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News Update

By Anthony Robins

July 2013

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Coming and Going    Chunichi Shimbun/Tetsudo Fan/Tetsudo Journal/JR East/Rail Magazine/Yomiuri Shimbun/Mainichi Shimbun/JR Tokai

The latest Tokaido Shinkansen type, the N700-A, entered service on 8th February.  At the tape-cutting ceremony at Tokyo Station, Masaki Seki, the head of the JR Tokai shinkansen operation division, said that, “We will convey Japan’s cutting-edge technology to the world,” while around 400 enthusiasts were at Shin-Osaka to see the first departure.  By the end of the 2013 financial year, 13 sets will be in operation. With the advent of the N700-A, withdrawal of type 700s started with set C1 being moved to Hamamatsu Works on 16th January.  Six N700-A sets will be added in each of the next three years (2014-16 financial years) at a cost of 88 billion yen.

From the March timetable change on 16th March, the first E6 type 'Super Komachi' services from Tokyo to Akita started with four daily round trips.  Time taken is 3 hours 45 minutes, with an extra 500 yen for the fare.  While E5 ‘Hayabusa’ services rose to a maximum 320 km/h, it will be 2014 before E6 operated services follow.  In the meantime, the type is central to a new ‘Japan Red’ travel campaign by JR East.

Isumi Railway in Chiba Prefecture has a new type 350 railcar built by Niigata Transses, with retro styling reminiscent of JNR’s KiHa 20.  Capable of carrying 125 passengers and with a top speed of 95 km/h, it is in the same livery of yellow with green stripes as its earlier type non retro type 300 railcar.

Meitetsu’s type 6600, operating on its isolated Seto Line, and dating from 1978, was commemorated by a 'Sayona Run' on March 3rd. Before and after its introduction, passengers climbed as new suburban development took place in the eastern suburbs of Nagoya. Similarly,  Seibu held a ‘Sayonara’event for types 101 and 301 on 9th December. Some of the latter have moved to Seibu’s affiliated Ohmi Railway for a second life.

JR Tokai’s type 117, now largely restricted to rush-hour workings, bowed out from service with the 16th March timetable change.  From December, out of use sets were moved from their base at Ogaki to Hamamatsu, where they currently remain windowless.

In use on the third-sector Shinano Railway since 1997, former JNR type 169 sets were retired with a last run on 29th April.

The Maya Funicular in Kobe saw its second-generation cars retired at the end of December, before a three months suspension of service for refurbishment of the funicular.  New cars were due to enter service at the end of March.

Refurbished                         Tetsudo Fan

Echizen Tetsudo, in Fukui Prefecture, is seeing its fleet updated, with the use of two car sets formed from refurbished JR Tokai type 119 sets.  The first two sets (Mc+Tc) are 7001+7002 (ex kumoha 119-5318+kuha 118 5311) and 7003 + 7004 (ex kumoha 119-5330+kuha 118-5322).  The former entered service on 4th February and eventually there will be six sets, allowing the displacement of ten cars of types 2101, 1101 and 2201.

Tram Developments  
Mainichi Shimbun/Tetsudo Fan

The Hankai tramway in the south part of Osaka and neighbouring Sakai unveiled its first low-floor cars on 14th February, making a contrast with its historic fleet.  The first of three 3-part sets is in a livery of light brown symbolizing ‘wabi’, the Japanese idea of simplicity in beauty pursued by local tea master, Sen no Rikyu, with green around the window areas, to represent the city’s ancient tomb.  Seats and blinds also reflect local tradition.  Although Sakai previously appeared to be negative about the future of the southern part of the Hankai, in 2010 it decided to provide 5 billion yen in subsidies over a decade to promote tram use.  The city covered two-thirds of the 250 million yen cost of the new set, with the national government covering the rest.  Testing took place between Abikomichi and Hamadera-Ekimae from February to June, with full operation from September.

Based on its type 5100, Hiroshima Electric Railway has two new three part dark red liveried low-floor trams, 1001 and 1002 which made their debut in service on routes 7, 8 and 9 (new) on 15th February.  1002 initially appeared in vinyls advertising makers, Kinki Sharyo, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toyo Denki.

Hakodate’s 8010 is a rebuilt type 800 car and entered service on 11th January.  Just one type 800 car, 812, is now left.

The second type T100 three part set for Toyama Regional Railways is T102.

A New Purpose                         Asahi Shimbun

The 'Sunrise Seto' and 'Sunrise Izumo' which operate in multiple between Tokyo and Okayama, before splitting to head for Takamatsu, and Matsue and Izumo respectively has a new lease of life.  Introduced in 1998, it is now the only overnight service south westwards from Tokyo on the Tokaido and Sanyo Lines.  While it was originally targeted at businesspeople, occupancy had dropped to as low as 60% before Shimane Prefecture started a campaign focussing on the matchmaking efficacy of Izumo, which has a famous shrine dedicated to marriage.  As a result, interest among young women increased, although often more with the idea of a trip with other lady friends.  Occupancy had risen to an enviable 99% in 2012 and tickets often sell out.

Another One                            Asahi Shimbun

Keio will expand its museum facility at Tama Dobutsukoen (Zoo) in Hino in the west of Tokyo, opening in October. The current Keio Rail Land to the north side of the station is just 277 square metres, but the new two storey facility to the south side of the station is around 2,200 square metres.  Unlike the present museum, it has enough space for train cars to be exhibited, including a type 2400, which operated until 1969, type 2010, which operated from 1959 to 1984, type 5000, and Inokashira Line type 3000.

Phased Out      Asahi Shimbun/Hitotoki/ Chunichi Shimbun/Japanese Wikipedia

Following the demise of other amenities, such as ‘Kodama’ trolley service (see past 'News Update’), another to go with the timetable change in March is the music channel on Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen trains.  Introduced by JNR in October 1985, with the arrival of Series 100 trains, it featured four channels plating classical, pop and other kinds of music.  Green Car passengers only had to bring their own earphones, but ordinary car passengers needed to bring a radio receiver and set it to the correct frequency.  Overtaken by music players and mobile phones with similar capabilities, a survey of 17,236 passengers found that only 1% often used the service.  Thus, Tomohisa Furuhashi, who runs the Transportation and Marketing Department at JR Tokai's Shinkansen Operations Division, says "its job is done." 

Sales of ‘Shuyu Kippu’ zone tickets ended at the end of March.  On sale since 1st April 1988, sales numbered about 130,000 in 2002 but had fallen to 48,000 in 2011. 13 zones were available including 3 for Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku, at 12,500 yen to 20,000 yen (including unreserved limited express), as well as smaller areas such as Tokyo or Nagasaki and Saga at 4,000 yen.  Period of validity depended on the distance the passenger travelled to/from the zone.

Disruption      Nikkei Shimbun/Mainichi Shimbun/The Japan Times

The afternoon of 30th January saw heavy disruption to Chuo Line services west of Tokyo when sheeting covering scaffolding on a building site in Kokubunji blew on to the line.  Services were disrupted for around five hours.

Snow in the predawn hours of 6th February in the Tokyo area led to JR East cancelling about 30% of trains on its main commuter lines in the morning, although rising temperatures meant that most of the snow turned to sleet.  This snowfall followed another in the area in mid-January.

Removal of a shell fired from a U.S. naval ship during the Second World War led to a rare daytime planned suspension of Tokaido shinkansen services, as well as local Tokaido line trains, for about one hour from 08.30 on Sunday 17th February  The 41 cms shell weighing 860 kilograms had been found on 11th October within the boundaries of JR Tokai’s workshops in Hamamatsu.  It was removed by personnel from the Ground Self-Defence Force and taken to the coast for detonation.  They have dealt with about 6,000 tons of such munitions since records began in 1958, with about 38 tons in 2012.  This compares to the approximately 160,000 tons of bombs dropped on Japan during the last five months of the war.

Into Steam                               The Japan Times

On 27th January Fukushima Prefecture based Kyosan Kogyo unveiled a small steam loco (4.6 metres long) which was built for the 66 year old president of a Tochigi Prefecture trucking company.  It took about a year to build and was the first new steam locomotive to be built since 1991 when the same company built one for Tokyo Disneyland’s Western River Railroad. 

The long weekend of 9th to 11th February saw C61 2 work a daily special, top and tailed by a DE 10, from Choshi to Sawara (Sobu/Narita Lines).  It was the first steam operation on the line for more than 40 years and attracted much local interest, as well as legions of railfan photographers.

Unified                                 Mainichi Shimbun

23rd March saw 10 electronic fare card systems (Hayakaken (Fukuoka), Icoca (JR West), Kitaca (Hokkaido), Manaca (Meitetsu), Nimoca (Kyushu), Pasmo, Pitapa (Kansai), Sugoca (Kyushu), Suica, Toica (JR Tokai)), unified so that they can be used in each other’s territory.  They cover 52 rail and 96 bus operators nationwide and are valid at 4,275 of the total of around 9,000 stations in Japan. 9 of the 10 are also interchangeably usable at other facilities such as convenience stores.

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