JR East

Tomix JR E1 MAX Toki

My latest model, which actually arrived back in March, is this Tomix model of JR East’s E1 “MAX” Shinkansen. Trains of this series operated on the Jōetsu Shinkansen line, north-west from Tokyo to Niigata, from 1994 until 2012 when they were replaced by the E4 series. Both the E1 and E4 were branded as the MAX (for Multi-Amenity eXpress).

This train was designed (per Japanese wikipedia) to fill a need for increased capacity on this line, driven in part by commuters. Thus there was an emphasis on capacity over speed, with the double-decker design capable of holding 1,235 passengers in standard and green (first) class. A total of six trains were built, identified as sets M1 to M6.

This model is of the version that operated the limited-stops Toki service after 2003 (up until it was replaced by the E4 in 2012), identified by the color, and pink stripe. The name Toki comes from the Crested Ibis, an endangered species native to Niigata. The E1 was also used in the all-stops Tanigawa service. Both trains had a top speed of 240 kph (150 mph), with 410 kW motors on all 24 trucks, for a total of 9.84 MW (13,196 hp). However, this model specifically reflects the M6 set as decorated with a Crested Ibis logo after August 28, 2012 for one month, until the E1 was withdrawn on 28 September, making it a rather time-specific version of the E1.

Imperial Train

Japan’s Emperor is the head of the world’s oldest continuing hereditary monarchy, reputed to have been established in 660 BC. He is also the last monarch in the world reigning under the title of Emperor. Japan’s current constitution stripped the position of emperor of political authority and, although it still has formal duties, the holder of that title is largely relegated to a ceremonial role. However the Emperor, both the office and the individual, is still highly regarded in Japanese society, and his duties include diplomatic ones such as “receiving foreign ambassadors and ministers”.

When the Emperor or his immediate family travel, they do so like any head of state, with a great deal of security, press coverage, and attention. Mostly such travel today is by car or plane, but given the predominant role of trains in Japanese transportation, this mode is sometimes used as well. If the Emperor travels by Shinkansen, a reserved car will be used. But for travel on the narrow-gauge network, there is a special Imperial Train. Since 2007, the E655 shown above has been used.

Kato E5 Shinkansen

My newest train is the new Kato model of the E5 “Hyabusa” Shinkansen (bullet train). This is, or more accurately will be, Japan’s fastest train. It began operating in March of 2011 on the Tōhoku Shinkansen line in northern Japan at speeds up to 300 kph (186 mph), and has a top speed of 320 kph (199 mph), which it will start using in 2013. The train operates a limited-stop service under the name Hyabusa (which means Perigrine Falcon), linking Tōkyō to the very northern tip of Japan’s main island of Honshu, a distance of 675 km (419 miles) in just 3 hours and ten minutes. That’s an average speed of 213 km/hr (132 mph) including station stops.

E231 Commuter Train: JR East’s Flagship

Commuter trains, and in particular urban commuter trains, are the workhorse of the Japanese narrow-gauge passenger lines. While there are plenty of suburban and regional passenger trains, the ones that move the most people, over 90,000 passengers per hour at peak time on some lines, are the urban commuters. These are heavy-rail electric multiple-unit trains, typically of 10 to 15 cars in length, running on headways of only a few minutes during rush hour, often sharing their tracks with suburban and regional trains, and in some cases freight. Typical speeds are low, often well under 100 kph (62 mph), with frequent stops, so power and efficient use of power, rather than raw speed, is most important.

Paging Captain Nemo: Japan’s Distinctive Train Designs

As I’ve mentioned before, Japanese trains are often visually quite distinctive. The Nankai Railway’s 50000 series rapi:t is one of the most distinctive, and evokes images of Victorian engineering and Jules Verne science fiction novels. It operates as an airport shuttle service between Osaka and Kansai International airport (about a 30-minute trip). According to wikipedia it was designed by an architect working with the theme of “outdated future”, which suggests that he was trying to create the “futuristic” look found in early twentieth-century works such as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Whatever the intent, the result is distinctive and unique, and very far from the utilitarian design that characterizes most western trains (or other machinery).

Old and New: Japan’s Joyful Trains

One of the defining characteristics of Japanese Trains, and of Japan in general, is a mania for newness. When Japan National Railways was broken up, one of the first actions of the newly-formed Japan Rail East was to begin planning a new model of commuter/suburban train with a design lifespan of just 15 years, quite short for an electric train. The reason was to lower construction and operations costs, compared with the existing trains that were due for replacement and very labor-intensive to operate and maintain. But it also had a PR dimension, in that JRE needed to shake off the public perception that JNR had as being out-of-touch with its passengers, and a new fleet of trains without the two or three decades of wear their then-current trains had was a good way to do that, by catering to the perception that “new” equated to “improved”. That effort was successful, and while most of that first generation of “15 year” trains (the 209 Series) are still in service, they’re gradually being replaced by the new generation of E231/E233/E531 commuter and suburban trains which form the bulk of my collection (and which, to be fair, do represent a substantial improvement over the 1960’s technology JNR had been using, in both comfort and economy).