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News Update

By Anthony Robins

March 2013

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New Faces    Tetsudo Fan/Tetsudo Journal/JR East/JR Tokai/Mainichi Shimbun/Yomiuri Shimbun

Unveiled at JR Tokai's test facility in Tsuru, Yamaguchi, on 22nd November, was the front car of its Series L0 maglev train.  Test runs begin on the extended 42.8 kilometers test line before the end of 2013, with the cars made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Sharyo.  The front car is 28 metres long, 2.9 metres wide and 3.1 metres tall and can carry just 24 passengers, while intermediate cars can carry 68 passengers each.  In operation between Tokyo and Nagoya from 2027, the aim is to have 16 car sets.

A by-product of the opening of Tobu's 'Tokyo Skytree' is Tobu's 'Sky Tree Train' formed of two sets (cars 634-11/634-12 and 634-21/22).  Rebuilt from
type 6050 cars, livery is white with relief provided by bubblelike circles.  The interior features cars with 1+2 seating which can be rotated to face out from the windows, with one featuring a 'salon' area.  The first set (ex cars 6177 and 6178) was delivered in late September with the help of DE10 1554, EF65 2075 and Tobu's own DeKi 103 and 104.

Entering service in March 2013 were 12 cascaded 4-car type 205 sets to replace 105s on JR East's Nikko Line (4 sets) and 211s on the Tohoku Line between Koganei and Kuroiso (8 sets).

Following the revival of C61 20, JR East is currently restoring C58 239 which was plinthed in Morioka to operate on the Kamaishi Line in an area of Tohoku which was badly damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.  It will start operations in December 2013 with a set of four carriages designed by Ken Okumura, who has also designed the new E6 Akita Shinkansen bullet train.  The carriages are KiHa 141s (former loco hauled type 50s) displaced by electrification in Sapporo.

The new Tokaido Shinkansen type N700A (see 'News Update' in 'Bullet-In 76') entered service on 8th February, with inaugural runs being 'Nozomi 203', departing Tokyo at 07.00 for Shin-Osaka, and 'Nozomi 208', departing Shin-Osaka at the same time for Tokyo.  As often, bouquets and tape-cuts featured.

Special Services    Tetsudo Fan

With the derailment of its C58 363, the 'Paleo Express' was electrically hauled during Autumn 2012.  On 7th October, there was super power with five locomotives, DeKi 103 + DeKi 503 + DeKi 502 + DeKi 501 + DeKi 301.

9th and 10th October saw test runs of E659 second generation 'Narita Express' sets over the Uchibo and Sotobo lines in Chiba Prefecture.

Commemorating 140 years of railways in Japan, a JR East 2 nights/3 days tour used 'Cassiopeia' stock for a return journey from Ueno to Aomori via Nagaoka and Akita on 12th, with return to Ueno via Morioka overnight on 13th to 14th October.  Red large numbered EF81 95 was the main locomotive, with assistance on part of the route from EF64 1051.  25th September had also seen the northbound 'Cassiopeia' diverted via Nagaoka, with haulage to there by EF64 1051 and from there by EF81 138.

13th October also saw commemoration of 110 years of the Shinonoi Line, with classic JNR era Takasaki based carriages top and tailed by EF64 37 and EF64 38 between Shiojiri and Akashina via Matsumoto.

For the first time in 44 years, steam returned to JR East's Ryomo Line over the 38.8 kms between Takasaki (Gumma) and Kiryu (Tochigi) on 3rd November, with operation in 'top and tail' mode featuring EF 65 501 leading outbound and C61 20 on the return.

JR East's Ofunato Line in Aomori Prefecture saw two refurbished KiHa 100s form a 'Pokemon with you Train' from 22nd December, featuring a Pokemon fan friendly interior and exterior.

Reinvigorated    Chunichi Shimbun/Tetsudo Fan/Tetsudo Journal

After almost two years out of service, Sharp-Stewart 12, dating from 1874, returned to service at Meitetsu's Meijimura theme park on 8th November.  A month earlier, on 10th October, C62 2 returned to operating on the short demonstration service at Umekoji Museum in Kyoto.

Anniversaries    Mainichi Shimbun/Chunichi Shimbun

On 17th November, a special E5 run from Niigata to Tokyo was operated to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Joetsu Shinkansen, opened between Omiya and Niigata on 15th November 1982.  The same day also saw a soon to be withdrawn type 200 operate a commemorative service between the latter points.  As of September 2012, the Joetsu Shinkansen had carried 850 million passengers.

23rd November saw Hiroshima Electric Railway celebrate a hundred years of operation dating back to its predecessor.  Famous for resuming partial service three days after the 1945 atom bomb, it is now Japan's biggest tram system both by mileage and passengers.  A display of eighteen types was held on 23rd November, including restored Taisho era car 101.

Bowing Out    Tetsudo Fan

30th September saw a 'Sayonara' run for three yellow and blue liveried type 1500 railcars (YR1501-1503) of the Yuri Kogen Tetsudo.

Co-operation    The Japan Times

9th October saw Yuichiro Hata, Japan's Minister of Transport, sign a memorandum of understanding with Thailand to cooperate on railway and irrigation development.  Thailand plans to start a high-speed rail project in 2013.

Calming Effects    Asahi Shimbun

The problem of suicides and their effect on rail operations continues to be a focus in Japan.  Of the 5,278 cases of major train delays in the 2011-12 financial year, 601 were caused by suicides.  Although that is lower than the peak of 682 in the 2009-10 year, it continues to be a major issue.  On 11th September, a packed JR East Keihin Tohoku train was brought to a halt as a result of a suicide and six passengers were taken to hospital as a result of the crowded conditions after the 50 minutes' halt.  Companies' responses (JR East Yamanote Line, Keikyu and Odakyu) have included blue lights which are supposed to have a soothing effect, and music.  From November 2011, stations on JR East's Sobu Line have featured music which is supposed to be relaxing to the autonomic nervous system.  However, complaints that the music was actually too loud led it to be replaced by quieter music by Chopin and Mozart in August 2012.  In addition, from 2011, teams made up of retired JR East employees and members of the Japanese Association of Mental Health Services have been patrolling 10 busy stations in the Tokyo area for four hours a day on weekdays in March and October.  This limited project has apparently led to just one suicide being prevented.

Competition    Yomiuri Shimbun

As Tokyo's Haneda Airport's role increases, with more international flights, competition is intensifying between the operators who serve it, Keihin Kyuko and Tokyo Monorail. Following completion of elevation works at Kamata Station, Keikyu changed its timetable on 21st October to make the fastest trip from Shinagawa to Haneda just 15 minutes, which is at least two minutes shorter than monorail trips from Hamamatsucho.  It also doubled its Yokohama bound trains from three to six per hour. On the other hand, Tokyo Monorail offers more frequent services and has been rolling out wi-fi on its rolling stock, with completion due in March 2014.

Environmental Challenge    Mainichi Shimbun

Nothing much gets in the way when concrete is poured in Japan, but fireflies (hotaru) challenge part of the section of the Hokuriku Shinkansen between Kanazawa and Tsuruga due to be opened in 2025.  The Nakaikemi wetland in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, which is home to more than 2,000 animal and plant species, was registered under the Ramsar Convention in July 2012.  However, it would be affected by the planned route running through it, after plans were changed to avoid demolition of homes and factories on the original route.
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