Saturday, 28 November 2020

Sotetsu in the 2020s: From White to Navy Blue

Sotetsu is one of major private railways in Japan, with most services running in Yokohama and nearby cities. The company has commenced direct services towards Shinjuku via JR lines as a part of unsuccessful project as this blog discussed before. Train livery has been changed dramatically and brand new trains are being introduced. Sotetsu named them "YOKOHAMA NAVYBLUE [sic]" trains.

Since 7000 series has recently retired, it is good for listing current rolling stock on Sotetsu, and see how they are being changed.

1. 12000 series (built: 2018-20)

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020
The 12000 series is mainly used for direct service towards Shinjuku via JR lines. Unlike how it looks like, its traction system and cab are almost identical to JR E233 series, to make JR drivers easy to deal with the train.

There are six ten-carriage units as of November 2020, and mostly used between Ebina and Shinjuku via Sotetsu Main line, JR Yokosuka and Saikyo lines. However, sometimes it runs on other part of Sotetsu network.

2. 20000 series (built: 2017-22)

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020

The 20000 series is specifically designed for direct service towards Shibuya and other part of Tokyo via Tokyu lines, which is due to be commenced in 2022. Until the new line is opened, the series is used only on Sotetsu lines like other older trains.

There are six ten-carriage units as of November 2020, but the company plans to introduce one more ten-car unit and nine eight-car units, i.e. 142 carriages in total by 2022. The 20000 series will also replace other trains such as 8000 series.

3. 11000 series (built: 2008-12)

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020

The 11000 series is based on JR East E233 series so that passengers on the train feel as if they are on a JR commuter train. The company planned to convert the series to be compatible with Sotetsu-JR through service, but it later realised that introducing brand new trains (12000 series) would work better. Five ten-carriage units are used on the Sotetsu network.

Unlike other trains, there is no plan of repainting the 11000 series into the navy blue livery.

4. 10000 series (built: 2002-07)

Tennocho, 11 Nov 2020

The 10000 series was identically designed to JR East E231 series except the front design, to make the train cheaper to introduce and maintain. Like the 11000 series, those on the 10000 series might think that it is JR's commuter train. Three 10-carriage units and five eight-car units are operated on the network.

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020
In November 2020, a refurbished unit entered into service after being repainted into the navy blue livery. The unit 10701 was dramatically renovated as if completely a different train, which was carried out by JR East's maintenance depot. Sotetsu is going to refurbish other 10000 series fleets in the coming years.

5. 9000 series (built: 1993-2001)

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020

The 9000 series had been a mundane commuter train until 2016, but it became the very first train to be dramatically refurbished and repainted into the navy blue livery, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the company. Seven ten-carriage units are used on Sotetsu lines.

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020

However, the first unit remained unchanged even today. Sotetsu abandoned its plan to renovate all 9000 series fleets. At present, probably the first unit looks as if the oldest train on the network, as it still uses destination blinds.

6. 8000 series (built: 1990-99)

Tennocho, 13 Nov 2020

The 8000 series was designed as "the train acceptable even in the 21st century". Thus, its design and accommodation were completely different from other trains at that time. Today, eleven out of thirteen ten-carriage units are in service, the largest number among all Sotetsu's rolling stock.

Tennocho, 11 Nov 2020

In March 2020, the nineth unit was refurbished and repainted into the navy blue livery, which makes it difficult to distinguish the unit from refurbished-9000 series. The company plans to refurbish five more units by 2026, while replacing other five units with new trains (20000 series).

7. 7000 series (built: 1975-89)

Kami-hoshikawa, 1 May 2013

In October 2020, 7000 series was withdrawn from passenger service 45 years after its introduction. The left one was built in 1975-85, while the right one was built in 1986-89 and sometimes called "New 7000 series". The New one looked modern as if completely a different type.

Today, four carriages remain as measurement train and shunter, but run only when necessary.

Sagami-otsuka siding, 15 Jun 2014
As such, Sotetsu has been modernising its network as well as rolling stock, and most trains have already been or going to be repainted into the navy blue livery. It is hard to believe that this company had been painting trains into decent red livery until just four years ago.

Though the pandemic of COVID-19 has tremendous impact on railway business, Sotetsu commits itself to the project and making great effort to launch through service towards Tokyu lines. As more new trains are delivered and more existing trains are refurbished, the network is going to change dramatically in mid-2020s.

Saturday, 21 November 2020

The very first trains of JR

Japanese National Railways (JNR) was privatised in 1987, and split into seven companies: JR Hokkaido, East, Central, West, Shikoku, Kyushu and Freight. JNR pursued versatility and mass-production of rolling stock to make trains able to run across the country, but each JR companies developed new trains that meet with local demands. At that time, JRs were struggling to make their services attractive, as JNR had been notorious for being expensive, unkind and useless. Therefore, trains introduced just after the privatisation reflect how JRs tried to deal with their difficulties.

This article picks up first rolling stock of seven companies, and briefly describes their past, present and future.


1.     JR Hokkaido 721 series

Hassamu, 30 Aug 2013
The 721 series is a suburban EMU type delivered in 1988-2003. 135 carriages were introduced to Sapporo area to deal with congestion and make services faster, to compete with cars and buses. This train is well known for Rapid Airport, which connects New Chitose Airport and Sapporo. Six-carriage fleets are mainly for Rapid Airport, while three-carriage fleets are mainly for stopping services on Chitose, Hakodate Main, Muroran and Sassho lines.

Currently all carriages are in service, but JR Hokkaido has already announced that some fleets for Rapid Airport would be replaced with 733 series in fiscal years 2023 and 2024. Even so, some fleets might remain until around 2030, as the company has been suffered from huge amount of deficit.


2.     JR East 107 series

Kanuma, 23 Dec 2012
The 107 series was not fully a brand new train, unlike others. The series was a commuter type EMU introduced in 1988-91, but some components of JNR 165 series were reused, such as traction system, bogies and air-conditioning. At that time, JR East had to focus on not only commuter lines in Tokyo area that made profit but also rural lines with inefficient services.
Since JR East did not invest much money on the 107 series, it looked like an EMU type developed by JNR. In fact, its design was based on JNR 105 series, which are still seen in western Japan.
Iwamoto - Tsukuda, 2 Sep 2016
The 107 series were used for stopping services in Utsunomiya and Takasaki areas, roughly 100 km (63 miles) north of Tokyo. There were 27 two-carriage units, but all of them have been withdrawn by 2017. However, six of them were resold to Joshin Electric Railway in Takasaki, and some of them have entered into service there.


3.     JR Central KiHa 85 series

Gifu, 10 Feb 2015
The KiHa 85 series is a limited express type DMU, built in 1988-92 and 97. It was initially introduced to Limited Express Hida, which runs between Nagoya and Takayama area. The company had been concentrating on encouraging tourists to use trains rather than cars and buses. Thus, the KiHa 85 series has larger side windows than any other JNR trains, to allow passengers to enjoy views. That is why, the KiHa 85 series is sometimes called "Wide-View".
Later, the series were also introduced to Limited Express Nanki (Nagoya - Shingu).

Asahi - Tomida, 29 Jul 2016
Since both Hida and Nanki are designed as limited express trains for tourists, the fleets have been maintained particularly well. However, since it is more than 30 years old, those for Hida is scheduled to be replaced with HC85 series Hybrid Multiple Unit in 2022. Those for Nanki might be demolished when the service itself is discontinued as a new motorway is being constructed by the route.


4.     JR West 221 series Amenity Liner

Taisho, 21 Nov 2014
The 221 series is a suburban type EMU, introduced in 1989-92. It was initially called Amenity Liner, though very few people remember it today.

Unlike JR East, JR West had to dramatically improve railway network even in major cities, as JNR was completely unsuccessful in improving service quality. Since there are so many private railways in Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe areas, people preferred them to expensive, infrequent and obsolete services offered by JNR.

The 221 series was more comfortable and faster than any other JNR trains so that it brought back significant number of commuters to JR network. JR West introduced nearly 500 carriages to improve the entire network in Kansai region, not only for New Rapid on Tokaido and San-yo lines but also stopping services in various areas.

All carriages have been refurbished in 2012-20 and still operated in Kyoto, Osaka, Nara and Hyogo Prefectures. The 221 series is a leading player of JR West even more than 30 years have passed since the introduction.


5.     JR Shikoku 2000 series

Matsuyama, 7 Mar 2018
The 2000 series is a limited express type DMU, built in 1989-98. It was developed as the first tilting diesel train in the world. Since JR Shikoku has the smallest network among the group, and heavily relies on incomes from limited express fares, the company has to offer faster services than buses. The 2000 series has been the flagship of Shikoku, as 80 carriages in total have been operated across the island.

Utazu, 5 Oct 2020
The series was initially designed for Nampu (Okayama - Kochi), but later entered into other limited express services. However, withdrawal commenced in 2018 as brand new 2600 and 2700 series DMUs are being introduced.


Takamatsu, 18 May 2017
In 1995, JR Shikoku introduced a variant called "N2000 series", which has more powerful engines and can run faster. Initially, the N2000 series had been operated almost exclusively on Uzushio (Takamatsu - Tokushima). They are now reallocated to other services such as Uwakai (Matsuyama - Uwajima) to replace 2000 series (without "N") fleets.

 6.     JR Kyushu 783 series Hyper Saloon

Hakata, 11 Mar 2015
The 783 series EMUs were built in 1988-91 as JR Group's very first train for limited express services. Like JR Shikoku, JR Kyushu had to make its intercity trains much more attractive than ever to compete with buses and cars. The 783 series was praised by passengers that it was far more comfortable and faster than JNR 485 series.

All fleets have been refurbished at least once so that they look quite different from what initially looked like. They are used on various limited express services such as Huis Ten Bosch (Hakata - Huis Ten Bosch) and Kirameki (Mojiko - Hakata). Four redundant intermediate carriages were demolished in 2016, but other fleets are still in regular service.

7.     JR Freight Class EF200

Hiratsuka, 7 Jan 2012
Class EF200 was designed as the most powerful electric locomotive in JNR/JR history. When it was being developed, Japan was in the middle of the asset price bubble (began in 1986) and nearly all businesses were expanding. JR Freight expected that faster and longer freight trains would be necessary on Tokaido and San-yo lines.

However, the Class EF200 could not fully use its power as it triggered serious electric issues on substations. Moreover, recession struck the country soon after JR Freight introduced the Class. Only 21 locos were delivered in 1990-93, and JR Freight struggled to deal with costly and overengineering locomotives. All of them were withdrawn in 2019.



The first ten years were challenging for JRs, as they had to improve their services to compete with other transport. In most cases, their first trains were carefully designed to fit the demands, and in some cases subsequent trains followed the concept of the "first-generation". Though most of them have been declining or even already withdrawn, they will surely be remembered as the trains that featured the new era in the history of Japanese railway.

Saturday, 14 November 2020

Planned Engineering Work on JR Ome Line, Tokyo

Hachioji, 30 Jan 2014
From around 9pm on Saturday 28th to 6:40am on Sunday 29th November, there will be no service between Haijima and Ome on JR Ome line. This is due to a track improvement work, and replacement buses will run. Official announcement available in English.


Nishi-Ogikubo, 31 Jan 2017
JR East has been carrying out track improvement works on Chuo and Ome lines for several years, to allow 12-coach train in service. These lines have been served by commuter trains formed of 10 coaches for about 60 years, but the company has decided to add two Green Car (first class) carriages to all fleets. Thus, platforms, depots and other facilities are being improved to allow longer trains, and several part closures for planned engineering work are scheduled.


Ofuna, 31 Jul 2012
JR East initially was planning to commence the Green Car service in March 2021, but deferred to 2024 as it became clear that constructions would take more than expected. Furthermore, the company had to slightly change the plan in accordance with new accessibility requirements. Green Cars are expected to be gradually inserted to existing fleets, despite current rolling stock E233 series will be more than 17 years old by the time, old enough to be replaced with new trains.

Nishi-Ogikubo, 31 Jan 2017
Green Cars on Chuo and Ome lines will offer more comfortable journey to everyone, according to JR East. However, this kind of statement is not always trustworthy, as the reality is often completely different. JR East has been implementing several measures to "offer more opportunities to get seating" since around 2010, but it had actually replaced Liner services with limited express services (i.e. raising fares by 47-96%). Moreover, the company has been curtailing local trains that run during peak-hours as part of "taking the trend into account", but obviously to force commuters to use limited express trains.

Therefore, the Green Car Project on Chuo and Ome lines should not be regarded as simply increasing capacities, as some additional measures will surely follow. Chuo and Ome line services can go spectacularly wrong in mid-2020s.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Keihan's old trains…Reconstructed trains and the "Five Doors"

Keihan Electric Railway is a private railway company in western Japan, with eight lines (91 km/56.5 miles) and 89 stations, most of which are in Kyoto and Osaka prefectures. Despite being one of major private railways in Japan, Keihan has been known for its old trains: the average age of the trains is roughly 30 years old (which is still higher than other companies), but many of them were reconstructed or converted from much older trains.

This article briefly describes some old trains forming seven coaches, which are used on semi-express and stopping services in Kyoto area.

Keihan's commuter trains have long been based on 2000 series (in service: 1959-82), which was called "egg-shaped train". Even today, many types resemble the 2000 series though they are currently painted into a different livery.

2600 series was reconstructed from 2000 series' bodies in 1978-82 when Keihan boosted the voltage of overhead wires. In other words, the 2000 series is still alive though traction equipment is completely different. However, their bodies are now 50-60 years old so that they are gradually being withdrawn.

There are 2630 subseries as well, which were built from scratch in 1981. They are identical to the 2600s so that it is hard to distinguish them unless no carriage number is written.

2200 series is the oldest incumbent rolling stock on Keihan line except the bodies of 2600s. I honestly cannot figure out the difference between the 2600s and the 2200s. The 2200 series was introduced in 1964-68 (excluding few intermediate carriages) amid the Japanese Economic Miracle. It is possible to be withdrawn in around 2024.

2400 series was introduced in 1969-70 as the very first train in Kansai region to have air-conditioning. Its traction equipment is the same as the 2200s, but its front design is said to be slightly different. All fleets are in regular service in spite of incredible age.

5000 series is a very unique train as ALL carriages have five pairs of doors. It was delivered in 1970-80 to deal with severe congestion in Osaka during morning peak hours. The series can be used as three-door train during off-peak hours by shutting the second and fourth doors. The most unique feature is extra seating that can be stored during rush hours (see here).

The 5000 series run in accordance with fixed schedule so that it is not difficult to see one. However, they are scheduled to be withdrawn by March 2021 as platform edge doors are being installed.

1000 series was introduced in 1978-79, but again, it was reconstructed with much older train called 700 series (in service: 1967-78). Keihan seems to have been struggling for decades to increase and keep capacity of services while suffering from lack of funding. The 1000 series could be in regular service even in 2030s.

This looks very modern…7200 series was introduced in 1995, and only three units were delivered. Even today, it is the least numerous train among all rolling stock of Keihan.

And finally 13000 series, the latest rolling stock that has been introduced since 2012. The new traction equipment reduced carbon emission by 35% compared to the 2600 series. The company has announced earlier this year that it would introduce more units, replacing the 5000 series and possibly other old trains.

Like other railway companies in the west, Keihan uses various old trains though Keihan lines are in two major cities, Kyoto and Osaka. All "egg-shaped trains" mentioned above are still quite common in Kyoto area so that it is very easy to find them even during off-peak hours. It must be fun to see them while waiting for a train to go sightseeing.

*All photos were taken at Sanjo (Kyoto) on 26 Oct 2020.

Saturday, 31 October 2020

JR East's Measurement Trains - "Doctors White"?

Shinagawa - Shin-Yokohama, 3 Mar 2017
As this blog mentioned before, the most famous measurement train in Japan is arguably 923 series bullet train, or Doctor Yellow. It is owned and used by JRs Central and West and check conditions of Tokaido and San-yo Shinkansen lines. 

However, Dr Yellow is not the only measurement train in Japan. JR East has three different types of measurement train called East i. All of them are painted into white with red stripes so that they could have been called "Doctor White", but unfortunately they are not.


Omiya, 15 Feb 2017
E926 series East i is a measurement train for Jo-etsu and Tohoku Shinkansen lines, introduced in 2001. It is also designed to be able to run on Akita and Yamagata Shinkansen lines as well, which require trains to be smaller than ordinary fleets. It can run at speed of 275 km/h (170 MPH), which was the fastest measurement train in the world at the time of introduction.


Sakuragicho, 29 Oct 2020
With regard to non-high-speed trains, E491 series EMU (for electrified lines) and KiYa E193 series DMU (for unelectrified lines) are regularly checking and assessing conditions of track, signal and overhead wires. They were introduced in 2002 and look almost identical, and called East i-E and East i-D, respectively.


Nishifu, 26 Aug 2012
Since almost of all lines in Tokyo and surrounding areas are electrified, the E491 series East i-E is almost exclusively used. Sometimes, another carriage (MaYa 50 coach) is inserted to check the clearance limit. This clearance car has laser beam launchers and specialised digital cameras. 


All of these measurement trains run as required, and the E926 series (East i) is quite difficult to see. However, its timetable is usually fixed and engages in checking for three consecutive days so that tweets of witnesses might be useful. Both E491 series (East i-E) and KiYa E193 series (East i-D) are easier to see, as their schedules are available on a monthly magazine called "Tetsudo Daiya Joho" (which means "information of railway diagrams").

JRs Central and West also have their measurement trains for non-high-speed railway, including the one succeeded from JapaneseNational Railways.