Central Station I - Design

After initially thinking I’d build my own viaduct for the One Point Five Meter Line’s urban station, I’ve decided instead to use Kato’s Viaduct Station Entrance building (I had a spare one), possibly supplemented by one of the Station Shops buildings, as seen above. This will be fine even though I’m using Tomix track and station platforms, since the viaduct station simply creates a flat base for track, and isn’t specific to Kato’s track. The height would be, but I’m not connecting it to Tomix viaduct track, so that doesn’t matter.

Two Trams

A “tram” is a light rail vehicle. The word is British English; American’s still say “trolley” even though our light rail systems haven’t used trolley poles in decades. But it’s a word also used by the Japanese (who often borrow foreign words, either for marketing reasons or just because they like the sound).

The Toyama Light Rail line, a company jointly owned by the Toyama city government and some other investors, operates light rail vehicles over a former freight railway running between the city center and the waterfront. This is officially known as the Toyamakō Line, but the locals know it as “Portram” (for Port Tram), and the vehicles introduced in 2006 have come to be known by that name. There are seven of them, all of basically the same design but in different colors. A separate railway operates a city-center ring using similar vehicles, known as the Centram (“Central Tram”, I presume).

Tomytec, the parent company of Tomix, has been making models of these as part of their Railway Collection series since about 2009. These are intended to be collectibles for display, and they’re just empty shells. They cost around US$15 - US$20. But Tomytec also makes a motor unit that replaces the underbody, the TM-LRT01, which goes for around US$30. So for under $50, you can have an operating model. They’re not as nice as Kato’s Portram models, which sell for about US$85 in Japan, but they’re still quite good models.

I had been thinking about getting one of these, just to see how they compared with the Portram (I have one of Kato’s Centram models), but hadn’t gotten around to it. Then, while I was wondering what I’d run on my One Point Five Meter Line layout, I saw this new pair of them and decided that a model tram with a replaceable motor was the perfect thing for a layout that may do a lot of running back and forth. I ordered the pair, and two of the motors (thankfully those were available; they often sell out and can’t be found for months on end).

A Small Parking Garage

Many people who live in cities, even cities with much poorer public transportation than Tōkyō, can get by without an automobile, and do. Access to work, shopping, and social activities is often possible on foot or via what public transportation exists. Or other methods of transport, like bicycles, may be sufficient. But while that is true, many people who live in cities, particularly large, sprawling cities, do choose to own cars, and Tōkyō is no exception.

People can live a long distance from work, or may simply want a car for weekend use or to visit distant friends or relatives, particularly if they need to travel to rural areas where public transportation is less prevalent. Whatever the reason, many people have cars. And in Tōkyō, you can’t own a car unless you can prove you have a place to park it. Street parking is relatively uncommon.

Much of the city is comprised of small apartment buildings, and even houses. Houses may have a small space inside the property line to park a car, not so much a driveway as a paved front yard. But apartment dwellers need something else, and small parking lots or garages are fairly common. Read More...

Apartment Building Complete

It’s taken quite a bit longer than I expected when I started, but the first Kato Apartment Building is done. This really wasn’t as hard as it sometimes seemed. I probably spent the most time trying to decide what photos would go on the inside. I had the building painted and the interior wall units assembled in late March, then I got distracted by other things. Finally, after doing up most of the Bike Shop work, I decided it was time to start putting the Apartment Buildings together. The other one is less complete, and will likely be procrastinated over for a few more weeks while I work on other things, but getting this one done felt like quite the accomplishment.

Bike Shop II and May 2012 Status

The nice thing about the “Bike Shop” is that it’s a small model, and hence fairly quick work (by my standards a month really is quick). I’d written about this model a couple of weeks ago. At that point I’d finished the structural work, and given it several coats of paint from spray cans, providing a solid flat black layer to make it light-tight, and then a white interior layer for reflectivity, followed by a colored outer coat to give the “stone” a concrete look. Read More...

Bike Shop

It’s been a while since I started working on the buildings of the “village” section of the River Crossing scene, and progress has been slow, but not non-existent. I’ve built and painted the interiors for the two Kato apartment buildings (well, most of them, I’ve one left to finish) and have been working on collecting images to glue into them. I’ve also started work on what will likely become a bicycle shop, starting with a Bachmann Plasticville Drive-in Hamburger Stand (#45709). Read More...


No, I’m not writing about the ones from the 70s TV series. These are the electrical kind, Kato kit 23-401, which is actually a Heljan-produced model, although apparently not one sold directly by that company. The kit contains material for three high-voltage electrical towers of a common design. In fact, they’re nearly identical to those in a photo of Shin-Yokohama described as owned by JR East (see my Electrical Reference Images page). List price from Kato USA is US$19, but I’ve seen them for less. Frankly, they’re overpriced for what you get. Read More...

Customizing Buildings III

I haven’t been making a lot of progress this week, but I thought I’d post a couple of photos and talk a little about what I’m doing. As usual, larger versions of these photos are available in the Village Photos photo album.

I’d mentioned last time my intent to use photographs for interior detail. This uses the same approach I use for sign-making: reduce images found online to scale size, print them on a 4x6 sheet of glossy photo paper on my inkjet, and glue them to a styrene backing. For the flooring I found some patterns for tatami mats, and assembled room floors by tiling appropriate numbers of mats. Downloadable versions of those were included in last week’s post.

But I’m also using that approach for some of the walls. This is a bit harder, as I need actual photos of walls, but not ones taken at a sharp angle (which is, unfortunately, typical of interior photos). Further, while some furniture is okay, it needs to be subtle, otherwise it’s obvious that the “table” is really a part of the rear wall of the room. With the large windows on the river-facing side of these apartments, the rooms are going to be quite visible (as seen in the test picture above). I ultimately found some usable photos (via Google mainly), but unfortunately they’re all copyrighted, so I can’t share them. Google for “Japan Interior Images” and you’ll turn up a lot of them.

Customizing Buildings II

Work on the buildings of the village continued this week, with more painting, some detailing and work on interiors, and the beginning of work on the village scene itself.

One thing I’ve been considering for a while is how to make the very large gas station fit the limited space. It comes with a sidewalk part that can be added to one side, and I was clear that I didn’t want to add that. But it also has a large sidewalk/apron area in front of it, and after much consideration I decided that needed to go. My street here is going to have a much smaller sidewalk, perhaps as little as 5mm, and putting this behind the sidewalk didn’t look good or make any sense. Building a custom sidewalk also means it can match the rest of the street, and have clearly separate entry and exit drives.

Customizing Buildings I and Feb 2012 Status

I’ve always enjoyed building plastic models. When I was a kid I made many, many models of ships, planes, tanks, spaceships, dinosaurs and whatever else caught my interest. This included some train car kits for my HO layout. Some I even painted moderately well. The less said about my decaling skills, however, the better.

But sometime in High School I lost interest, and it wasn’t until working on the first adult HO layout that I dusted off my skills for some new kits, and also did some customization of kits (commonly known as “kitbashing” in the model railroad hobby). But until this year, those skills had languished again.

Electrical Substation

It might seem like stating the obvious, but an electric railways needs a supply of electricity for the trains to run. I’m not talking about the model trains, but the prototype. A typical commuter train can use up to 1.5 MW (megawatts) when accelerating. A Shinkansen can use 10 MW. At any given moment hundreds of trains are operating in the Tōkyō area, with power demands larger than a small city.

Where does that power come from? JR East buys some of it from the local utility (Tōkyō Electric Power Company, or TEPCO). TEPCO operates fossil, nuclear and hydroelectric power plants, transmitting power along transmission lines at up to 500,000 volts (500 kV). At substations this is reduced to much lower voltages (6,000 volts or less, according to wikipedia, although distribution lines can be higher-voltage) and sent along street utility poles to local pole-mounted transformers that step it down to 100 or 200 volts for residential use. Industries typically take the distribution voltage and have their own transformers as needed. Both Transmission and Distribution lines are typically three-phase AC power, with three wires (plus a ground, which is often not present on towers). AC is used because transformers only operate on AC, and higher voltages can be sent longer distances.