Trivia: Thoughts / Questions about Japanese Rolling Stock and Railways

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PacificRail

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I’ve been kind of curious about the thoughts or questions from the UK forum goers about Japan and its rail industry. Every once in a while the topic appears in the UK threads (though I’m guilty of this sometimes) and I thought maybe a dedicated thread in the international threads section would be a good idea compared to sometimes going off topic on the other UK only threads.

I can answer somethings, but I’m just a hobbyist researcher so its not complete nor am I an authority on the subject. Hopefully others can join in and contribute as well.
 
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AM9

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Strictly speaking you haven't contributed yourself.
An unhelpful post.

I’ve been kind of curious about the thoughts or questions from the UK forum goers about Japan and its rail industry. Every once in a while the topic appears in the UK threads (though I’m guilty of this sometimes) and I thought maybe a dedicated thread in the international threads section would be a good idea compared to sometimes going off topic on the other UK only threads.

I can answer somethings, but I’m just a hobbyist researcher so its not complete nor am I an authority on the subject. Hopefully others can join in and contribute as well.
OK, I've not been to Japan (yet, - we were planning to go the year after the Tokyo Olympics - whenever that is!). I'm interested in the mainline narrow gauge network which does seem to carry the majority of passengers.
How fast do the regional/longer distance services run? They must be among the faster non & standard gauge trains around. also, what proportion of them are electrified and on what system?
 
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WideRanger

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OK, I've not been to Japan (yet, - we were planning to go the year after the Tokyo Olympics - whenever that is!). I'm interested in the mainline narrow gauge network which does seem to carry the majority of passengers.
How fast do the regional/longer distance services run? They must be among the faster non & standard gauge trains around. also, what proportion of them are electrified and on what system?
The thing that's really noticeable is that the top speeds on the narrow gauge lines (by far the majority outside of the Shinkansen system) are really not that fast. For example, the RomanceCar trains on the Odakyu (widely thought of as the system that inspired the design of the original Shinkansen trains, only goes at around 120kph 'ish. I think I remember going at 140kph on one of the Special Rapid Trains around Osaka. And that felt fast. Largely because it didn't stop in many places. The whole thing is set up more for reliability and smooth interactions at stations (with lots of looping of stopping services), than absolute top speed.

Some of the standard gauge (non-Shinkansen) lines feel faster, including parts of the Keisei and Tsukuba Express Lines. But even then, we're talking 160 kph, so similar to many lines in the UK.
 

busesrusuk

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I went to Tokyo in January 2020 - fascinating place. I made extensive use of the suburban lines in and around Tokyo, especially to get to both Narita and Haneda airports (taking pics of planes for which the Japanese have brilliant viewing facilities at jest about every airport).

The first thing that struck me was the complexity and density of the suburban network and the number of different operators. Its was quite difficult to get an overall picture of all the lines due to some of them being "private". The despatch f trains from stations is a well choreographed event and well worth watching.

The service seemed overall very reliable but when I landed at Narita and picked up my JR rail pass, I went to the platform to get the Narita Express into town only to be greeted by a 30 minute delay! Not what I expected from the legendary reliability that the railway system is known for. It happened more than once to. The Narita Express trundles through suburban Tokyo at a fairly pedestrian pace and takes some time (90 mins) to get into central Tokyo. By comparison the newer private operator that runs from Narita to Ueno (Keisei express)is much faster (50 odd minutes) with plenty of onward connections in and around Tokyo. This is a standard gauge train whilst all the JR suburban network is the smaller gauge.

The other striking feature in Tokyo is the sheer size of the stations - they knock Clapham Junction into a cocked hat. Shinjuku has well over 20 platforms all underground and on many levels. I don't think I came out of the same station exit twice (not for the want of trying either - it truly is labyrinthine underground).

Haneda airport is probably best known for the monorail system (its like a proper roller coaster ride up and under rivers and Tokyo Bay. However, there is a private operator serving the airport and I discovered it after about 4 journeys to the airport from Shinjuku via the monorail which was quite a roundabout journey. By comparison the private railway would get me there with one change but as there is no common ticketing system and a distinct lack of cooperation in showing the "network" on a map you really have to research your journey options. What was notable in Tokyo was the considerable number of level crossings on the network - they seem far more common than here in suburban London.

I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Japan if you can - it really is a fascinating place with much of interest if you are into railways. The Shinkansen is so impressive to experience. Having the ticket inspector and the trolley dolly bow as they enter and leave each carriage really is an eye opener!

Hope the above is of interest and here is a couple of pics of he monorail (a must do experience on any trip to Tokyo)...
Tokyo Monorailv1 Jan20 | Approaching Haneda Airport Internat… | Flickr
Tokyo Monorailv2 Jan20 | Approaching Haneda Airport Internat… | Flickr
 

tbwbear

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I lived and worked in Japan for 8 years back in the 1980s/1990s, managed to learn the language, married a local girl and have been visiting for business /see family once or twice a year. (not recently though -COVID - sadly) ever since.

It really is a fascinating place: my second home.

There is an endless amount of items of railway interest in the country and I am fortunate to have experienced a lot of journeys there over the years, I have met many wonderful people and am lucky enough to read railway journals and timetables in Japanese. (there are some old maps and schedules on the "timetable world" website )

As mentioned above, Tokyo is fascinating with its mix of suburban railways. Not just the "narrow" gauge and standard gauge but also the in-between "scotch" gauge (google it !) used originally by the Tokyo tram system (almost defunct) and now the Keio line commuter railway.

Also fascinating is the fact that back when electricity was first introduced into the country, two separate systems were used. Domestically it was all on the 110v AC /120v AC but the frequency was different: Western Japan uses 60 Hz and Eastern Japan uses 50 Hz. This means that on the Shinkansen the 25kv electrification also uses two systems - the original (west from Tokyo) Tokaido-Sanyo line is at 60 Hz whereas the bullet train lines going north from Tokyo use 50 HZ. They meet at Tokyo station.

Don't miss the excellent Railway Museum in Kyoto if you go. Some pictures of it on my little blog here https://trainstobeyond.com/2017/08/26/2017-japan-kyoto-trains/ - NB - The blog is more my general travel experiences than strictly "rail enthusiasm", but there is more about Japan in the "Japan category"

There is also an excellent railway museum in Omiya just outside Tokyo too, almost as good.



Comparisons with the UK?

I think the way they privatised the railway in Japan (1987) was a lot better than the way it was done in the UK. Track and trains stayed together. Divided into 6 or 7 based on geography with a shared JR identity and then the profitable private companies sold off with the others staying government run. A common R&D facility was retained.

I like the way that all the express / shinkansen trains are divided by reserved and non-reserved seating coaches. It makes finding a seat without a reservation far easier than having to trawl through a carriage full of reservation labels.

Japan abolished 1st class back in the mid 60s and replaced it with a section-by-section "Green Car" system. The basic tariff is "standard" class and distance based. All or part of of any journey can then be upgraded to Green Car based on whether there is a Green car on the train. A point to point first class ticket in the UK is often wasted if part of it involves trains that only have standard accommodation. Green cars are on most Shinkansen and Express trains but also on some of the commuter trains in the big cities. Regular ticket holders can upgrade to Green by buying tickets at platform machines or by contactless card touching a point over the seat.

The lack of a common ticketing system mentioned by busesrusuk above is certainly a problem, especially for traditional paper tickets. Tokyo has nothing like the Tfl travelcard and that is a shame. However many of the railway companies issue their own brand of smart card (for JR East there is Suica, for the Tokyo subway there is Pasmo) and all of them are interchangeable around the country. So it is possible to use your Suica card on the Monorail to Haneda airport, fly to Fukuoka and use the same card on the Fukuoka subway - even though the locals are using their own brand of smart card.

I also like their approach to express train naming - they usually decide on one name for a train between two points and then use a numbering system to denote the exact train. So for example, every (narrow guage) express train that links Fukuoka and Nagasaki is the Kamome (Seagull). They start in the morning with the down train - Kamome 1, then Kamome 3, 5, 7 etc.. the up trains are 2,4,6. It is easy to understand and the general public buy into it. I think that could work in the UK too - every Paddington to Penzance train called the "Cornish Riviera Express" 1,3,5 etc every Bristol service - "the Bristolian".

I think the railway itself is more integrated into people's lives in Japan - more part of the culture than in the UK . Obviously a higher percentage of people are travelling on the trains but generally there is more knowledge / interest in the types of trains and the names of the services from the general public. There is even a whole series of TV detective /murder dramas where trains feature and the hero detective always solves the crime by working out details like that the fact that murderer managed to change from one train to another at a certain point because one train was running late. There was another drama series about the girls who work on the Shinkansen.



Much as the Shinkansen is wonderful, I love the local trains in Japan. All the long secondary lines that criss cross the countryside. Get on one of those for a long trip - fantastic people-watching opportunities.

Can't wait to get back there and would reccommend to anyone -

Go, if you can, generally it can be cheaper than you think too.
 
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PacificRail

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How fast do the regional/longer distance services run?

The thing that's really noticeable is that the top speeds on the narrow gauge lines (by far the majority outside of the Shinkansen system) are really not that fast. For example, the RomanceCar trains on the Odakyu (widely thought of as the system that inspired the design of the original Shinkansen trains, only goes at around 120kph 'ish. I think I remember going at 140kph on one of the Special Rapid Trains around Osaka. And that felt fast. Largely because it didn't stop in many places. The whole thing is set up more for reliability and smooth interactions at stations (with lots of looping of stopping services), than absolute top speed.

Some of the standard gauge (non-Shinkansen) lines feel faster, including parts of the Keisei and Tsukuba Express Lines. But even then, we're talking 160 kph, so similar to many lines in the UK.

As WideRanger mentioned, there are a few lines in the Japanese rail systems that do 120 to 130 kph (approx. 75 to 80 mph), but a larger majority of both the JR and private rail systems usually hit speeds at or less than 120 kph/75 mph or even less than 100 kph/62 mph. There are only two lines outside of the Shinkansen in Japan that hit speeds of 160kph/100mph, one was the Hokohoku Line which was the fastest single-track narrow gauge line. However, when the Hokuriku Shinkansen line opened, they reduced the line speed to 130 kph/80 mph. The only other in operation is Keisei's Narita Airport Line for Skyliner Services, which sees 160 kph outside of Tokyo and only for a short section since the entire journey is less than an hour. Tsukuba Express is known for the faster rapid commuter services at 130kph/80mph.

Part of the reason for speeds like this is due to a number of reasons, including terrain of line, infrastructure not updated for faster speeds, overall distance of lines and services, and/or road/pedestrian crossings as Japan has a rule that limits speeds for crossings.

By comparison the private railway would get me there with one change but as there is no common ticketing system and a distinct lack of cooperation in showing the "network" on a map you really have to research your journey options. What was notable in Tokyo was the considerable number of level crossings on the network - they seem far more common than here in suburban London.
The lack of a common ticketing system mentioned by busesrusuk above is certainly a problem, especially for traditional paper tickets. Tokyo has nothing like the Tfl travelcard and that is a shame. However many of the railway companies issue their own brand of smart card (for JR East there is Suica, for the Tokyo subway there is Pasmo) and all of them are interchangeable around the country. So it is possible to use your Suica card on the Monorail to Haneda airport, fly to Fukuoka and use the same card on the Fukuoka subway - even though the locals are using their own brand of smart card.

Most maps seen in stations mostly cater to commuters or highly used services otherwise, you would get a map that is so big and dense that most people would not be able to read it. Within the denser Tokyo area before reaching Yokohama, there are around 10 different private operators, two different metro/subway companies, and the JR East services in just the Tokyo area alone.

Paper ticketing is slowly being phased out in Japan for the major lines and operators as the Suica and other IC cards or Integrated Circuit Cards like Pasmo, ICOCA, etc. are considered a more convenient system to the original magnetic paper tickets. These IC cards act more like the Oyster Card for Transport for London services rather than the travel cards, as you mostly have a set balance on the card and are rechargeable. Japan has something similar to the travelcards, though there are several types used and act differently using either IC cards or magnetic paper tickets. The one saving grace that JR and the other transport companies decided on was the foresight to keep a set standard that allowed other IC cards to be used across multiple systems, though there are still systems outside of this.

An image of how complex the IC card system can get....

833px-ICCard_Connection_en.svg.png
ButuCC, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
 
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Beebman

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However many of the railway companies issue their own brand of smart card (for JR East there is Suica, for the Tokyo subway there is Pasmo) and all of them are interchangeable around the country.

I've come across one or two exceptions to that rule. For example the Chiba Urban Monorail will only accept Pasmo cards and if you want to upgrade on Green cars on Tokyo suburban services you can only use Suica. The card I've always used on urban systems is a Manaca one from Nagoya and I've used it from Sendai in the north to Fukuoka in the south with few problems other than the two exceptions mentioned. (I've been even further to Nagasaki but that city uses its own non-compatible smart card system).

I first went to Japan in 2015 thanks to a mega-cheap offer on KLM from London via Amsterdam and I fell so much in love with the country that I returned every year (on direct BA flights) from 2016 to 2019, and I had planned a sixth trip last year but Covid intervened. It's not just the transport there I love but the people, the culture and the way of life generally, in fact my last trip in 2019 was only 50% transport, I did a variety of other things for the other half of the time.

My own favourite line is the Enoshima Electric Railway or Enoden in Kanagawa Prefecture which runs along the Pacific Ocean coast before a section of narrow street running in the town of Enoshima, I've been on it 3 times. As for railway museums I can recommend the SCMaglev and Railway Park in Nagoya which has a huge variety of Shinkansen cars from the past as well as a Maglev prototype, and amongst the older locos is an ED18 type built in 1923 by North British and Dick Kerr.

And yes, I agree the railway itself is more integrated into people's lives in Japan and you often see 'normals' talking and blogging very positively about trains. As an example here's recent video of a charming young lady who went to Tokyo Station specifically to see Dr Yellow, the Shinkansen test train!

 

tbwbear

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And yes, I agree the railway itself is more integrated into people's lives in Japan and you often see 'normals' talking and blogging very positively about trains. As an example here's recent video of a charming young lady who went to Tokyo Station specifically to see Dr Yellow, the Shinkansen test train!

Cool video.

Yes, I do love the way "normal" people seem to be interested in all the train types. You often get the details of which particular type of Shinkansen is forming the train at the top of the timetable in a way you just wouldn't in the UK.

And my big favourite is all those "where is the door going to open" signs on the platform. Lots of different coloured signs depending on the train type and how many carriages it has. I always try to imagine how a commuter at Bromley South would be struggling to work out where he should stand to wait for the next train given that the sign says it will be an express to Victoria and will have 4 cars. In Japan it seems to come naturally to them.


Paper ticketing is slowly being phased out in Japan for the major lines and operators as the Suica and other IC cards or Integrated Circuit Cards like Pasmo, ICOCA, etc. are considered a more convenient system to the original magnetic paper tickets. These IC cards act more like the Oyster Card for Transport for London services rather than the travel cards, as you mostly have a set balance on the card and are rechargeable. Japan has something similar to the travelcards, though there are several types used and act differently using either IC cards or magnetic paper tickets.

On balance I think the Japanese IC cards are better than the TfL ones. They can also be used as a means of payment to buy things from vending machines which i believe is not legally possible in the UK.

I know they used to have a rover ticket on the Tokyo (Eidan) subway but it never seemed to be interchangeable with the Toei one. Maybe that changed.

I have never noticed any kind of Oyster travelcard-style capping on the Japanese cards though. The single journeys just seem to add up and decrease the balance don't they? If you make 20 single journeys in one day is there any difference between making 20 over a month? Perhaps there is and I am not paying enough attention.

No complaints though. The fares are still a lot cheaper than London !

Of course, another difference is that most commuters have their season tickets paid for by the company they work for. It generally seems to be more or less irrespective of distance away. It is actually seems like a good way of funding the system, like a commuter tax on business.
 

PacificRail

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On balance I think the Japanese IC cards are better than the TfL ones. They can also be used as a means of payment to buy things from vending machines which i believe is not legally possible in the UK.

I know they used to have a rover ticket on the Tokyo (Eidan) subway but it never seemed to be interchangeable with the Toei one. Maybe that changed.

I have never noticed any kind of Oyster travelcard-style capping on the Japanese cards though. The single journeys just seem to add up and decrease the balance don't they? If you make 20 single journeys in one day is there any difference between making 20 over a month? Perhaps there is and I am not paying enough attention.

No complaints though. The fares are still a lot cheaper than London !

Of course, another difference is that most commuters have their season tickets paid for by the company they work for. It generally seems to be more or less irrespective of distance away. It is actually seems like a good way of funding the system, like a commuter tax on business.

True, unlike the Oyster Car, the Japanese IC cards can do more outside of just ticket fares, which contributed to its growth in Japan compared to other countries with their commuter IC cards. There are no price caps since most commuters wouldn't really be traveling that many times a day. If you did make that many journeys, then you would just get a commuter pass to limit spending that much in a month, though not everyone has the luxury to pay for the high upfront cost outside of business and school passes. Also if you did 20 journeys in one day compared to within one month, I feel it would be lower over a month than in one day, depends on the distance. Now if you're doing 10 to 20 journeys a week then that's a different story.

I never really delved deep into Japanese companies paying for commuter passes, but then this is something that only companies would give info about. Based on what I could find, it seems some businesses still deduct a certain amount on paychecks for the passes, but only on initial purchases and renewals. But that's based on initial searches, I can't find too much about it. The commuter passes are still bound by distance though based on the commute between the employee's home station and work station. Also have to factor in some commutes across different rail companies outside of JR Group, so it makes it a little bit more complex on this end of Japanese ticketing and fares.
 
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route101

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Only used the lines around Tokyo. Was confusing at first, as it seemed different services went out to Narita. I was confused with the naming of the lines and different operators. It was like one of the inner city metro lines were extended out to the airport and changed its name halfway, the map didnt make this clear.
 

tbwbear

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True, unlike the Oyster Car, the Japanese IC cards can do more outside of just ticket fares, which contributed to its growth in Japan compared to other countries with their commuter IC cards. There are no price caps since most commuters wouldn't really be traveling that many times a day. If you did make that many journeys, then you would just get a commuter pass to limit spending that much in a month, though not everyone has the luxury to pay for the high upfront cost outside of business and school passes. Also if you did 20 journeys in one day compared to within one month, I feel it would be lower over a month than in one day, depends on the distance. Now if you're doing 10 to 20 journeys a week then that's a different story.

I never really delved deep into Japanese companies paying for commuter passes, but then this is something that only companies would give info about. Based on what I could find, it seems some businesses still deduct a certain amount on paychecks for the passes, but only on initial purchases and renewals. But that's based on initial searches, I can't find too much about it. The commuter passes are still bound by distance though based on the commute between the employee's home station and work station. Also have to factor in some commutes across different rail companies outside of JR Group, so it makes it a little bit more complex on this end of Japanese ticketing and fares.

Things have been changing a lot in Japan since I last lived there in 1995. I worked for 3 Japanese companies in Japan and I am just about to retire after working for one in the UK for the last 26 years. All the (medium sized) companies I have ever worked for or with have offered free commuter passes to the staff. I know some British professors at Japanese universities and they all get them too. I think it is pretty normal, but it may be changing. One of the girls in our office in Tokyo (a favourite of the owner) got a "secret" paid for upgrade to Green Car on her commute on the Tokaido line.

With the capping issue - You can rack up quite a lot of journeys in one day. When I used to go around Tokyo with my colleagues to see customers we often travelled by train / subway and then off to somewhere else to eat in the evening. It can all mount up and as I say, that is the only bit where having a travelcard- style cap like London makes sense.


Nagasaki Shinkansen - How many sets ??

The Nagasaki line of the Kyushu Shinkansen opens in 2022 between Nagasaki and Takeo Onsen. It is an isolated section of Shinkansen of around 66 kilometres. They have just announced that a six car version of the new N700S train (introduced on the Tokaido Shinkansen) will run on the new line.

The trains will have the same name as the current narrow guage Hakata to Nagasaki limited express - Kamome (Seagull) and then at Takeo Onsen there will be a cross platform interchange between the Shinkansen and the old limited express renamed "Relay Kamome" now cut back to run just between Takeo Onsen and Hakata via Shin Tosu. (where the main Kyushu Shinkansen line passes through and offers a quicker way to Hakata with an extra change).

I think they are going to save about 20+ minutes with this new Shinkansen line over the old slightly less than 2 hour timing of the current Kamome train.
As far as I can see, there are now no immediate plans for extension of the new line to close the gap between Takeo Onsen and Shin Tosu. They had plans for gauge changing trains to run on the middle narrow gauge bit but they are cancelled.

All this can be understood better by "Kyushu Shinkansen" on wikipedia.

So an isolated 66km stretch with no immediate construction plans to extend it. 260km/h top speed, two or three intermediate stations.

Even if the service were to be half-hourly. How many N700S six car sets do you need? How many are on order ? Can't be that many, you could do it with two or three couldn't you? I can't find the answer anywhere - Does anyone know ?
 
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Beebman

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Even if the service were to be half-hourly. How many N700S six car sets do you need? How many are on order ? Can't be that many, you could do it with two or three couldn't you? I can't find the answer anywhere - Does anyone know ?

According to the following article there's 4 sets on order:
https://www.saga-s.co.jp/articles/-/593210

I've run the article through Google Translate and the last sentence in the second paragraph is as follows:
At the beginning of the business, there will be 4 trains, and we will consider whether to increase it based on demand.
 

tbwbear

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According to the following article there's 4 sets on order:
https://www.saga-s.co.jp/articles/-/593210

I've run the article through Google Translate and the last sentence in the second paragraph is as follows:

Brilliant ! Well done. A good find, I had been searching for something like that !

6 cars - 3 cars of seating 2+2 reserved. 3 cars of 2+3 non-reserved. No Green car.

4 sets then. I wonder what the actual scheduling will be? Just 66km !
 
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stuu

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The thing that I really noticed which I hadn't heard about before is that the trains really shift between stations, even in inner Tokyo or Osaka. For someone used to trundling round the South London lines this was quite a difference.

Also the practice of having loads of different markings on the platform showing where to queue for the door on each service - as if the same train would come to the same platform every day!
 

PacificRail

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Only used the lines around Tokyo. Was confusing at first, as it seemed different services went out to Narita. I was confused with the naming of the lines and different operators. It was like one of the inner city metro lines were extended out to the airport and changed its name halfway, the map didnt make this clear.

Yeah, it can be confusing at first for a lot of travelers, but once you start traveling around, even within Tokyo, you get to understand it a little better. About Narita, I assuming you might be talking about Keisei Railway, the smaller of the two rail companies that service the airport, it can be a bit confusing since their are several express and commuter services that terminate at the airport.

Things have been changing a lot in Japan since I last lived there in 1995. I worked for 3 Japanese companies in Japan and I am just about to retire after working for one in the UK for the last 26 years. All the (medium sized) companies I have ever worked for or with have offered free commuter passes to the staff. I know some British professors at Japanese universities and they all get them too. I think it is pretty normal, but it may be changing. One of the girls in our office in Tokyo (a favourite of the owner) got a "secret" paid for upgrade to Green Car on her commute on the Tokaido line.
With the capping issue - You can rack up quite a lot of journeys in one day. When I used to go around Tokyo with my colleagues to see customers we often travelled by train / subway and then off to somewhere else to eat in the evening. It can all mount up and as I say, that is the only bit where having a travelcard- style cap like London makes sense

Its cool that businesses give free commuter passes, relieves a bit of the cost burden. And that’s understandable about the trips in a day. Businesses will make you run around either doing errands, business meetings, or just checking on other businesses so like you said you can rack in a lot in fares.

The thing that I really noticed which I hadn't heard about before is that the trains really shift between stations,

Sorry, I don’t quite under what you mean by shift?
 

Gag Halfrunt

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Rapid acceleration?

I've read (correct me if I'm wrong) that Japanese EMUs tend to have most axles powered, to give quick acceleration and maintain a high average speed even if stations are close together.
 

tbwbear

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Rapid acceleration?

I've read (correct me if I'm wrong) that Japanese EMUs tend to have most axles powered, to give quick acceleration and maintain a high average speed even if stations are close together.
I think you are correct about the axles powered - I always thought that was about building in redundancy more than anything else, But thinking about it you may be right.

As an example - Chuo line from Tokyo to Takao - 53.1 km - 30 stations - 1hr 15 minutes. -

Timetable (2011) shows stations on the right listed, the distances 0 to 53.1 km just to the left. The distances are possibly not exact - but should give general idea. The last train to do the whole run leaves Tokyo at 0020 and arrives Takao 0137.

Given the dwell time as well, that is quite fast isn’t it ?
 

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stuu

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Sorry, I don’t quite under what you mean by shift?
As has already been stated, they accelerate really quickly to quite high speeds even between close stations. That and the short dwell times mean average speeds are high
 

PacificRail

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Rapid acceleration?

I've read (correct me if I'm wrong) that Japanese EMUs tend to have most axles powered, to give quick acceleration and maintain a high average speed even if stations are close together.
As has already been stated, they accelerate really quickly to quite high speeds even between close stations. That and the short dwell times mean average speeds are high

Sorry about that, but yes, acceleration-wise, they can really "shift" between stations mostly in dense commuter corridors. Since keeping to a schedule is crucial and certain lines have short distances between stations, it's necessary. As tbwbear shows, the schedules can be very compact, especially on dwell times, so much so that the station melodies for closing doors aren't even played the full 30 seconds. Also remember that the weight of these trains becomes significant during rush hours, so that's another factor for why so many motored carriages. If you look at the wiki pages for two commuter EMUs that operate in the Tokyo area, the E231 and E233, they show how many carriages are motored. For the E233 on Chuo line services, 6 of the 10 cars are motored, which is a lot but works for the service pattern they have to keep.

Edit:
I also wanted to mention something about the schedule that tbwbear brought up, the schedule lists times for all stations along the line, but some are just times for when the service passes a station. Still, the schedules can get compact with only 2 to 3 mins between departure times at each station.
 
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tbwbear

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Edit:
I also wanted to mention something about the schedule that tbwbear brought up, the schedule lists times for all stations along the line, but some are just times for when the service passes a station. Still, the schedules can get compact with only 2 to 3 mins between departure times at each station.
Yes you are correct - the schedules really are compact. I haven't compared it with anything in the UK but I would guess it is tighter. Just to confirm, on the Chuo line schedule I attached above, the train is scheduled to stop at each station.
 

PacificRail

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Yes you are correct - the schedules really are compact. I haven't compared it with anything in the UK but I would guess it is tighter. Just to confirm, on the Chuo line schedule I attached above, the train is scheduled to stop at each station.

Sorry, your right, digging deeper the schedule for the Chuo Rapid trains changes to a Local pattern between Ochanomizu (御茶ノ水) and Nakano (中野) in the early morning and late nights. Since it listed Suidobashi (水道橋) at 3.4km, Iidabashi (飯田橋)at 4.3km, and Ichigaya (市ケ谷) at 5.8km, which are stations the Chuo Rapid usually passes. Got a bit confused there.
 

EastisECML

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Also fascinating is the fact that back when electricity was first introduced into the country, two separate systems were used. Domestically it was all on the 110v AC /120v AC but the frequency was different: Western Japan uses 60 Hz and Eastern Japan uses 50 Hz. This means that on the Shinkansen the 25kv electrification also uses two systems - the original (west from Tokyo) Tokaido-Sanyo line is at 60 Hz whereas the bullet train lines going north from Tokyo use 50 HZ. They meet at Tokyo station.

I've seen a photo and track plans of what I think is the main central Shinkansen station in Tokyo and if I remember correctly the line from both directions run into their own terminus platforms, but alongside each other. Is this actually the case and it's two separate lines meeting up (as you said) but not touching? If so is it because of different electrical systems? Or is it just better for reliability to keep the two separate?

Also, is it true that they have very quick turn around times? I'm sure I've heard 10 minutes being quoted, something I think would only be achievable in the UK with armed ushers and everyone being made to give their seat a quick once over before legging it.

And what are the loading gauges like on conventional tracks compared to the UK? I'd have thought with narrower gauge (?) they'd be smaller but I'm sure they have double decker trains? And Shinkansen trains which run from HSL tracks onto conventional (mini Shinkansen?).
 

Shinkansenfan

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I've seen a photo and track plans of what I think is the main central Shinkansen station in Tokyo and if I remember correctly the line from both directions run into their own terminus platforms, but alongside each other. Is this actually the case and it's two separate lines meeting up (as you said) but not touching? If so is it because of different electrical systems? Or is it just better for reliability to keep the two separate?

Also, is it true that they have very quick turn around times? I'm sure I've heard 10 minutes being quoted, something I think would only be achievable in the UK with armed ushers and everyone being made to give their seat a quick once over before legging it.

And what are the loading gauges like on conventional tracks compared to the UK? I'd have thought with narrower gauge (?) they'd be smaller but I'm sure they have double decker trains? And Shinkansen trains which run from HSL tracks onto conventional (mini Shinkansen?).
In reverse order...

Yes, there are double deck narrow gauge trains. Some are green cars, which are quite enjoyable. You pay the Green Car supplement by tapping an IC card to a reader above your seat, and light above your seat indicates to the conductor that you've paid. When using a Japan Railpass, the conductor will check that you have a Green Class JR Pass.

The mini-Shinkansen trains run coupled with the regular Shinkansen trains departing Tokyo and uncouple at the station where they split off. The mini Shinkansen trains have a narrower carbody than the regular. I prefer to ride in the regular Shinkansen because the cars are wider and more spacious.

Shinkansen train turn times are impressive! I've watched (and video recorded) a 16 car MAX doubledeck trainset discharge passengers, turn seats to face forward, cleaned (seats wiped, tray tables wiped, window shades checked, antimacassars changed, floors swept, trash removed, catering trolley swapped, and passenger boarded and on time departure) within 8 minutes.

The Tokaido Shinkansen Line at Tokyo Station has separate tracks and platforms from the other East JR Shinkansen Lines. Different railway companies. Different platform assignments.

An earlier posting asked if there was a pass that can be used on both the Tokyo Metro and TEOI subway lines? There is. Tokyo Metro sells an unlimited ride pass valid only on their lines, another pass valid on both subway system and there is also a Greater Tokyo Pass valid across both subway lines and various Tokyo privately railway lines (does not include JR) for 3 days. This is temporarily not on sale due to COVID.

More info: https://www.tokyometro.jp/en/ticket/index.html

Pro tip: if you purchase the subway passes before leaving Narita or Haneda Airport, you can get a special foreigner's discount which saves a few yen over purchasing the pass in town.
 
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PacificRail

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I've seen a photo and track plans of what I think is the main central Shinkansen station in Tokyo and if I remember correctly the line from both directions run into their own terminus platforms, but alongside each other. Is this actually the case and it's two separate lines meeting up (as you said) but not touching? If so is it because of different electrical systems? Or is it just better for reliability to keep the two separate?

For the separate Shinkansen platforms at Tokyo station, there are a few reasons. A lot of people don't realize this, but the Tohoku Shinkansen didn't reach Tokyo station unit June 1991. Though construction of the line started around 1971, it took 2 decades to complete it.

Based on what I could find, part of the reason they have separate platforms was capacity reasons. By the time the Tohoku Shinkansen reached the Tokyo metro area, the Tokaido Shinkansen terminus had already reached a point where connecting the two systems could cause capacity issues. Land limitations between a major roadway and the station building and Tokyo being considerably built up by the 1980s/1990s meant they had to use the station land wisely. They eventually decided to create a new elevated island platform, shuffled existing train services, and then converted three existing island platforms from narrow-gauge to standard gauge next to the Tokaido platforms. If you look at google maps, it's the reason why the Tohoku platforms curve, compared to the Tokaido's straight terminus tracks next door.

The electrical system is another thing mentioned by tbwbear, but it's possible to operate in the two electrical territories as the Hokuriku Shinkansen E7/W7 sets switch over past Nagano station.

And what are the loading gauges like on conventional tracks compared to the UK? I'd have thought with narrower gauge (?) they'd be smaller but I'm sure they have double decker trains? And Shinkansen trains which run from HSL tracks onto conventional (mini Shinkansen?).

As mentioned by Shinkansenfan, the loading gauge is generous enough to fit double-deck coaches on the network, though there are some distinctions between the narrow gauge network and the Shinkansen network.

For the JR Group narrow-gauge network, the narrow-gauge track used is 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm), but the loading gauge is considered more generous in some cases to the UK. For example, the 215 series has a height of around 4,070mm or very roughly 13.35 ft. Width-wise, they can be at around 9 ft with 6 to 8 inches extra (roughly 2,900 to 2,945 mm). Wider than any UK stock, but closer to European stock. Lengths of the coaches are limited due to the tighter curves on parts of the narrow-gauge network, so they vary. They can be shorter than BR mk3 coach (75 ft 6 in / 23,000 mm) or longer than a BR mk2 coach (roughly 66 ft / 20,117 mm). But this is only based on a few sets they can still vary.

For the Shinkansen, coaches are close to the dimensions of Northeastern US rolling stock. For double deck sets, they can be as high as 14 ft 9 in (4,493 mm), while single-level sets can be around 12 ft high (3,650 mm). For comparison, the height of an Alstom Euroduplex is roughly 14 ft 2 in (4,320 mm) and the Bombardier Multilevel's are 14 ft 6 in (roughly 4,450 mm). The width of the Shinkansen can be around 11 ft (3,340 mm) and vary length-wise roughly between 82 ft to 89 ft (25,000 to 27,350 mm). Another comparison is the BR mk3 coach is roughly 75 ft 6 in (23,000 mm) and the Bombardier Multilevel's are 85 ft (roughly 25,908 mm).

Mini Shikansen's are smaller to accommodate the older infrastructure outside of the Shinkansen system, so they have similar dimensions to the narrow-gauge rolling stock. Due to this, they need bridge plates or doorway steps that extend out to bridge the gap at Shinkansen platforms.

There are a lot more gauge differences once you get further into other companies and systems.
 
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tbwbear

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Just a few things to add to the two excellent responses above -


On the narrow gauge loading gauge being close to the UK:

When riding on the narrow gauge system trains I aways feel they are the same width as UK trains, yet when I look at some of the single track tunnel mouths, I really wonder if a UK train would fit. That is obviously an optical illusion. I have read that as well as the regular Shinkansen, Hitachi used experience with the mini-Shinkanesen and 885 Kamome (narrow gauge) EMUs when designing the Javelin and Class 800 trains for the UK, so that makes sense.


On linking the two Shinkansen lines:

As mentioned above, by the time the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen arrived at Tokyo, linking the systems with the Tokaido / Sanyo Shinkansen was impractical on space issues alone.

But, even when they were planned by JNR when it was still nationalised, I don't think there was ever a plan to link the two systems. I might be wrong. That was probably for a variety of reasons, the electric systems was one (although that is surmountable as mentioned above), but there were probably a lot of others including demand, balancing the service and where to turn the Tohoku / Joetsu trains around south of Tokyo.

There may be another reason too: The Tohoku and Joetsu lines meet at Omiya and that was the initial terminus for the first few years; a relay train ran to Ueno on the conventional tracks. IIRC the original plan was for two lines south from Omiya; one to Tokyo (I think originally skipping Ueno?) and one to Shinjuku. That was quickly cancelled and the two lines were only extended as one, first to Ueno and then on to Tokyo. If the original plan was to split the inner-Tokyo terminii for the two northern lines, then that would also be another reason not to link just one of them to the southern system at Tokyo; presumably this plan would also have called for less capacity at Tokyo.

Interestingly, on the conventional system (here all electrified at 1500v DC) through services from the Tokaido line from the south (erstwhile only to Tokyo) to the Tohoku line in the north (erstwhile only from Ueno) have now been introduced via a new conventional Tokyo to Uneo link line (although actually they were always possible on a more limited basis before via the freight lines until the Shinkansen was extended to Tokyo). IIRC the conventional Tokaido line was one of the poorest performers for punctuality (albeit from a very high base) on the JR East system, I am not sure if the opening of the new line has affected reliablity north of Ueno. I think they put a bit of padding in the schedules to compensate. But obviously as we know when you link two separate systems together - there is a chance that reliability can suffer. Thameslink anyone ?


On the turnaround times:

Obviously with relatively few platforms, turnaround time is an important factor in deciding how frequent the service can operate. So they do put a lot of effort into getting the times as short as possible.

One of the many fascinating things I find when riding on the Shinkansen is watching the activity of what I call the "under platform city" they have at Tokyo. You can usually view it from an opposite platform. Under each platform there is a space stretching down to track level where all the paraphenalia used to turn the trains; refilling the water tanks etc.. is housed. They even have little trucks working under there. It is quite marvellous.

Although the impressive team of turnaround cleaners (I think there are an average of about 2/3 per carriage??) work onto the trains at platform level, I think they and their supplies are also based underneath too, in order to keep the platforms above relatively clear.

I don't know if they had this system from when they started in 1964, it may well have been added later. When I look at the old photographs it always strikes me as how austere and empty the platforms were when the system first opened.
 
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KeithMcC

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Had a very pleasant week in Japan with a railpass at the end of our Transsib trip a few years ago. Some high speed and some normal trains and it was fascinating.
It isn't always perfect, we got stuck in the middle of nowhere for 90 minutes after a narrow gauge express was cancelled which rather threw plans for the rest of the day out of the window!
The museum in Kyoto is great, 3 engines in steam - one of the little tourist train and another apparently being tested as they have a maintenance building.
One day out in the railpass guide but not publicized in the usual english guidebooks was the Kurobe Gorge Railway Kurobe Gorge Railway - Wikipedia

One warning, a lot of tourist attractions don't take credit cards and some of them aren't cheap. I mistakenly extracted 10x too much out of an ATM (brain fade and the Yen is roughly 10 x the value of the Korean Won which we had been using the day before). However we spent all £500 of it over a few days without any difficulty!
 

Beebman

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Here's a couple of photos from my own travels which hopefully will help with illustrating the subjects currently under discussion.

On the subject of mini-Shinkansen, I've attached a couple of photos of an E3 which I took from Tokyo to Yamagata in 2015. The first at Tokyo Station shows an extended doorway step, the second at Yamagata shows that these aren't required there.

On the subject of double-deck trains (and to show that they also exist in places other than Tokyo!) I've attached a photo taken in 2017 of a Series 5000 'Marine Liner' EMU used by JR Shikoku on the service from Takamatsu (where the photo was taken) to Okayama. This shows the difference in profile with the conventional cars in the same formation. As in Tokyo the double-deck car is for Green Class ticket holders.
 

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