08 May, 2021

Slam door coaches

The term "slam-door train" often refers to electric or diesel multiple units with manually operated doors. Such trains like Class 411 had been common for decades, but they dwindled due to safety concerns, and they were scrapped even though some of them were less than 30 years old. The "Slammers" were withdrawn mostly by the mid-2000s, but coaches with slam doors still remain on main line.

London King's Cross, 3 Aug 2002
The first time I saw the slam door was in 2002, just after I moved to the United Kingdom. At King's Cross, I saw a door being opened by a passenger, making a nine-year-old boy astonished. The boy thought Great North Eastern Railway was literally "great" despite using such an old-fashioned train, and probably that is why he took a photo of the door.

In the same year, I was also surprised to see a genuine Slammer at Waterloo, whose door was opened by passengers even before the train stopped.

Sapporo, 3 Nov 2011
In Japan, the slam door was used on old coaches like this 43 series of Japanese National Railways (in service: 1951-86). Such trains were taken out of regular service by 1990, and a few of them are preserved for heritage rail tour today. In other words, trains with slam doors are regarded by Japanese people as "heritage".

London King's Cross, 5 Dec 2018
Until around 2019, many Mark 3 coaches of InterCity 125 still had slam doors. Though they could be locked electronically, it was frankly unbelievable and sounded unsafe for me that High Speed Trains were still running at 125 MPH with such doors. I could not help worrying what if the door opened accidentally.

London Liverpool Street, 11 Aug 2019
Some non-HST Mark 3 coaches also had slam doors. Greater Anglia's coaches had also been common in central London until March 2020, connecting Liverpool Street and Norwich every 30 minutes. The slam door was confusing for those unfamiliar with such manually-operated door (including foreigners like me), as passengers had to lower and lean out of the window to reach the outside handle.

Llandudno, 3 Sep 2019
Electronical lock does not mean that doors close automatically, so it took minutes for the train to be ready for departure. Considerable number of station staff were allocated to platform at each station as there were generally two doors per coach, and four to nine coaches per train (even excluding Driving Van Trailer).

Cardiff Central, 2 Sep 2019
In respect of safety and accessibility, railway companies were asked by the government to stop using trains with slam doors by 2020. Even so, many operators could not replace those trains as it took far longer to introduce new trains than expected. Even Mark 2 coaches were in regular service until 2020.

Flitwick, 5 Jul 2019
Today, the last regular loco-hauled trains with slam doors are operated by East Midlands Railway. HSTs used by EMR are still the Mark 3 coaches with such feature. However, they are scheduled to retire next week.

South Ruislip, 20 Aug 2019
The Mark 3 coaches still run on other networks like Chiltern Railways, but they were refurbished with automatically sliding plug doors, to meet the requirements set by the authorities. Thus, there will be no slam door train on regular service, though some would remain for rail tours and on heritage railways.

London King's Cross, 9 Sep 2019
There might be a few more exception. For example, doors of the Flying Banana are highly unlikely to be replaced with new ones, but it should be excluded as it does not engage in passenger service.

01 May, 2021

205 series in the northern Greater Tokyo Area

34 years have passed since the privatisation of Japanese National Railways. JR East has already replaced most JNR trains with newer ones, including 205 series. The commuter train had been common in Tokyo until two years ago, but now they are mostly gone. Utsunomiya area is one of only three places where the 205 series is in use.

Utsunomiya is the capital of Tochigi Prefecture, 68 miles north of Tokyo. Tohoku Main Line (also known as Utsunomiya line) and JR Nikko line serve Utsunomiya station. The 205 series is used on these two lines.

107 (left) and 211 series (right) at Utsunomiya, 23 Dec 2012
Before 2014, 107 series was used on Nikko line, while 211 series was used on Utsunomiya line. JR East replaced them as the 107 series was simply old, and the 211 series was formed of five coaches and thus overcapacity. 12 four-carriage units of the 205 series were reallocated to the lines in 2012-14.

Maihama, 1 Jul 2010
The 205 series trains in Utsunomiya area were converted from those on Keiyo line. The trains on Keiyo line have been superseded by E233 series by 2011, but they were around 21 years old at that time. Thus, JR East decided to reallocate them to Utsunomiya area by installing new features such as additional braking systems, more powerful heaters, and toilets.

Nikko - Imaichi, 31 Aug 2016
Four of them were painted into brown and mostly used on Nikko line, and three of them are operational. The 205 series is less flexible as it cannot form two coaches like its predecessor, the 107 series. Its destination blind is written with traditional Japanese font. One unit was converted again to Iroha, specifically designed for tourists (presumably foreign tourists).

Utsunomiya, 21 Apr 2021
The 205 series was initially not welcomed by both passengers and crews, at it often broke down. Even though they were remodelled to be compatible with steep slopes, tight curves and icy-cold weather, train faults were not uncommon in the first several months. Now, their condition looks stable.

Kataoka - Kamasusaka, 21 Apr 2021
Six units have green and orange stripes, which is commonly known as "the Shonan livery". They are mostly used on Utsunomiya line between Utsunomiya and Kuroiso, forming eight coaches during morning peak hours. Besides their colours, there is no difference between the brown ones and Shonan livery ones.

Kataoka - Kamasusaka, 21 Apr 2021
Two units have original front end of the 205 series. As their livery suggest, they are also used on Utsunomiya line. They are the last ones that have original front design of the 205 series on JR East network. 

Mejiro, 26 Apr 2013
Unlike the others, those two were reallocated from Saikyo and Kawagoe lines. They have been replaced with the E233 series by 2016, and many of them were exported to Indonesia, while only few of them remain on mainline in Japan.

The 205 series in this area are allocated to Oyama Depot near Koganei station. As mentioned above, they are used on JR Nikko and Utsunomiya lines. Those on Utsunomiya line are mostly used between Utsunomiya and Kuroiso, but also on limited services between Koganei and Utsunomiya. Even brown ones sometimes run on Utsunomiya line and vice versa when there is a lack of available train. In fact, it occurs frequently in these days, as maintenance certificate of some units are about to end or have already been expired.

A trade union recently revealed that JR East plans to replace 205 series with brand new E131 series. Some units, including Iroha have been stored at the Depot, suggesting that they have already taken out of mainline. An official announcement about their fate is expected to be issued later this year.

24 April, 2021

The Romancecar without any award

50000 series VSE, one of the most popular Romancecar
Odakyu Romancecar, limited express trains connecting Shinjuku and southwest of Tokyo (such as Hakone), has been Odakyu's most important service for more than 80 years. The Romancecar became more gorgeous, famous and popular in the 1950s. Since introduction of 3000 series (1957-92), eight out of nine Romancecar trains were awarded either the Brunel Awards or Blue Ribbon Awards (Japan Railfan Club). The only exception is 30000 series EXE.

Soshigaya-Okura, 9 Oct 2017
The EXE was introduced in 1996-99 with seven four and six-carriage units. By the early 1990s, the Romancecar services were used not only by tourists but also commuters living near major stations on Odakyu lines. On the other hand, the number of tourists towards Hakone was gradually declining as Japanese people became more interested in travelling abroad than going for a trip nearby.

Kitami, 9 Oct 2017
Unlike its predecessors, the EXE was designed for commuters and businessmen. At that time, Odakyu lines were overcrowded but it was hard to increase number of service as the quadruple-track project of Odawara line (main line) was just begun. The only option that the company could take was increasing the capacity per train. Therefore, unlike other Romancecar trains, the EXE has no observation deck and café. Since it was designed in the mid-90s, toilets are the notorious Japanese squat type.

Yamato - Sakuragaoka, 18 Feb 2018
Exterior design of the EXE was far from attractive so that it could not get the Blue Ribbon Award, though Good Design/Long Life Design Award was given to it by the then Ministry of International Trade and Industry. Even so, the train was prima facie successful, as the number of limited express users increased by more than 27% in 2003 compared to that in 1987.

However, it was revealed that the number of tourists going to Hakone dropped by more than 40% in the same period. Odakyu found that the exterior design and the omission of observation deck discouraged those people from using Romancecar so that the company decided to stop using the EXE in posters and advertisements.

Ikuta - Mukogaoka-yuen, 12 Aug 2020
Since 2017, refurbishment of the EXE has been taken place. Its livery was changed from dull brown "bronze" to silver and grey. Interior (including toilet) and traction system were also dramatically renovated so that the unpopular limited express is apparently improving. Odakyu calls the refurbished units EXEα. Currently more than half of the series have already been refurbished, and the Alpha project is expected to complete by around 2023.

The EXE was a practical train, but those going for a trip were disillusioned with the mundane, a bit ugly train. As it is being dramatically refurbished, not only commuters but also tourists will hopefully be satisfied with a silver train and, more importantly, a clean toilet with water spray feature.

17 April, 2021

Shin-Keisei, the shocking pink railway

Shin-Keisei is a de facto subsidiary of Keisei, connecting Matsudo and Tsudanuma in Chiba Prefecture. Shin-Keisei line is 16.5 miles long with 24 stations. The line has many curves and slopes (many of them look unnecessary), owing to its historical background: it was first constructed by the then Imperial Japanese Army for training purposes. It was sold to Keisei after the Second World War and the new Shin-Keisei Railway endeavoured to rebuild tracks suitable for passenger use as much as possible, but still trains are slower than those on other lines.

Since 2006, Shin-Keisei has been having through services to Keisei Chiba line, providing direct trains towards the city centre of Chiba. However, the through services are unilateral and no Keisei train runs on Shin-Keisei line.

Nishi-Nobuto, 5 Jan 2015
Shin-Keisei had been using second-hand trains at first, but it introduced its own trains since 1971. Trains like this 8800 series had been painted in beige with brown stripes. There was some small modification of liveries when the through service began, but mostly unchanged.

Tokiwadaira - Goko, 9 Dec 2015
One of a few exceptions was 8900 series, as its stripes were blue and red. The 8900 is a minority as only three units were introduced, while the company has nearly 30 units in total.

Goko, 3 Jan 2015
Another exception was N800 series, which is almost identical to Keisei 3000 series. The N800 had brown stripes only.

Nishi-Nobuto, 3 Oct 2015
In 2014, the company announced that it would repaint all rolling stock into new livery, consists of white, black and pink. The company calls it "gentle pink", but this obnoxiously vivid colour should be called shocking pink.

Tokiwadaira - Goko, 29 Mar 2016
The company intended to show how "fashionable" it is, but some local residents were reportedly unhappy with such vivid liveries. Others did not think it a bad idea as it reminded them of cherry blossoms, according to Sankei. By 2018, all but one unit have been repainted into the "gentle pink".

Misaki - Takifudo, 9 Sep 2017
As of today, a unit of 8000 series is beige-and-brown style, the livery in the late-1970s. It is the last unit of the 8000 series as well, and expected to be withdrawn in summer. When it retires, it will be a historical day for Shin-Keisei, as it means that the pink programme is completed.

10 April, 2021

One of the least known railway in Tokyo

Nippori-Toneri Liner is an automated guideway transit system operated by Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation, and is six miles long with 13 stations. It is one of the least known railway line in Greater Tokyo, as it starts from Nippori in northern Tokyo (not a major one though an interchange station on Yamanote line), the area where nine stations locate (Adachi City) is the most deprived one among 23 Tokyo special wards, and there is no particularly important place or building along the line.

Even so, the line has been successful since it was opened in 2008, as local residents can access to their workplace or school with punctual and reliable railway instead of bus. Number of services have been increasing to ease congestion. Here, three types of trains are in use, and all of them form five coaches.

The most common type is 300 series, the first rolling stock on Nippori-Toneri Liner. 16 units were introduced in 2006-11, but their design is conservative. For example, the front end and single plug doors are similar to AGT trains in the 1990s.

In 2017, a unit of 320 series entered service. Like the 300 series, the 320 was constructed by Niigata Transys. It is the best-designed train on the line so far, but no more unit has been ordered. It broke down and had been taken out of service for four months until March, but now it is reinstated.

330 series trains have been introduced since 2015, and currently three units are in service. Its design can be described as the standard design of AGT in the 2010s. The 330 series was made by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, unlike the 300 and 320.

As the number of passengers was still increasing (as of just before the pandemic), the Bureau has decided to introduce new trains made by Mitsubishi, replacing the 300 series. The first unit is scheduled to enter service in fiscal year 2022, and possibly looks like the 330 series. The future of railway business is not certain because of COVID-19, but Nippori-Toneri Liner is likely to be improved even further.

*Photos were taken at Adachi-odai on 15 Mar 2021. partly obscured in light of portrait rights and privacy.