Monthly Archives: October 2011

MAX Series Shinkansen to Retire in 2016

Earlier this year, JR East announced that they would be retiring the MAX Series Shinkansen, which currently serves the Joetsu, Tohoku, and Nagano Shinkansen lines.

E4 Series Shinkansen

E1 Series Shinkansen

The phase-out is slated to begin in July 2012, with a complete withdraw by 2016.

The E1 and E4 Series Shinkansen are 8 to 16-car double-decker trains. Between the E4 and it’s double-deckered cousin, the slightly older E1, they run under the service name MAX, which stands for Multi-Amenity eXpress.

brother and sister

Despite the name, it doesn’t provide any additional services outside of other Shinkansen running throughout Japan, but it does have the capacity to hold a lot of people. For example, a 16-car E4 train has seats for 1,634 passengers, which currently holds the record for the highest-capacity high-speed rail trainset in the world, and has held that title ever since the train went into service in 1997. In comparison, the E1 is a 12-car trainset which has a seat capacity of 1,235 and entered service in 1994.

12-car E1 Series - Fun Fact: You could fit the population of Vatican City into this one train. There's even enough room for the Pope to have his own car.

Soon after it’s upcoming retirement was announced, I was curious to why the MAX Series was slated to go into retirement in the first place.

However, after a little digging, it became apparent that it’s retirement was unavoidable. Here’s why:

  1. Shinkansen Technology

At first sight, the E1 and E4 don’t appear to be that aged nor worn out…and that’s because they’re not. Both have been in service for no more than 17 years, and when you look at the E4, it still has a very modern design to it. It’s a look that has been inherited by the newer E5 and E6 Shinkansen Series and will probably used for future trains beyond those. And when you compare the age of the E1/E4 with the 0 Series Shinkansen, the granddaddy of them all which was in service for 44 years, they’re still babies.

0 Series Shinkansen

However, within the last couple years, there has been a lot of development with newer technology, and there has been a much greater focus on…

2.  Speed

The E1 and E4 both have a maximum speed of 240 km/h (150mph). The E5 current runs along the Tohoku Shinkansen line at 300 km/h (186mph) and is slated to run at 320 km/h (200mph) from 2013. Because of their size, the E1 and E4 simply don’t have the ability to operate at that speed.

‘’But wouldn’t replacing a double-decker train with a single-leveled train reduce the overall number of seats available?” I thought to myself. However, replacing the MAX Series with faster trains would allow additional trains to enter the timetable, offsetting the reduction in seats.

Since JR East hasn’t released a formal press release as to why they’re going to retire these trains, the above reasons are purely speculations that I’ve gathered from a number of sites.

However, in my personal opinion, there is a third reason that should be looked at.

3.  Comfort

Because the double-decker trains sit slightly higher than single-level trains, it allows great views of the scenery along the way…IF you sit in the upper deck.

View from the upper level

When sitting in the lower deck, you either have a view of people’s feet, a wall, or nothing at all because someone decided to pull the shade down over the window due to the lack of scenery in the first place.

This video does a good job at explaining what I mean:

 

Enjoy this view of the platform because that will change to nothing in a few moments...

I think for those reasons, the lower deck is usually the preferred seat for most businessmen using the Shinkansen for commuting to and from work because it’s not as crowded as the upper deck, and they don’t give a hoot about what’s out the window since they’re usually focused on their canned coffee (or canned beer if leaving work) and Mainichi newspaper.

Also, the seat configuration is different depending on which deck you sit in. The seats in the lower deck have a 2+3 (2 on one side, 3 on the other) configuration and all seats have the ability to recline. The seats in the upper deck are in a 3+3 configuration and none of them recline.  This inconsistency in seating arrangement can be confusing to some, and in some cases, cause some decks to be completely empty while the other one is full. Perhaps another reason to retire the bi-leveled trains is to simply create consistency in one train since it better accommodates passengers, and also reduces the difficulty of having to design different arrangements for different parts of the train.

The retirement of the MAX Series also raises another question:

What will they be replaced with?

Nothing has been formally announced yet, but early signs point to them being replaced with the E5 Series.

On September 15th, the E5 was spotted at Echigo-Yuzawa Station in Niigata Prefecture during a test run. It was the first time the E5 was seen running along the Joetsu Shinkansen line.

i see what you're up to.

Since then, the E5 has been spotted on various days throughout the area.

Could this be the future of the Joetsu Shinkansen line? No one is expecting an E7 Series anytime soon, so this could become the norm for not only the Joetsu Line, but also the soon-to-be-extended Hokuriku Shinkansen Line (currently called the Nagano Shinkansen Line) to Toyama, which is slated to open from 2014.

Although I am excited at the possibility of riding new trains around where I live, I’ll miss the MAX Series, the E4 in particular.

you think this distracts the driver?

The E4 was one of the very first high-speed rail trains I’ve ever ridden after coming to Japan, and it was the train I always relied on to take me back and forth to Tokyo. From my old apartment, I was able to see the shinkansen track from my balcony and there were countless times where I’d wait there to see the massive machines speed by. I guess I could say that the E4 is partially to blame for my deep fascination (obsession, maybe?) with trains. Heck, even my birthday cake a few years back was a MAX!

next stop: my mouth

However, the opening of new lines and the operation of new trains mean that there will be new places to explore. With all the new development within the railway industry that is happening throughout the country, it only leads me to believe that my train journeys in Japan is just getting started.

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Quick note about the pictures:

Some of them are mine, others are gathered around the web. The ones which ARE NOT mine, have been hyperlinked and will direct you to the source from which they are from. Although a majority of them are from Japanese blogs and other sites, they’re still worth looking at as some of the pictures are down-right gorgeous, whether you’re into trains or not. Just thought you should know.

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Densha de Dan #7: Kirakira Uetsu

The Kirakira Uetsu is a Rapid Express train running along the Uetsu Line from Niigata Station, and then terminates in either Sakata Station in Yamagata Prefecture, or Kisakata Station in Akita Prefecture, depending on season as the schedule can change.

“Kirakira” is the Japanese onomatopoeia for “sparkling” or “glitter,” which is a very suitable name for this train since it cruises along the Sea of Japan coastline for a majority of the trip. Around the end of summer, the timetable aligns with the setting of the sun, leaving passengers with a beautiful sunset and a sparkling horizon beneath it.

now THAT'S KIRAKIRA!!

On this particular day, however, the weather was pretty bad. Not a whole lot of ‘’kirakira’’ to begin with, and as soon as I arrived in Akita Pref., it started pouring, which meant I had to abandon a bicycle ride to a local waterfall in the area. I could have waited for the weather to clear, but I only had about 2 hours until my return train back to Niigata, so the besides riding the train itself, everything was kind of a bust.

As for the ‘’Kirakira Uetsu’’ itself, it’s probably the most colorful train in the entire JR East rolling stock.

oh, the colors

interior of the train, which happens to be just as colorful as the exterior

It’s a 4-car passenger train, which seats a total of about 116 passengers. It also includes a lounge car, which passengers can use at their leisure.

Kirakira Uetsu Lounge Car

The lounge car includes a small gift shop and snack bar, which offers bento boxes, sandwiches, sweets, and beverages. You can also order a green tea set, which includes enough tea for about 2 to 3 cups (and if you ask the staff, they’ll give you additional hot water, free of charge), a sweet mochi ball dessert, and is served to you in the lounge by an attendant. Watching the sea fly by at 120 km/h while sipping on a cup of green tea wasn’t a bad way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Elsewhere throughout the train, there’s a rubber stamp pad, which includes the train’s logo, a small souvenir machine that sells stickers and other small items, and a small area for kids to color.

If you walk towards either end of the train, there are huge windows that allow you to peer directly into the driver’s room. You literally get to see what the train driver sees, which proved to be popular with children (like myself).

that will be me someday

Although I took the train throughout the entire route from beginning to end, there are plenty of other destinations in between that I strongly recommend, especially if you enjoy hot springs or hiking.

some hot buns i picked up in kisakata. now, i understand the pig looking ones are filled with pork. but the panda ones are filled with...?

luckily, i got to see a glimpse of a sunset on the way back home. kind of.

despite the poor weather, we have to at least agree that the view is still pretty damn nice

...and at last an Ekiben (train lunch box) and a beer to end the day

Finally, I want to finish with a new feature that may be implemented in future editions of Densha de Dan. On this train, I look video from the window looking outward, so that way it would give you a chance to see what I see when riding the train. It’ll include different sections of the line, from beginning to end, but I’ll edit it to a short 2-3 minute video. If you think it works well, or I should use more pictures instead, please leave a comment. Positive or negative feedback only makes the blog better!

With that, I introduce to you the first edition of Noseprint.

Why “Noseprint?” you ask? Well, these videos will give a perspective of planting your face right on the train window. When you lift you’re face away from the window, what’s usually left?

A print of your nose. (It’s actually more of a grease smear, but it doesn’t make for a good title).

Finally, here’s some basic information to get you started if you wish to trek around on the Kirakira Uetsu (which I strongly suggest going…IF IT’S SUNNY!)

  • Price: ¥4,080 (includes regular fare and ¥510 reserved seating fee)
  • Seating
    • ALL Reserved Seating
    • Tickets can be purchased from any JR Station that has a ticket service counter
  • Time and Distance
    • From Niigata Station to Kisakata Station
      • 3 hours 16 minutes
      • 204.7 kilometers
  • Schedule (As of 11/2011)
    • Runs every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and National Holidays
    • On some days, it only runs in one direction, so caution is advised.
    • Detailed timetable can be found here.

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Useful Links:

Kirakira Uetsu – Official JR East Site with basic information about the train (English)

きらきらうえつ – Official JR East (Niigata Branch) Site with detailed information about the train (Japanese)

Official JR Pamphlet – Additional English information, with departure/arrival times at the stations. Also has information about using this train in conjunction with the JR East Pass, JR East Pass Special, and Japan Rail Pass. Pamphlet is dated from 2009, but after checking over the information, it remains accurate (as of 11/2011).


The train factory will have to wait…

In the previous post, I wrote about a train factory in Niigata Prefecture allowing the public to view the inside of the factory. The event will still continue as planned tomorrow, but I’m afraid that due to a very sudden family emergency, I will be not be able to make it and instead have to head to Tokyo.

It’s unfortunate as this factory opens it’s doors only once a year to the public, and I thought it would make a very interesting article, but I’ll just have to try again next year.

However, I know that until then, there will be plenty of train adventures in between that time! So, there will always be something to look forward to.

Since I’ll be in Tokyo for the weekend, if I see anything interesting (train-related or not) I’ll post it to my Twitter page.


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