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reflects the M6 set as decorated with a Crested Ibis logo after August 28, 2012 for one month, until the E1 was withdrawn on 28 September, making it a rather time-specific version of the E1.

Kato's "New" Coupler and Oct 2011 Status

When my Ginza 01 series train (Kato 10-864) arrived last month I put it on the track to break it in, then took it off and separated the cars as I usually do with commuter cars, levering them up until the couplers are nearly at a 90-degree angle, just as it says to in the brochure that comes with the train. This time, to my surprise, instead of uncoupling, one coupler assembly exploded into three parts (coupler, bracket, and spring). Attempting to re-install the spring led to it departing over the horizon (or at least into the depths of the basement), never to be seen again. A quick look at the brochure, and it was clear Kato had changed something. It showed the cars being separated by pulling apart rather than the levering up procedure I was used to from earlier commuter models.

This was a bit of a surprise, because the coupler looked just like the usual commuter coupler, with a square, pyramid-tipped spike and a matching socket, with a hook underneath, all designed to mimic the standard Japanese coupler used on many narrow-gauge trains, a type of multi-function close coupler known as a Shibata coupler after its developer, Mamoru Shibata, although often called more generically a “Scharfenberg” coupler, after the original European close-coupler it was modeled on. I decided it must be a new type of coupler developed for the new subway trains (which the Ginza is assumed to be the first of) and ordered a replacement. That turned out to be an incorrect assumption.

Truth is Stranger than Model Railroading

It’s often said that there’s a prototype for everything, and there probably is. But that’s usually meant as “do what you think is right, somebody, somewhere probably did it that way”. Now I’d be the last person to say that there’s a “wrong” way of making a model railroad layout. You can do highly prototype-specific layouts, or completely fictional ones, or anything in between. And scenery can vary from entirely imaginary to near photo-perfect. And if you want to run nineteenth-century steam locomotives alongside twenty-first century electric trains, or whatever, that’s cool too. It’s your railroad.

But I think that if you want to have a railroad that is interesting to someone else, whether than someone else is a family member, friend, or an audience at a show, “anything goes” is perhaps a bit too open-ended. Because ultimately a model railroad is a representation of something. If that something lives entirely in your own head, than it just needs to meet your requirements. But for someone else to participate, they need to understand what it’s representing, and be able to see that themselves. And if, like me, that’s what you want, then you have to make it happen with planning and deliberate action.

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.

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).

Japanese Trains

It occurs to me that I’ve been writing about my layout for over six months, and haven’t really mentioned the central reason for it: to run Japanese trains in a setting that evokes their natural urban landscape. In particular, I’m focused on contemporary Japanese passenger trains operated by JR East in and around Tōkyō. That may seem rather narrowly specialized, but Japan has such a variety of passenger trains that it really isn’t.