13 August, 2022

The Red List of Trains in Japan (Jul-2022 update)

The Red List of Trains in Japan has been updated with nine new articles as listed below. The website is mostly about trains that are operational today and those in service until around 2010, but I have decided to add a few bullet train articles with photos of static display, as Shinkansen has always been a symbol of Japan.


E6 series

In addition, I have modified errors on several articles and made others up to date. I hope they are useful.

06 August, 2022

Squat Toilet Onboard

There are mixed views about toilets in Japan. On the one hand, many people outside Japan praise how restrooms are developed, as they are clean, automated and many of them have a shower for the best "position". On the other hand, quite a few people mourn unclean "traditional" squat toilets...like this American lady in a hilarious video.


(It always appears in front of me when it is the most urgent)

Since Japan is an Asian country, there are still many squat toilets. They look different from those in France or Italy, and perhaps the Japanese one is a little more hygienic, but both are effectively the same. Not only those from Northern and Western Europe, but also not a few Japanese people dislike it. However (and surprisingly), according to a survey conducted in 2016 by The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, nearly 20% answered that they preferred a squat one.

It is easy to find (or avoid) a squat toilet. Old buildings in rural areas, especially public toilets, tend to have it only.


Accessible toilet on Keikyu 1000 series

When it comes to railway in Japan, most stations have "western-style" toilets as do trains. Those introduced or refurbished recently have accessible toilets, sometimes with the shower feature. However, there are still trains with squat toilets even in Tokyo, which may be shocking for some people.


E217 series on Yokosuka and Sobu Rapid Lines have squat toilets. One out of three toilets on an 11-carriage unit (coach no. 11), and the only one on a 4-car unit (coach no. 増1), are the squat type. Since the E217 series is nearly 30 years old, those toilets are not always clean (though still durable).


E231 series on Tokaido Main, Takasaki and Utsunomiya Lines (also known as Ueno-Tokyo or Shonan-Shinjuku Lines) also have a squat toilet. Not all E231 series have one (thankfully), but a few 10-car units introduced before 2006 may bring you despair when you declare yourself in a state of emergency. The best way to avoid it is not going to the one on coach no. 6, and look for the other on either no. 1 (10-car units) or no. 11 (5-car units).


EXE stands for "Excellent"? Humbug!

A few private railways have one too. Odakyu 30000 series EXE has squat toilets, and presumably it is one of the reasons why the series has been the most unpopular train among all Romancecar trains. Odakyu has been refurbishing the series, and they installed accessible toilets with the shower feature on the renovated units, which are called EXE α.


Seibu 10000 series

Seibu has two types of trains with a squat toilet: 4000 series and 10000 series New Red Arrow. The 4000 series is used for stopping services between Hanno and Seibu-Chichibu, but most tourists would not use it. The 10000 series is used for Limited Express Koedo (Seibu-Shinjuku – Hon-Kawagoe), and the one on coach no. 7 is the "controversial" one.


Tobu 200 series

Tobu has three types: 100 series SPACIA, 200 series and 6050 series. The 100 series is less of an issue, as each toilet section has both the squat and western ones. Two out of three toilets on the 200 series are the squat toilet, but an accessible one is installed on coach no. 3 of 6. The 6050 series does not have a western-style one, but this train no longer runs in Tokyo.


There are eight types of rolling stock in the Greater Tokyo Area (JR East and major private railways) with squat toilets. In most cases, they have the western-style toilet as well, but if you are unlucky you may have to walk down the train. Thus, it is recommended to finish your "work" at station when nature calls you.


Finally, there are more traditional toilets onboard in western Japan, as JR West still uses considerable number of JNR trains, such as 113 series and 115 series. These 40-year-old trains only have the squat one so that best be borne in mind. More surprisingly, 500 series bullet train has one too, though the western-style ones are also available.


The one on 24 series sleeper coach

Again, in most cases you will see the western one, but be careful that it is not 100%.

30 July, 2022

A new guideline: the fate of rural lines in Japan

Overview

Mimasaka-Kawai station, Imbi Line

On 25th July, an expert committee for rural lines, established by Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (hereinafter referred to as the Transport Ministry), published a proposal regarding the fate of significantly unprofitable railways in Japan. The proposal includes a guideline of which JR lines could be subject to replacement with road transportation (i.e. permanent closure of the railway). The committee does not demand nor recommend an immediate closure of these lines, but suggests that local governments and railway operators should hold discussions about what to do with rural lines that meet certain criteria. To put it simply, the committee defines that those with "transportation density" of fewer than 1,000 might not be sustainable.

There are many lines with less than that figure, but only few of them are likely to be permanently closed in the near future, as Nikkei suggests.


What is Transportation Density?

Yamanote Line is the most heavily used railway in Japan

In Japan, the "transportation density" means how many passengers per one kilometre used the line daily on average. It is defined as a sum of the distance of each passenger divided by the length of the line or section.

For example: there is a 20 km-long line. There are 100 passengers a day on average, and 60 of them use the whole line, while 40 of them use the half. In this case, a sum of the distance of each passengers is 60 (passengers) times 20 (km) plus 40 (passengers) times 10 (km), which equals 1,600. The length of the line is 20 km. Thus, the transportation density is 1600/20 = 80 passengers per km a day.

According to the Transport Ministry, the transportation density of Tokaido and San-yo Shinkansen high-speed rail was about 658,000 in 2019. According to JR East, the figure of Yamanote Line was 1.12 million in the same year.


Matsuura Railway, former Matsuura Line of JNR

When Act on Special Measures Concerning Promotion of Reconstruction of Japanese National Railways (also known as the JNR Reconstruction Act) was promulgated in 1980, the Transport Ministry issued an ordinance that rural lines with transportation density of less than 4,000 should be closed or transferred to entities established privately or by local governments, and 3,157 km (1,962 miles) were axed accordingly (these lines were often called the "83 unprofitable lines").

4,000 passengers per km a day was the key figure for assessing rural lines in the 1980s, but this criterion has been lowered significantly thanks to innovation (not least new trains compatible with driver-only operation and less energy consumption) and downsizing (removal of redundant facilities). According to NHK, it is estimated that lines above 2,000 could be in stable condition today.


What was Decided This Time?

As already noted, the current key figure is 1,000. To be specific (according to Nikkei):

  • Transportation density of fewer than 1,000 passengers per km a day; and
  • The number of passengers between each adjacent stations is always below 500

However, there are a few exceptions:

  • Passengers per hour in peak direction exceed 500 (i.e. heavily used by commuters and students at peak times); or
  • Served by limited express services that connect major cities; or
  • Served by freight trains

The committee also recommended that local governments and railway operators decide the future of the line in question within three years. The solution could be:

  • New railway business model that attract more tourists; and/or
  • Continuing business with considerable support from local governments. This includes not only giving significant amount of cash or tax reduction, but also ownership transfer of facilities to local governments (meaning JR will not pay maintenance costs); or
  • Replacing the railway with bus services, either conventional one or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)

The proposal has been criticised by many people (such as the Governor of Ehime Prefecture), but it is worth noting that some local residents welcome the permanent closure, as bus services could be more convenient than rail transport. Like the one in Samani Town in southern Hokkaido, where Hidaka Main Line was de facto closed in 2015, buses often provide more flexible services, as bus stops were installed in front of a high school, care homes, hospitals and a shopping centre.


Which Lines could be Affected?

Kazusa-Kameyama station, Kururi Line

According to official documents, lines listed below have fewer than 1,000 passengers per km a day. Note that not all of them are on the verge of closure, as some of them are served by limited express and/or freight trains, or major engineering work was carried out recently. Some lines had more than 1,000 before COVID-19 pandemic, and thus being on the list might be temporary. Shinkansen high-speed rail is not included in the percentage calculation.

Click ▼ to browse in detail.


JR Hokkaido (2020)

Hakodate Main Line

Lines with significantly low ridership amount to 56% of the entire network, the worst percentage among all JR. Even Hakodate Main Line is no exception, as this blog explained before.


JR East (2020)

Kamaishi Line

Approximately 31% of the network falls within the scope, and the total length of nearly 1,900 km (1,200 miles) is by far the worst among all JR group. However, many of them (especially "Main Line") are served by limited express and freight trains. Also note that JR East is the largest railway operator in the country, both in terms of the size of network and sales.

More than 20 out of the 31 lines listed below are in Tohoku region, but there are a few in the Greater Tokyo Area (Agatsuma, Kashima and Kururi Lines). GALA Yuzawa branch line of Joetsu Shinkansen is excluded from the list, as the line is open only during winter ski season.


JR Central (2016)

A train similar to that on Meisho Line

No official document is available so far, but the Transport Ministry published one instead in 2016. It shows that the entire Meisho Line had 273 passengers per km a day, but others had more than 1,000. Meisho Line amounts to just 3% of the entire JR Central network.


JR West (2020)

Kishin Line

About 30% of the lines operated by JR West have fewer than 1,000 passengers per km a day, most of which are in Chugoku Region.


JR Shikoku (2021)

Mugi Line

JR Shikoku is known for facing severe financial difficulties along with JR Hokkaido, but surprisingly, only four lines fall within the scope. Even so, it is equivalent to 23.5% of the network.


JR Kyushu (2020)

Nichinan Line

22% of the network could be subject to be axed in the future. When Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen opens in September 2022, lines in Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures are likely to be added to the list.


Conclusion

Falling within the scope of 1,000 passengers per km a day does not necessarily mean that the line should be closed anytime soon. Not a few of them will remain as they have limited express and freight trains. Even without them, many lines are highly likely to be kept open with financial supports by the central and local governments. However, a few lines would be permanently closed in the near future if local residents agree with it.

The proposal applies only to JR lines. Even if not as radical as Beeching Axe, railway networks in Japan are likely to be rearranged in the coming years. In the case of permanent closure, there should be bus services convenient and reliable enough to be used as alternative means of transport by local residents.

23 July, 2022

Retirements and Reinstatement

On Wednesday 13th July, JR Hokkaido published two press releases regarding its rolling stock. On the one hand, KiHa 281 and 183 series will retire in September 2022 and March 2023, respectively. On the other hand, KiHa 283 series, which has been taken out of passenger service since this spring, will be reinstated in March 2023.


KiHa 281 series

The KiHa 281 series was introduced in 1992-93 to Limited Express Super Hokuto (Hakodate - Sapporo). At the time of introduction, it was known for the fastest diesel train in the country, which could run at 130 km/h (81 mph). The series also has a tilting feature that allows running at faster speed than other trains at curves. It dramatically cut journey time between the two cities from 3.5 hours to less than three hours, though not as fast as that in these days.

The series will be taken out of all regular services on 30th September, and farewell rail tours will be held in the following month.


KiHa 183 series

The KiHa 183 series was developed by Japanese National Railways, and has been used for various intercity services in the island of Hokkaido. Existing carriages were introduced in 1988-92, and they are now used for Limited Express Okhotsk (Sapporo – Abashiri) and Taisetsu (Asahikawa – Abashiri). Despite being old and poor condition, JR Hokkaido has been retaining the series due to lack of funding, but finally they decided to replace them with newer trains. The KiHa 183 series will be withdrawn from all regular services in March 2023, but a few might remain for a while as farewell rail tours will likely be held.


KiHa 283 series

There is also good news. The KiHa 283 series will be coming back to mainline. The series had been used for Limited Express Ozora (Sapporo – Kushiro) until March 2022. All existing carriages are no more than 24 years old, but it was uncertain if they will be reinstated due to not-good condition because of overuse. The company decided to use them for Limited Express Okhotsk and Taisetsu from March 2023, effectively replacing the KiHa 183 series.


JR Hokkaido has been suffering from huge deficit so that they have been reluctant to invest in anything, but it seems that they had no choice but to replace the old trains in order to continue their business. The timetable revisions in autumn and spring will hopefully make trains slightly faster and reliable.



*Articles on The Red List of Trains in Japan will be updated in due course.

16 July, 2022

Class 317 retires

Cambridge - Shelford, 29 Mar 2019

Earlier this week, Greater Anglia announced that Class 317 trains would be withdrawn on Saturday 16th July, with the last regular services would run all day between Hertford East and London Liverpool Street.

The Class 317 was introduced in 1981-87, and it has been used mainly in Cambridgeshire and adjacent areas for decades, such as services between London and Cambridge or Stansted Airport. After the privatisation of British Rail, many operators continued using the Class including West Anglia Great Northern (WAGN) and London Overground. Greater Anglia was the last company to use the 317s, but they were replaced at last with brand new Class 720 trains.

As I lived in Cambridge when I was a child in the early-2000s, and in London as a postgraduate student in the late-2010s, I have managed to take a several photos of the Class 317 on Lea Valley Lines and West Anglia Main Line.


The first batch (Class 317/1 and relevant groups)

Two-thirds of the Class 317 were introduced in 1981-82, being the majority.They were initially used on Midland Main Line. Some of them were also used temporarily on LTS Rail (c2c) network from London Fenchurch Street to the east, as well as on Thameslink services between Bedford and Moorgate.


Liverpool Street, 24 Nov 2018

At that time, Greater Anglia's 317s were mostly used for services between Liverpool Street and Hertford East or Cambridge North, with a few on Great Eastern Main Line.


Cambridge - Shelford, 29 March 2019

Blue doors meant that this unit was used on Great Northern route between London King's Cross and Cambridge until 2017.


Seven Sisters, 24 Jul 2019

In 2015, London Overground took over services between Liverpool Street and Cheshunt, Enfield Town and Chingford. The Class 317 was also used on Romford-Upminster line.


Seven Sisters, 29 Jul 2019

In 2000, a few Class 317/1 were refurbished with luggage racks for airport users, and allocated to Stansted Express services. They were later reallocated to London Overground services and withdrawn in 2020. However, some of them were reused by Greater Anglia as stopgaps for a while.


The second batch (Class 317/2 and relevant groups)

Those introduced in 1985-87 looked different from the other groups. They were initially introduced to the Great Northern route, but later used on West Anglia Main Line as well.


Cambridge - Shelford, 29 Mar 2019

This front end was similar to that of other trains introduced in the mid-1980s, such as Class 150/2 and Class 455/7. I preferred this one to the others, and I really liked the design of headlights especially the rectangular ones outermost.


Some old photos

Finally, I would also like to show you two photos I took 20 years ago. Note that they were taken by a primary school boy so that they look horrible.


King's Cross, 3 Aug 2002

The first and second batch of the Class 317. WAGN had been using them mainly for semi-fast and stopping services between King's Cross and Cambridge. My parents and I got on non-stop services in most cases, but we sometimes chose the Class 317 when no fast service was available.


Cambridge, 31 Aug 2003

A Class 317/6 unit at Cambridge after a journey from London (presumably King's Cross). In the late-2010s, most services between London and Cambridge were formed of eight or twelve coaches (as far as I know), but short trains were not uncommon at that time. There were wagons behind the train, but a new island platform was constructed about ten years later.


That's all. I am a little sad to hear that many trains I used to see in Cambridge 20 years ago are mostly gone, as Class 365 retired in 2021 and the Class 317 in 2022. After tonight, only CrossCountry's Class 170 will remain.