Category Archives: Shinkansen

E7 Series Shinkansen Announced

It was brought to my attention by a reader (thanks J.G!), that JR East will introduce the E7 Series Shinkansen on the Hokuriku Shinkansen Line (currently named the Nagano Shinkansen Line) starting from 2015.

This follows the E5 Series, currently running along the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, and the E6 Series, which will run on the Akita Shinkansen Line from next year.

From a Mainichi Newspaper article:

According to JR East, the company is already working on a blueprint for the new model and will launch a prototype train by summer 2012.

…which means we’re just a few months away from seeing what kind of design it will have. Will it inherit anything from the E5 or E6? Or will it have a complete resdesign altogether? We’ll see.

With the formal announcement of the E7, I’m hoping that they’ll finally announce something for the Joetsu Shinkansen Line since they’re planning to retire the trains throughout the next few years.

Complete article about the announcement of the E7 can be read here.


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.


Snakes on a…train?

From The Daily Yomiuri:

A red-and-black snake about one meter long was found Monday on a Shinkansen train running between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto stations on the Tokaido Shinkansen line, police said.

A conductor found the snake on a seat in the No. 3 car of the Kodama No. 642 train at about 9 a.m. Monday. The train originated in Shin-Osaka and was bound for Tokyo.

The conductor asked the sole passenger in the car to evacuate to another coach and closed doors to confine the snake. Staff from the prefectural Animal Shelter in Konan, Shiga Prefecture, captured the snake and turned it over to local police. No one was injured.

The snake is believed to be a Honduran milk snake, according to the Japan Snake Institute in Ota, Gunma Prefecture. The species is not poisonous and is often imported to Japan as pets. Dogs and cats can travel on Shinkansen trains for an additional charge, but snakes are prohibited.

What this article doesn’t address however, is how the snake got there in the first place? And was it intentional? Obviously, who ever brought the snake on board didn’t intend on harming anyone, but still…weird.

Anyways, here’s a video that provides some pictures of the snake:

trying…so…hard….not…to…..throw…in……a…..Samuel…L…..Jackson….reference…………………….


The Greatest Commercial Ever Made?

It doesn’t matter if you’re American, Japanese, a rail fan, whatever…this is a great commercial to watch.

On February 20th, JR Kyushu filmed a commercial to commemorate the opening of the Kyushu Shinkansen. Prior to filming, JR held a huge casting call, asking residents who live near or along the rail line to wave to the train as it passes by. Posters were put up in many of the stations to let people know of the event.

JR Kyushu estimates that 15,000 people came out to send their best wishes to the newly constructed line.

What makes this commercial uncanny is it’s timing. The commercial started airing on March 10th. The Kyushu Shinkansen was slated to open on March 12th, 1 day after the disaster in Tohoku. Because Kyushu is quite a distance away from the Tohoku region, the opening of the line continued as scheduled, but without all the ceremonies and press events that were originally planned.

In order to cope with the disaster, we donate our time, our money, and our resources in order to rebuild and make Japan even stronger. All over the place, I often see 一つになろう日本 (hitotsu ni narou nippon), meaning Let’s All Come Together, Japan. It’s on posters, on TV, restaurant signs, everywhere.

But after watching this commercial, I saw that, even before the disaster, we were already one Japan. Everyone can come together, and almost effortlessly, cheer for something they believe in. In the commercial, they’re not only cheering for a new train, but they’re cheering on the progress Japan has made, and also on what’s to come in the future. That gives me hope.

It was a well-spent 3 minutes of my life (15 minutes considering I’ve already watched it 5 times today).


No Reason Not to Continue.

Hello again. A few things to cover before getting started:

I’m fine. The earthquake/tsunami which hit Japan on March 11th was definitely felt where I live, but I live well outside of the disaster areas. I’m also far from the troubled Fukushima Nuclear Power plants and it’s mandatory evacuation zones. Although Niigata Prefecture is Fukushima Prefecture’s neighbor, there was relatively little damage sustained. The Iiyama Line, a route connecting Niigata and Nagano Prefectures, suffered a partial collapse, closing the line until it’s repaired. It’s expected to be reopened sometime around the end of the month.

Iiyama Line - Source: Asahi Newspaper

All other lines in Niigata Pref. continue to run, some with limited services. The seasonal Banestsu Monogatari steam train running to and from Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima has indefinitely been suspended. Other trains which often serve tourism purposes have also been cancelled for the time being. Although inconvenient, it still pales in comparison to the extend of damage caused on the east coast of Japan.

The Joban Line, which runs from Tokyo to Sendai, runs along the coast for most of the journey. Needless to say, much of it was devastated.

after the tsunami

The Yamada Line, which runs from Sendai to Miyako, Iwate Pref., and the Kita-Riasu Line, going from Miyako toward Hachinohe, Aomori Pref., was also heavily damaged, if not completely washed away.

Otsushi Station, Yamada Line - Source: Nikkei Newspaper

In the hours after the disaster, numerous trains went missing and were swept away from the tsunami. There are stories of passengers leaving the train and leaving for higher ground, but I haven’t been able to find information on everything.

The Tohoku Shinkansen, also sustained damage to its power lines and support pillars on hundreds of spots along it’s 675 km route. Consequently, about 75% of the line was closed for inspection and repairs, which is a shame since the new E5 series shinkansen was only in service for about a week before the disaster happened. Sendai Station also had a lot of structural damage. You can see the extent of it here (fast-forward about 59 seconds in):

Although the line has been reopening in sections, its expected to continue full service on April 20th. Remember, this was a freakin’ 9.0 magnitude earthquake. The quickness of repairing not only the shinkansen line, but all other lines has been nothing short of amazing. Freight lines were also quickly reopened in order to transport relief goods to the affected areas.

So, I’ve been thinking. How can I help? I’ve already donated money, but I wish there was more I can do…

…and then the answer came to me. Continue to travel. Japan is amazing, and while I’m here, I want to continue to see as much of it as I can, whether it be by rail, car, bicycle, piggy-back a drunk businessman, whatever. From what the numbers are saying, foreign tourism is way down. Not only that, even those already living here are a bit timid to start traveling to and fro again.

Despite the continuing aftershocks, and the uncertainty of the nuclear “crisis,” I don’t think thats a reason to stay home. I see continuing to sightsee as a win-win for both Japan and myself. The money I spend goes right back into the economy, and the memories I receive are priceless. The entire Tohoku region still has incredible places to visit, and I’m still determined to visit it someday.

Japan WILL recover, and I hope to contribute to the recovery effort as much as everyone else. It’s the least I can do.

Finally, some things related to the site. I know it’s been a while since the last update, but there are plenty of things to write about, so expect some new posts throughout the week. First, I’ll be taking the train out to Joetsu City tomorrow to do a little cherry blossom partying. Also, Golden Week holidays is upon us at the end of this month, which means a trip to Kyoto and Hiroshima!! Finally, I’ll update about my trip to Okinawa last month, including a ride on the Okinawa monorail.

Until then, see you next time!

がんばれ東北!がんばれ日本! - Source: Nikkei Newspaper


Media Day for the E5!

More information regarding the E5 Hayabusa Shinkansen. Up in Miyagi Prefecture, the first mass-production unit was rolled out to the press. Lucky for us, that provides us with additional pictures of the inside of the train.

By the way, click the picture to enlarge.

Ready when you are.

Since it’s the first mass-produced E5, what we see is what we can expect when service begins from March.

Another shot of GranClass

I’ve also found not only pictures of the GranClass carriage, but also the Green and Standard Classes. A nice step up from what I’m riding now get in and out of Tokyo via the Joetsu Shinkansen.

The Green Car

Standard Class...for the peasants. Like myself.

From my last post, we saw what the symbol for the Green Car looks like. Here is the symbol they’ll slap on the side of the GranClass carriages:

A step up from the Green Car clover, imo.

Can you see that the hexagon makes the letter ”G”? Also, the 5 trapezoids represent the 5 different luxuries the GranClass provides to the customer, which are: State-of-the-art technology, Increased Seating Space, Seat Comfort, Beautiful Interior Design, and High-Quality Service. The triangle represents these 5 luxuries being provided to you, the customer (yeah, you in the middle).

You can also rest assured that the driver will be riding in style too as the Driver’s Room is decked out just as nice.

Best view in the house.

Controls seem to be simplified overall as there’s a lot of reliance on the touch-panel displays throughout the cockpit. Also, on the far right you can see the spot for where the driver puts his official train conductors watch. Kind of an odd place for it though.

Come to Niigata!!

Unfortunately, the E5 doesn’t run along the Joetsu Shinkansen line, and I have no future plans to visit Aomori, nor ride along the Tohoku Shinkansen any time soon…so a first-hand account of the E5 is out of the question. If I can find a good reason to visit Aomori, then maybe I’ll give it a shot. We’ll see!

Thanks to this site for providing the pictures!


Super Green Class, Baby

Whenever you ride the bullet train throughout Japan, you have 3 choices as far as where you’d like to sit.

The first one is Non-Reserved seating.

Don’t worry, it doesn’t smell as it looks.

Non-Reserved Seats simply mean that there is no assigned seating within that car, so where you sit is first-come, first-serve. If you can’t get a seat however, it doesn’t mean that you can’t board. You can stand in the aisle, or in between the carriages, which is undesirable, but still gets you to your destination. Usually occurs during peak holiday times. Just for comparison, it’s worth knowing that the seats are a lot more comfortable than those in an airplane. They recline a good deal and have no armrest in between seats, meaning if there’s no one sitting next to you, you’re free to sprawl across the entire row if you’d like.

The other type of seating you can get is Reserved. It looks and smells the same as Non-Reserved, but at least you’re guaranteed a seat, since it’s printed on your ticket. Reserved seats cost just ¥510 more than Non-Reserved, a small price to pay to put your worries aside of not snagging a seat.

The third type of seating is within the Green Car. Carriages with green cars are marked with this symbol on the side:

It's the color green, so it must be good.

I’ve only ridden the Green Car once, but I do recall it being quite comfortable. A lot more leg room than the previously mentioned seating, and the quality of the seats are a lot better. The lighting is also slightly dimmer than Reserved seating, allowing passengers to rest a bit easier. In my option, I’ve always found the lighting in (Non)-Reserved to have the same kind of glow like those in an office building, so the ones in the Green Car is a welcomed change.

Here's your seat, Mr. Big Shot.

But is it worth the price? On average (based on trips to/from Shin-Aomori and Tokyo, as well as Niigata and Tokyo), Green Car costs an additional ¥3000-5000 more than Reserved Seating, depending on the distance you happen to be traveling. Amenities don’t chance too much, except for slippers, I believe. You’re paying for the extended leg room than anything else. However, it’s still a nice way to travel.

What’s that, you say? Money isn’t an issue? Well, new information today. From March 5th, 2011, JR East will be introducing a new passenger class called GranClass.

 

Sir, no drooling on the seats, please.

They’re rolling it out with the new E5 Series Hayabusa, the same time the train is planned to begin operation on the Tohoku Shinkansen line. The Nihon Keizai Newspaper has a good video on the GranClass (no Japanese skill needed to view) which you can find here. Just look for the play button and it’ll open a new window and start going on it’s own.

The main reason I’m impressed with this new class (despite me never shelling out the dough to ride it) is because for the last couple years, new Shinkansen models have rolled out, but have focused on speed and exterior design rather than comfort and quality from the inside. I believe that Japan has stiff competition from China, Europe, and other nations that have developed high-speed rail, as their trains have embraced what 21st Century transportation should look like. Within Japan, I think JR Kyushu took that first step with their 800 Series Shinkansen, and I’m glad to see that JR East has taken notice. With the Hokkaido Shinkansen and the expansion of the Nagano (Hokuriku) Shinkansen set to being, I’m excited to see what’s next.


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