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News Update

By Anthony Robins

  October 2018

New Faces Yomiuri Shimbun/Chunichi Shimbun/Tetsudō Fan/Tetsudō Journal

The new type N700S shinkansen type made its first appearance at Tōkyō Station (Platform 15) at 10:05 on 23rd June. Having arrived from the depot, it stayed for about 15 minutes before departing for Shin-Ōsaka.

The Yuri Kogen Railway, a third-sector operator in Akita Prefecture, has started operation of its ‘Chōkai Omocha’ railcar (YR-2001). In an orange and white livery, it features various configurations of seating and a children’s playspace, and operates two return journeys. As with many rural railways, it is an attempt by this 23 km long railway to increase passengers, the number of which declined from 600,000 in 1994 to 223,000 in 2015.

14th July 2018 saw Kintetsu launch its ‘Tsudoi’ three car sightseeing train to commemorate the 1,300th anniversary of Yunoyama Onsen (hot springs) in Mie Prefecture, SW of Nagoya. Operating one return journey on weekends and holidays from 14th July to 2nd September, leaving Nagoya at 10:06 and Yunoyama Onsen at 16:50, the train features a bar, seats looking outward for views, a children’s playspace and a children’s control desk behind the driver’s cab.

The 3rd-sector Abukuma Express Railway plans to introduce its new AB900 type, based on JR East’s type 721. A total of ten 2-car sets in contrasting liveries are due to be in service, with the first in July 2019 to replace the nine current 2-car type 8100s.

The next type for tram route 2 between Hiroshima Station and Hiroden Miyajima is the 5200 ‘Green Mover APEX’, of which two sets are due to enter service in March 2019. As with previous type 5000 and 5100 sets, they will be 5-part sets.

New Stations  
Tetsudō Journal

Names for stations on the section of the Ōsaka Higashi Line due to open in Spring 2019 between Shin Ōsaka and Hanaten have been announced. They are respectively (with distances from Shin Ōsaka), Minami Suita (2 km), JR Awaji (3.3 km), Shirokitakoendori (5.4 km) and JR Noe (7.6 km).

Steam Issues Asahi Shimbun/John Stephens/Chunichi Shimbun

65 year old Masao Yamazaki decided it was time to say ‘sayonara’ to steam locomotive D51 1116, which had been in his garden in Shiroi in Chiba Prefecture since the mid 1970s. It had arrived from Hokkaidō via Omiya. It will now be moved in three sections (boiler, underframe and tender) by specialized Ōsaka based firm, Achiha, to Chikusei in Ibaraki Prefecture. It will appear there with other preserved rolling stock, including former ‘Hokutosei’ carriages. The cost of the move plus garden restitution is estimated at 20 million yen. Actually, that is still less than the 25 million he originally paid for it, plus transportation.

U.S. built classic locomotive, 4514, known as ‘Iron Horse’ resumed operation at Otaru Museum on 21st July, after a test run on 19th July. Boiler problems in October 2017 led to repairs being necessary. They were carried out at the Sappa Boiler Company, in Ōsaka, which has handled recent repairs for a number of locomotives. The museum aimed to collect half of the 12 million yen repair costs through crowdfunding and it succeeded in collecting more than 7 million yen in donations.

Fans were out in force at Tōbu’s Kinugawa Onsen to mark the first anniversary of its ‘Taiju’ steam operation on 10th August.

Financial Support
The Japan Times/Stephen Turner/Yomiuri Shimbun

On 27th July, Transport Minister, Keiichi Ishii, announced that the government would extend 40 billion yen in financial aid to JR Hokkaidō over a period of two years up to March 2021, while also issuing a (second) order to improve its management. JR Hokkaidō revealed a record operating loss of 41.6 billion yen for the 2017 financial year and indicated that half of its routes would be difficult to operate without financial assistance. The assistance which has been announced will be used for new facilities, trains and services on seven routes and for improving services to Sapporo’s Chitose Airport. The ministry will review progress every three months and fine executives up to 1 million yen, if the results are not satisfactory. Further financial assistance from April 2021 will be based on the success of changes. Local governments (Hokkaidō and municipalities) are also expected to provide assistance. The ministry sees the need for JR Hokkaidō to establish a model similar to JR Kyushu, described as, “earning profits from related businesses to support loss-making railway operations.”

Impasse Mainichi Shimbun

While work on JR Tōkai’s Chūō Linear Shinkansen, which is due to open in 2027, is well underway, a point of contention continues concerning the possible effects of tunneling in the Southern Alps in Shizuoka Prefecture on water supplies from the Ōi River (Ōigawa). The 25 km Southern Alps Tunnel includes an 8.9 km section in this prefecture. Preparations to build the tunnel were due to start as early as the end of August, but the prefectural government is concerned about a drop in spring water supplies as a result of tunneling. In addition, although JR Tōkai has offered improved Tōkaidō Shinkansen services for Shizuoka after the linear link opens, the prefecture will not be served by any station on the new line.

Tie-Ins Asahi Shimbun/John Stephens/Mainichi Shimbun/The Japan Times

Starting operation from 29th June on the Chōshi Railway in Chiba Prefecture is a retro themed train. Built in 1962, the interior has been aged by using wood effect floor coverings and door and window frames painted to look like wood. In addition, there are stained glass like vinyls on the windows. Veteran advertisements from the Taisho and early Showa eras complete the effect. It is financed by Kintaro House, a construction company which specializes in rental apartments, buying the naming rights for 10 million yen in 2017.

The same railway has also proudly launched a ‘foul-smelling’ snack (mazui-bo). The attention drawing name apparently belies its corn-potage soup based taste. The snack is sold at the railway’s Inubo Station for 50 yen or 600 yen for 15. Already well-known for its ‘senbei’ (rice crackers), the railway raised 70% of its revenue from food related items in 2017!

Tōkyū is working on innovative advertising in its hub area of Shibuya in Tōkyō. While advertisements in the area are usually placed higher up, the company is targeting up to 100 eye level locations by April 2019. Tokyu will place advertising on walls in the area which suffer from graffiti, erase it, and pay the buildings’ owners based on size and time period. In addition, in September, Tōkyū held a street art exhibition in collaboration with young street artists.

Phantom Station 
Mainichi Shimbun

Keisei’s former Hakubutsu Dōbutsuen (Museum and Zoo Station) was opened to the media on 19th June. Opened in December 1933, between Ueno and Nippori, use declined as fewer trains stopped there with its limit of four car trains and it closed in March 1997. It is still available for evacutions. However, in April, it became the first railway facility to become a Tōkyō Metropolitan Government designated historical structure. As it has historic murals painted by Tōkyō University of the Arts students, the university is cooperating with the restoration and a new entrance , designed by a dean at the university, will be added.

The Last Ones Tetsudō Journal/Odakyū

The last two car type 7200 set operated by Ueda Dentetsu (MoHa 7255 and KuHa 7255), which had been in operation since arriving secondhand from Tōkyū Dentetsu, made its final run on 12th May.

10th July saw a ceremony at Odakyū’s Shinjuku Station to mark the last run of iconic LSE type 7000 ‘Romance Car’ on the ‘Hakone 41’ service departing at 15:40 for Hakone-Yumoto.

Multicoloured Line-up Tetsudō Fan

A charter working on 1st June between Sakurai and Uji-Yamada saw an eight-car combination composed of 2-car PN04 ‘Aozora II’ in traditional cream and red livery, a regular 2-car type 22600 AT51 set in the orange and blue limited-express livery which is now being superceded, and blue and off-white PN05 ‘Aozora II’.

Overnight  Tetsudō Fan

More details of JR West’s projected overnight set, derived from a 6-car type 117 set, has been revealed. Car 1 will feature semi-compartment green car sets, Car 2 will include women only seating and toilet, Car 3 will feature group compartments and reclining seats, Car 4 will have ‘free space’ with tables, Car 5 will have ‘nobi nobi’ accommodation which allows people to lie down as with the type 285 ‘Sunrise Express’, and Car 6 will include five green car compartments.

Steam Curtailed  Stephen Turner/JR East 

JR East’s ‘Banetsu Monogatari’ steam service (Niitsu-Aizu Wakamatsu) suffered cancellations due to problems with locomotive C57 180. The service was replaced with a diesel hauled ‘rinji kaisoku ressha (special rapid train)’ on 14th, 15th, 21st, 22nd, 28th, 29th July and 4th, 5th, 11th and 12th August and with a diesel hauled ‘Banetsu Monogatari’ on 18th, 19th, 25th and 26th August.

Reinstated  Hiroshi Kanoya/Mainichi Shimbun

In contrast, 14th July saw the resumption of services throughout JR Kyūshū’s Kyūdai Line (Kurume – Ōita), a year after damage from heavy rain. This allows resumption of through ‘Yufuin no Mori’ limited express services, as well as its use by the ‘Nanatsubo’ (Seven Stars) cruise train.

Progress Tetsudō Journal

JR West’s redevelopment of the area around the former Umeda Freight Terminal in Ōsaka is continuing. Construction at the new station, which started in November 2015 and has the provisional name of Kita Umeda, was shown to the media on 17th May. The station area will cost 15 billion yen and is 30% complete. The 2.4 km line connecting it to the Tōkaidō Line (1.7 km in tunnel) at both ends will cost 54 billion yen and is 20% complete. Due to open in Spring 2023, the time taken to reach Kansai International Airport by the ‘Haruka’ limited express will be reduced by about 15 minutes.

In late May, JR East started work on raising speeds on the Tōhoku Shinkansen between Ueno and Ōmiya. Since its opening this section has been restricted to 110 km/h to reduce noise for nearby residents. In the next two years, speeds at various locations will be increased to between 115 km/h and 130 km/h, saving a maximum of 1 minute.

Cashless The Japan Times

Japan which rates as the most cash payment oriented country in the world is keen not to fall behind as cashless payment methods are developed. Okinawa Urban Monorail’s Yui Rail started a test on 22nd July to allow payments by Alipay, a Chinese platform provided by Alibaba which uses mobile phone QR codes. Chinese tourists accounted for 25.6% of all inbound tourists in 2017, but less than 1% of the Yui Rail’s passengers. However, Alipay is already used in  more than 50,000 stores in Japan and Masaki Oshiro, who is in charge of the test, said that, “It’s good to have various payment methods like Alipay rather than forcing tourists to first exchange cash currency and to buy tickets.” Japanese financial company, Orix, is handling the transactions and TIS, based in Tōkyō, is operating the mediating centre for the mobile settlement system.

Alibaba also announced on 23rd July that it is teaming up with JR Kyūshū to expand use of the Alipay system. It is already used at some JR Kyūshū retail outlets. JR Kyūshū will encourage other companies in its area to accept Alipay, as well as increasing sightseeing trains and sightseeing plans aimed at Chinese tourists. Alibaba will increase information about Kyūshū attractions.

Filling Contrasting Gaps The Japan Times/Modern Railways

‘News Update’ is issues 95 and 96 referred to the spread of wi-fi capability on shinkansen services. March 2019 will see mobile access available in the 53.85 km Seikan Tunnel. Currently, passengers do not have access for about 25 minutes and mobile access is only available at two evacuation areas. To allow access, relay equipment and carrier base stations with intervals of 1 km are being installed., as well as fibre-optic cables. The government’s communications ministry will apply a new system which allows exemption for costs for railway companies such as JR Hokkaidō, which have posted operating losses for ten years.

The UK’s infrastructure organization, Network Rail, is working with a leading Japanese chemical company, Sekisui, which is best known in Japan for housing. It has already carried out trials of synthetic sleepers, manufactured from fibre-reinforced foamed urethane. They can be machined on-site and have an expected operational life of more than 70 years. 

Diversification Meitetsu

Meitetsu (Nagoya Railroad), which, typically for a private railway, has long been involved in businesses as diverse as driving schools and hotels, has entered a new area. On 30th June, it opened a Drone Academy at its cultural centre at Jingu-Mae Station in Nagoya. Study ranges from 10,800 yen for a 90 minutes’ class to a four days’ combination of standard course and advanced course for 378,000 yen. An e-learning option is also available..

Reconstruction Asahi Shimbun

Reconstruction of the bridge across the Yodogawa River in Ōsaka on Hanshin’s Namba Line will start this autumn. To cope better with possible flooding (particularly relevant given the item above), the new bridge will be 7 metres higher than the present bridge, which was built in 1924. It will have 29 columns rather than the present 39, will cost an estimated 56.3 billion yen, and will take until the 2032 financial year to complete..

Security Issues The Japan Times

Following the stabbing incident on a Tōkaidō Shinkansen service on 9th June (see ‘News Update’ in issue 97), the Transport Ministry announced on 20th July that passengers will be prohibited from carrying unpacked knives onto trains. Railway staff will be able to exclude any passengers who break this law and this happened on 9th September when a passenger on a ‘Nozomi’ service from Tōkyō to Hakata was taken off the train by police officers at Kokura. However, no increased screening is planned, so it could still be difficult to enforce. In addition, on 4th September JR East announced that it would equip all of its bullet trains with shields and tear gas spray. Drivers and conductors will carry sprayers and flashlights, so that they can obstruct the vision of attackers. Stab-proof jackets and two-pronged ‘weapons’ will be provided at shinkansen stations and major conventional line stops. JR Tōkai and JR West have already announced similar measures.

Closing Down Chunichi Shimbun/Nippon Sharyo/Asahi Shimbun

The Aichi Prefecture based rolling stock maker, Nippon Sharyo, a subsidiary of JR Tōkai, announced in July that its U.S. production facility at Rochelle, Illinois, would close in the following month. The 230,000 square metre site, with buildings covering 73,000 square metres, employed 694 workers at its peak, but was heavily affected by the loss of a contract for Amtrak regional trains led by the California Department of Transportation, following failed tests (see ‘Editorial’ in issue 90). This led to the Sumitomo managed order being switched to production by Siemens in 2017. Cumulative losses are indicated to be 60 billion yen.

User-friendler Yomiuri Shimbun/NHK/Stephen Turner

The Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry conducted a survey on 24th July concerning user-friendliness of railway services at stations in Tōkyō in anticipation of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympics. Nine participants from abroad, including students, tried various tasks. The tasks included asking station staff for assistance in a foreign language and buying tickets at vending machines. Problem areas revealed by the study will be shared with railway companies and used to make improvements. In preparation for the 2020 events, JR East and Keisei have added Chinese and Korean to their signboards which display details about train delays and other information.

JR East is undertaking an experiment to discourage ‘kakekomigosha’, passengers who rush onto trains at the last moment. On its Jōban Line, it is trying out playing the departure melody through the train’s outside speakers, rather than through the station’s public announcement system. In this way, only passengers in the immediate vicinity of the train are likely to rush.

Tōkyō Metro announced on 30th July that it would place QR code stickers on tiles for the visually impaired, as an experiment at Tatsumi station on the Yurakuchō Line from 6th August. Scanning these with a smartphone gives audio directions about locations such as where to turn and stairways.

Ups and Downs The Japan Times

JR East launched an escalator safety campaign on 23rd July. It aims to reduce the approximately 180 accidents in the 2017 financial year.  It was carried out in cooperation with more than 50 railways across the country until the end of August.

Exposed Mainichi Shimbun

As a rather direct way to instill safety awareness, JR West has had mechanics involved with bullet train maintenance crouch in passageways between the up and down tracks in the Sanyo Shinkansen sections from Kokura to Hakata and Hiroshima to Shin-Iwakuni. The passageways are approximately 1 metre deep and 1 metre wide. As they crouch there, they feel the speed of two or three shinkansen services passing just above them at up to 300km/h. This method involves mechanics from the company’s Hiroshima and Hakata Minami depots. The activity was introduced in February 2016 after an accident in the previous August which saw a metal part fall off a bullet train in a tunnel in Fukuoka Prefecture. As of the end of July 2018, 24 sessions had seen about 190 mechanics participate. The system has been opposed by the West Japan Railway Workers Union. JR Tokai operated a similar scheme for five years until the 2015 business year.

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