25 March, 2023

The Red List of Trains in Japan (Mar-2023 update)

The Red List of Trains in Japan has been updated with 8 new articles. More importantly, many existing articles have the latest information reflecting the annual timetable revision that took place on Saturday 18th March. For instance:

In Hokkaido, KiHa 283 series has been reinstated as Limited Express Okhotsk and Taisetsu, replacing KiHa 183 series of Japanese National Railways;

JR East 651 series, once known as Super Hitachi and until recently used for Limited Express Akagi and Kusatsu, retired;

JR Central KiHa 85 series was withdrawn from Limited Express Hida;

And the biggest railway project in a decade, Sotetsu and Tokyu Shin-Yokohama Lines finally opened and the new through-services to and from Tokyo were launched.

In addition, there were many more minor changes on train allocation and future prospects of certain trains.

Finally, the new eight articles are as follows:

18 March, 2023

Confusing routes, confusing displays

On Saturday 18 March 2023, two new lines were added to Tokyo's railway network: Sotetsu and Tokyu Shin-Yokohama lines. Sotetsu Shin-Yokohama line was extended from Hazawa yokohama-kokudai (hereinafter referred to as Hazawa YK) to Shin-Yokohama, while Tokyu Shin-Yokohama line was opened from Shin-Yokohama to Hiyoshi. There are now hundreds of through-services every day from Sotetsu to Tokyo via Tokyu lines and vice versa.

As the biggest railway project in more than a decade has been completed at last, it is expected that Shin-Yokohama, an interchange station of Tokaido Shinkansen high-speed rail, will be even more convenient and easier to access for people not just in Kanagawa Prefecture but also western part of Greater Tokyo.

However, when I visited the new stations on the very first day, I found that the new through-services are confusing and even chaotic as described below.

This is a route map on a wall. It covers all stations managed by SEVEN railway companies that the new through-services would call at: namely Sotetsu lines as well as JR Saikyo line, Tokyu Meguro and Toyoko lines, Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin and Namboku lines, Toei Mita line, Saitama Railway Saitama Stadium line and Tobu Tojo line. It is extremely hard to find one's destination without help.

Destination displays show confusing information as well. In Japan, trains that call at every station are generally written as "Local" with white (or black) letters. But this display is so colourful that it is not easy to comprehend what do they mean. Displays on trains also adopt the same colour patterns. Apparently not a good idea for those with colour vision deficiency.

The colourful displays indicate routes of each train, as (hopefully) the map above shows. Since trains for Tokyu Toyoko line and others for JR Saikyo line run towards the same direction, it is vital to make it clear which line does the train go. For example, there are trains for Ikebukuro via Tokyu Toyoko and Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin lines and others via JR Saikyo line. The most confusing ones can be observed in the weekend morning: a train departing Hazawa YK at 7:51 is for Kawagoe via Saikyo line, while another one at 7:55 is for Kawagoeshi via Toyoko, Fukutoshin and Tobu Tojo lines. Both trains call at Ikebukuro despite they run completely different lines. Not a few passengers will certainly take a wrong train and thus pay 140 yen more than what was supposed to be.

Any timetable revision always causes a certain level of misunderstanding and confusion, but the Sotetsu-Tokyu through-services are hard for everyone. Generally speaking, a new railway is something to be welcomed, but these new ones are quite tricky.

11 March, 2023

Keikyu Once More...or Three Times More

In June 2010, Keikyu 1000 series retired after being in service for more than 50 years. The 1000 series was known as the most numerous "type" (but not "series") among all private railways’ trains, and it was the most well-known Keikyu train.

Meanwhile in Kagawa Prefecture (western Japan), a small private railway called Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railroad (hereinafter referred to as Kotoden) has been using resold-1000 series since 1988, but the company had never shown interest in the former owner of the trains. In 2018-21, a unit was covered with an advertisement of Keikyu services to and from Haneda Airport in Tokyo, but it obviously looked very different from the original livery of Keikyu 1000 series.

Therefore, Kotoden Charter Association, a group of Keikyu enthusiasts, decided to initiate a crowdfunding programme to restore a train to the original style. Since it was regarded by Kotoden as a train advertisement, it costed 15m yen (approx. 136k USD) for a two-year contract. This train ran Kotohira Line from 2019 to 2021.

The group carried out another crowdfunding in 2020 to repaint 1200 series (ex-Keikyu 700 series), and it was successful with a donation of 12m JPY (approx. 112k USD) in total. It ran Kotohira Line as well in 2020-21, and it sometimes joined to the other Keikyu-coloured train to be formed of four coaches, which reminded railway enthusiasts of what the old trains were used to be until the 2000s.

Moreover, the group successfully conducted the third crowdfunding to repaint another train on Nagao Line, which has been in service since 2022. This time there was a donation of roughly 9.7m JPY (approx. 84k USD). This unit No. 1305 was the last Keikyu 1000 series and its number is, as it happened, unchanged even today. This red train is scheduled to be operational until April.

Unlike in the United Kingdom, train preservation is not common in Japan due to various reasons including strict safety rules so that there had been very few cases that railway enthusiasts involved in restoring old trains for passenger services. However, things are gradually changing: thanks to crowdfunding services, railway enthusiasts have been more active than before to preserve their favourite trains since the late-2010s as companies cannot always maintain trains without trainspotters' help. Even if not like those in Britain, Japanese railway enthusiasts can contribute to railway companies than before not to allow trains just disappearing. The three successful projects by Kotoden Charter Association was probably one of the impetuses to change nerds' attitude.

25 February, 2023

Tokyu Shibuya station, 10 years on

Tokyo Metro 17000 series

Tokyu Toyoko line connects Shibuya in Tokyo and Yokohama, and it is one of the busiest railways in the Greater Tokyo Area. There have been through-services to Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin line, and by extension, Seibu Ikebukuro and Tobu Tojo lines since 2013. Today, Shibuya is effectively an underground station.

Tokyu 9000 series with a farewell sticker

Toyoko line was quite different until ten years ago. Before 16 March 2013, Toyoko line services did not go towards Fukutoshin line. There were some old trains that were withdrawn when the through-services commenced. Facilities at some stations looked different as well.

Shibuya station platforms had been located on this place since 1927 when Toyoko line opened. The building was dramatically refurbished in 1964 to deal with congestion and in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics. This wave-shaped roof had been known for nearly 50 years.

Shibuya station was a terminus of Toyoko line at that time so that there were bay platforms. The bay platform is not common in Tokyo because most stations are not dead-end. In central Tokyo, there are only a handful major termini that have such a feature: Asakusa (Tobu), Ikebukuro (Seibu and Tobu), Seibu-Shinjuku and Shinjuku (Keio and Odakyu).

Platforms at stations in Tokyo are generally straight, but Shibuya station platforms had tight curves, and they reminded me of stations like Cannon Street. Shibuya station was optimised for trains formed of eight coaches, roughly 160 metres (525 ft) long. It might sound long enough but actually it was not, as most trains in central Tokyo are longer than that.

Shibuya station platforms were extended again and again as trains became longer so that the platforms were narrow. No platform edge doors could have been installed here. As always, the more you went down the platform, the more you were likely to have a seat (as most people were reluctant to walk).

Shibuya station was relocated together with its adjacent station, Daikanyama (approximately a mile away). It is worth noting that the track and platform replacement work took less than four hours as the video above shows, thanks to the workers who had prepared for it for months.

The disused platforms were opened for public from 22 to 24 March 2013. A platform ticket (120 yen) was required to enter, but thousands of people visited the station to say goodbye to the 85-year-old platforms.

And then, the entire building was demolished. A skyscraper called Shibuya Stream was built on the site in 2018. It is worth noting that some viaducts are still in use for pedestrians, and I shall post another article about the ruins of them someday.

18 February, 2023

Introduction - 50 years on: a Comparison (part 0)

Introduction - 50 years on: a Comparison (part 0)

From April, a new series of articles about how railways in Japan have changed in the last 50 years starts, using this 1973 timetables. This old book contains all railways and some ferry services provided by Japanese National Railways.

The period from the mid-1960s to the mid-70s is often said to be the golden era of JNR as there had been various long-distance services (including night trains) as well as more rural railways than we have today. However, JNR had not been pursuing convenient services at that time as it focused too much on long-distance and freight trains. Commuter rails in Tokyo were mostly improved by the early-1970s as "Operation Five Directions" (constructing quadruple-tracks) succeeded, but commuter and suburban trains in Nagoya and Osaka areas had effectively been abandoned. Other cities like Sendai, Niigata, Hiroshima and Fukuoka areas had far fewer trains than today as well. Even not a few rural railways were less useful than today. It might be interesting to compare them with current JR services.

The only thing I had which related to UK joining the EC (or maybe not)

What kind events were there in 1973? The United Kingdom joined the European Community together with Denmark and Ireland. Roe v Wade, one of the most well-known judgment was delivered in the United States. The Vietnam War ended as an agreement was concluded by the parties. In Japan, the largest number of newborn babies were recorded, Kim Dae-jung (later-president of South Korea) was kidnapped by Korean officials in Tokyo, and there were two riots by commuters frustrated by industrial action.

There were also several news about Japanese railways: Negishi Line fully opened (extended from Yokodai to Ofuna), Musashino Line opened between Fuchuhommachi and Shim-Matsudo. San-yo Shinkansen was partly available between Shin-Osaka and Okayama as it opened in 1972. Steam trains were still in service, though it could not be found in the timetables.

In terms of rolling stock, not a few trains that are very well-known in Japan had already been in use, such as 103 series, 113 series, 115 series, 485 series, KiHa 20 series and KiHa 58 series.

I have conducted polls on Twitter and Mastodon, and the results were as follows.

 Commuter trains in Tokyo  6 
 Those in Nagoya and Osaka areas  1 
 Intercity services  8 
 Rural railways  9 

The polls showed that many people are particularly interested in rural railways (some of which are now called "Third-Sector" railways) and intercity services so that I will prepare for them accordingly, although other two topics will never be ignored. "50 years on: a Comparison" series starts on 8th April, and the first article will be something general (fares, service categories etc). Subsequent articles should be available every two weeks. Follow Mastodon or Twitter for the latest updates!