crossing the Seto Ōhashi bridge to and from Okayama. Among services cancelled were the 'shimantorokko' on the Yodo Line and the overnight ‘Sunrise Seto’ in both directions between Tōkyō and Takamatsu. Both JR Tōkai and JR West indicated a cut of 50% in evening services on 22nd, while Tōkaid
ō Shinkansen services were halted between Maibara and Gifu-Hashima late on 22nd, necessitating some passengers staying overnight on trains. Heavy rain in Chiba Prefecture also caused the suspension of services in the afternoon of 22nd October on the Sōbu Line between Asahi and Choshi and the Kururi Line. Storm damage to a bridge between Tarui and Ozaki on Nankai’s Main Line necessitated an emergency stop by a train driver and halted services between Hagurazaki and Wakayama-shi.

It is now more than a year and a half since the earthquakes affecting the Kumamoto area, but the struggle continues, particularly for the third-sector Minamiaso Railway. While the outer 7.1 km section of the railway between Takamori and Nakamatsu was reopened relatively quickly and currently offers three return trips on weekdays and four at weekends, the remaining 10.6 km section from Nakamatsu to Takeno remains closed and is expected to take approximately five years to restore. Takeno is important, as it is the interchange point with JR Kyūshū’s Hohi Line, although that itself is partly closed following earthquake damage. Finances in 2016 were helped by donations, including one from the JRS approved at the 2016 A.G.M., but the number of passengers dropped from about 260,000 in the 2015 financial year to around 40,000. The company has had to cut its employees from fifteen to eight.

As has been indicated before in ‘News Update’, JR Hokkaidō faces particular challenges. They also make it difficult to reinstate services after severe weather damage. Following damage in a summer 2016 typhoon, the Nemuro Line between Higashi Shikagoe and Shintoku remains out of use. Bridge damage necessitates 2.2 billion yen’s worth of repairs, which is difficult to justify for a section of line which is in JR Hokkaidō’s category of lines with under 200 passengers per kilometer of route.

Ōita Godo Shimbun/The Japan Times

The end of September in the Ōita area in the east of Kyūshū saw three key lines with sections out of service. A landslip following Typhoon 18 (above) saw buses replace trains between Usuki and Saiki on the Nippō Line, while Naka-Handa to Miemachi was added to the section further west on the Hohi Line out of use since the 2016 Kumamoto area earthquakes. In addition, heavy rain and resulting damage from riverborne tree trunks and logs had caused a break in the Kyūdai Line between Hita and Teruoka in early July.
10th October saw a beleaguered driver stranded on JR Hokkaidō’s Muroran Line at around 22:00. The 83 year old driver mistakenly joined the line at a level crossing and drove for about 1.2 km before becoming stuck at another crossing. Although he passed Shiraoi Station, it was unstaffed after 18:00 and therefore went unnoticed. A female passerby saw the stranded vehicle, alerted the police and pressed an emergency button halting a JR Freight train which was approaching behind the driver. 

Metallic Issues Bloomberg/Mainichi Shimbun

Fallout from Kobe Steel’s data scandal in October affected rail companies, as well as other manufacturers. Through testing, JR Tōkai found 310 substandard aluminium parts (not meeting Japan Industrial Standards) in its N700A shinkansen fleet, produced by Kobe Steel in the past five years. JR West also found 148 substandard parts. Both companies plan to replace them at their next scheduled regular inspections, although they do not see them as a hazard. On 12th October, Tatsuo Kijima, JR West's President, said that he expects Kobe Steel to cover replacement costs. 

Earlier Warning Asahi Shimbun

A new system using about 200 seismometers under the sea-bed will enable bullet trains to be brought to a halt up to 30 seconds earlier than now in the event of a major earthquake. Previous early warning systems depended on land based seismometers. JR East introduced the system on the Tohoku Shinkansen etween Tōkyō and Fukushima Prefecture and on the Joetsu Shinkansen between Tōkyō and areas around Kumagaya. JR Tōkai and JR West will follow in Spring 2019.

Felines Aboard  Japan Today

10th September saw third-sector Tarumi Tetsudo team up with a local NGO, Kitten Café Sanctuary, to let 30 cats roam around a train, with seats suitably protected by covers, to draw attention to the issue of stray cats. The situation has been improving, with both the number of cats in shelters and cats who are ‘culled’ decreasing sharply in the last fifteen years..

Wide-Ranging  The Japan Times 

To mark the 30th anniversary of JNR’s privatisation, the seven JR Group companies are cooperating in a wide-ranging tour, which includes the reappearance of the ‘Cassiopeia’ sleeper train, which ended regular operations in March 2016. A ten days’ tour, starting on 5th December and limited to 60 participants is starting with a run on that train from Ueno to Sapporo, hauled by a JR Freight locomotive. The tour will continue through various places, including Niigata and Kanazawa, before reaching Kyūshū. 24 trains will be taken, including the ‘Genbi Shinkansen’ on the Jōetsu Shinkansen between Niigata and Echigo-Yuzawa and the ‘A-Train’ from Kumamoto to Misumi. The tour returns to Tōkyō on 14th December and costs between 390,000 yen and 480,000 yen, including meals. The JR Group is also organizing a three days’ shinkansen tour for 80 participants from 5th December at a cost of 150,000 yen. Applications were being accepted from 18th October and were restricted to adults.

Prized  Tetsudo Fan/Chunichi Shimbun/The Japan Times

The annual 2017 Japan Railfan Club’s top ‘Blue Ribbon’ prize went to JR Kyūshū’s BEC 819 hybrid type, while its ‘Laurel’ prizes went to three types: JR East’s E235 (Yamanote Line), 3rd-sector Echigo Tokimeki’s ET122 1000 and Shizuoka Tetsudo’s A3000. The E235 award was celebrated at a ceremony at the main Tōkyō General Rolling Stock depot on 30th September, while the A3000 was celebrated at a ceremony at Shin-Shizuoka Station on 7th October.
In an attempt to boost both passenger numbers and revenue, local railways are issuing railway ‘trading cards’ with train pictures combined with details and statistics about the railways. Started by Akechi Railway in Gifu Prefecture, there were 20 companies involved in the initial distribution in March. By October, when the third series was released, 41 companies were involved.

Fans Welcome and Unwelcome Chunichi Shimbun

11th October saw JR Tōkai launch an internet site for sales to railfans of used equipment, articularly from type 700 shinkansen sets which are now being withdrawn. Among items are driver’s seats and pairs of green car seats, both for 80,000 yen, pairs of regular seats for 55,000 yen, and strips of destination names for 45,000 yen, but with the most reasonable items from 5,000 yen. Although items have been sold at events such as Hamamatsu Workshop open days, the site is seen as enabling a wider group of customers to be reached.

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