A Japanese time warp travel experience|
Riding the vintage EMU Kumoha-42
By Kenneth Lin and Hiroshi Naito
|Kumoha 42006 at Nagato-Motoyama|
The Kumoha-42 electric multiple unit (EMU) railcar is 65 years old, and
it is still in regular scheduled service. There are two such railcars
left in service. Appearance wise, its boxy, unstreamlined shape
couldn't present a greater contrast to today's streamlined Japanese
trains. For North American visitors, the Kumoha-42 recalls those
glorious days when electric interurban criss-crossed the United States,
linking rural communities to cities. The Kumoha-42s even look like
American style interurbans. Alas, those days and interurbans are a
memory in the United States, but a sample of such service still lives
on in this off-the-beaten part of western Japan.
The remaining two units of the Kumoha-42, Kumoha #42001 and #42006,
today work on West Japan Railway's Motoyama branch of the Ube/Onoda
Line, in the western-most part of the main island of Japan. The
Motoyama branch itself is improbable, a short 3 kilometer spur
connection, linking the two stations of Suzumeda and Nagato-Motoyama.
There is but one intermediate station stop at Hamagouchi.
Resplendent in its dark chocolate brown livery, the Kumoha-42 well
conveys the ambiance of a pre-war type EMU with its square, regularly
aligned, narrow passenger windows, riveted body sides and most
decidedly heavyweight, unstreamlined appearance. These are the
surviving heritage of the old EMUs that were developed by the ex-Japan
National Railway (JNR) prior to World War II.
Thirteen Kumoha 42s were built between 1933 and 1934 for inter-city service on the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe segment of the National Railway. This was and still is one of the busiest urban corridors in Japan, as the corridor was electrified to meet growing passenger ridership. While the Kumoha 42 was designed as a third class dual-cab motor car, originally named Moha 42, there were derivatives, including:
the Moha 43, a third class single cab motor car
the Kuha 53, a third class single cab car
the Kuroha 59, a second-third dual class single cab car
the Saroha 46, a second-third dual class trailer
totaling 105 in the manufactured number of the series.
|Nomenclature of JR (JNR) EMU|
|Ku|| Cab car|
|Mo|| Motor car|
|Ha||Third class (currently, regular class)|
|Ro||Second class (currently, Green Car class)|
|Example: Kumoha-42 (Ku-mo-ha-42) stands for; cab, motor, third class car.|
The Mohayuni 44 -- a third class passenger, baggage and mail
motor car dedicated to the Yokosuka line -- was also a variant of this
series. In those days, in the Kansai (Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe) area, some
private railways were already competitively offering high-speed urban
rail services connecting major cities in the area with powerful EMUs.
The introduction of the Kumoha 42s was JNR's new strategy to regain its
competitiveness against its rival railways on the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe
travel corridor. Under these circumstances, the Kumoha 42 featured a 20
m lengh class EMU for the first time, with two passenger doors located
at the car ends and an interior fitted with high backed, upholstered,
transverse seats -- which made it JNR's most attractive and popular
railcar in those days.
Kumoha 52004, built in 1937, preserved in a static exhibition at Sakuma Rail Park on the Iida line.|
By Anthony Robins
By 1957, all seven Kumoha 42s were transferred to far off rustic lines
-- four to the Iida Line, and three to the Ube/Onoda line. Alas, the
four on the Iida Line were all scrapped in 1978. Happily the three
remaining Kumoha 42s on the Ube/Onoda Line (numbers 42001, 42005 and
42006) have managed to survive and remain in service despite the line's
modernization in 1981. Although one of them, #42005, was withdrawn from
service in 1987, the remaining two railcars, #42001 and #42006 are
still in revenue service on the Motoyama branch of the Ube/Onoda Line.
The Kumoha-42 is equipped with four 750 VDC, 110 kW traction motors. The ratio of power to mass appears to be rather poor in contrast to contemporary EMUs used by other private railways (featuring 150 kW-class traction motors), but its performance was adequate as an interurban EMU, with its reasonably designed decelerating gear ratio, 2.26, and with its capability of running at a maximum speed of 95 km/h.
One of other prominent features of the Kumoha-42 was its DT12 carbody
trucks featuring axle coil springs rather than the equalizer systems
commonly used on EMUs then on private electrified railways. The trucks
using this new technology improved the passenger riding comfort and was
effective in reducing the axle weight.
The electrical equipment fitted under the floor included a six-unit
main resistor, a traction controller, an air compressor and a 3 kW
motor-generator set -- all of which were equipment commonly used for
the old JNR EMUs, representing traditional JNR EMU technology.
|Inside Kumoha 42006. 12 sets of transverse, high back seats are regularly spaced, surrounded with an attractive, wood varnished interior.|
|The cab is a compartment type, equipped with a controller and an automatic brake handle, which were commonly used on old JNR EMUs.|
Let's look around the cab. The cab is a compartment type, so the
longitudinal passenger seat opposite the cab provides a good
"railfan's" seat to see the view forward and the tracks ahead. Inside
the cab is a controller and an automatic brake handle, which were
commonly used on old JNR EMUs. Today, some one-man operational devices
fitted around the cab, such as mirrors and a fare box (with a modified
cab partition), slightly spoil its originality-- but this cannot be
helped. Despite these modifications, the Kumoha 42 very much retains
the ambiance of an old JNR EMU with its interior and exterior
appearance largely intact.
About Ube/Onoda Line
The Ube/Onoda line is a general term for two independent lines -- the Ube Line and Onoda Line. The Ube Line, originating from Ogori on the Sanyo Main Line (also a transfer point for the Shinkansen services), runs about 33 km to the west by taking a roundabout route along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea, and then rejoins the Sanyo Main Line at the town of Ube. Along the way, at Ube-Shinkawa, is where the line's depot is located.
The Onoda Line diverges from the Ube Line at Ino Station, which is just
1.8 km west of Ube-Shinkawa and 4.3 km short of reaching Ube and
rejoins the Main Line at Onoda after taking a further detour route.
|At Suzumeda station. On the right is a Series 105 EMU.|
The Ube and Onoda Lines were originally private railways opened in 1914
and 1915, respectively. They were mainly built to serve the limestone,
coal and cement industries around the Ube area, and service started
with steam-hauled freight and passenger trains. The Ube Railway was
electrified using 1500 VDC service in 1929, and electric railcar
operations commenced with its originally built EMUs. Both lines were
nationalized in 1943. The configuration of today's Ube/Onoda line was
completed around 1950.
After World War II, the Ube/Onoda Line was served by a variety of EMUs
transferred from other metropolitan areas, including miscellaneous car
types from former private railways purchased as a result of
nationalization. This included various types of old JNR EMUs, both 17 m
and 20 m-class cars. It was almost as if these two lines were a dumping
location for old JNR EMUs. The Kumoha-42s were part of these relocated
EMUs and were placed into service for the short Motoyama Branch Line.
The Ube/Onoda Line was finally modernized in 1981 with the introduction
of modern Series 105 EMUs and Series 123 single units, finally
displacing all remaining older JNR EMUs, except of course for the
Kumoha-42s that were set aside for the Motoyama Branch service.
Today, the two remaining Kumoha-42s are stationed at JR West's Shimonoseki maintenance workshop. One unit, usually #42006, is sent to Ube-Shinkawa depot to be put in service. Every day, the unit leaves Ube-Shinkawa depot at 06:23 and directly enters the Motoyama Branch. It works five round trips in the morning, with the last morning service arriving at Suzumeda at 09:15. It then rests or lays up at Suzumeda until the start of afternoon service, which starts at 16:34.
During the afternoons, it works six round trips, leaving
Nagato-Motoyama at 22:17 for the last trip of the day, returning to
Ube-Shinkawa depot at 22:23. On Saturdays, one round trip is added in
the early afternoon.
On every other weekday from Monday to Friday, between the morning and
evening duties, it is deadheaded to/from Shimonoseki maintenance
workshop for regular inspections. At that time, it runs on the Sanyo
Main Line between Ube and Shimonoseki, a distance of 43.6 km, at a
maximum speed of 95 km/h-- providing a performance display worthy of a
onetime EMU superstar.
Why has the Kumoha-42 survived as long as it has, and how much longer could it survive? There are a couple of reasons. Perhaps it is because of the fact that it has dual operating cabs suitable for short branch line workings on the Motoyama Branch. Or perhaps it is because of JR West's positive attitude towards preserving a great EMU heritage from the old JNR days, while providing a railfan attraction as well. In our conversations with JR West's rolling stock managers, there does not seem to be any immediate plans to replace the Kumoha-42s. However, it was mentioned that the lack of spare parts complicates maintenance. So it is true that the Kumoha-42(s) is the last of its type still running in regular service within Japan-- an endangered species.
Ride them while you can!
The information and data were taken from the Railway Pictorial No. 645, November 1997.
Photos by Kenneth Lin unless specified. Copyrights all reserved.
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