Friday, February 12, 2016

The New Shuttle: Shinkansen's Neighbour

EMU the New Shuttle 2000 series arrives at Komba Station
As I reported before, the New Shuttle (Saitama Shin-toshi Kotsu) is a rubber-tired automated guideway transit (AGT) system in Saitama Prefecture. The route was opened in 1983 beside the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen tracks.

Why was the New Shuttle constructed beside the Shinkansen track? It was because of "the conditions for exchange" proposed by the local people. In the 1970s, environmental pollution due to noise and vibration along the Shinkansen tracks became serious problems. In addition, some local people were anxious about the division of local areas and communities due to the Shinakansen tracks. Saitama Prefecture was no exception. The local people opposed the construction of the Tohoku and Joetsu Shinkansen.

After long negotiations, the local people to the south of Oomiya won the speed limit of the Shinkansen trains and construction of a new commuter railway, namely the Saikyo Line, along the Shinkansen track. On the other hand, the people to the north of Oomiya won the construction of a new AGT line beside the Shinkansen track.

After inauguration of the New Shuttle, the newly established company had been managerially harsh, but today, they are stable in business. Specifically, passengers have drastically increased since the opening of the Railway Museum in front of the Railway Museum (ex-Oonari) Station.

One of the pleasures for rail-fans is to see both the Shinkansen and the New Shuttle trains running adjoining each other on the tracks. It is indeed a good contrast and a photogenic scene if the timing is right.

EMU the New Shuttle 2000 series runs parallel to the JR East Shinkansen E7 series

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Winter Walking in Kamakura

EMU JR East E231 series arrives at Kita-Kamakura Station on the Yokosuka Line
I visited Kamakura for the first time in a year to enjoy a stroll with my family. As you may know, Kamakura is a historic city where the Shogunate government was located from 1185 to 1333. That means Kamakura was the substantial capital of Japan during those 148 years, although successive Emperors lived in Kyoto during that period.

Kamakura is located about 50 km southwest of Tokyo. It takes about one hour from downtown Tokyo by JR East's commuter train. If you come from Shinjuku, please take the Shonan-Shijuku Line train. About half of the Shonan-Shinjuku Line trains are directly operated into the Yokosuka Line to Kamakura Station. Your vehicles will be the EMU E231 or the E233-3000 series. I recommend you use a double-decked Green Car (the first class) equipped with comfortable reclining seat. You can feel like you are gorgeous traveling by only paying an extra cost of $6.50.

We got off at Kita-Kamakura, which is one stop before Kamakura Station. Kita-Kamakura is a small and quiet station in comparison with the large and lively Kamakura Station. There are several old temples in this area. We visited Kenchoji, which is one of the Zen temples in Kamakura City. It was opened by a Chinese Buddhist monk, Lanxi Daolong, in 1213.

Specifically, I was impressed with the large Zen garden behind the Hojo building incorporating with the scenery of mountains behind the temple. I couldn't believe that this quiet garden was located just next to the lively city of Kamakura.

Zen Garden in Kenchoji Temple near Kita-Kamakura Station

Saturday, February 6, 2016

EMU Odakyu 50000 Series: Vault Super Express

EMU Odakyu 50000 series, VSE, passes through Tsurumaki-onsen Station
The EMU Odakyu 50000 series, called VSE (Vault Super Express), is the flagship model of Odakyu Romance Car fleet. Ten years have already passed since it debuted, but VSE still keeps high level of popularity among tourists to Hakone, a mountain resort in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Why is Romance Car VSE popular among the tourists?

Firstly, the cockpit is up stairs. That means the passengers can enjoy a front view through the wide windows. In fact, the front observation deck seats are always fully booked. It is difficult to secure them. Secondly, the exterior design is futuristic. Specifically, the canopy architecture with a long front nose is cool. The white colored body with a vermillion colored stripe has high-class quality and cleanliness. Thirdly, the interior is also devised for sightseers. For instance, the seats are slightly inclined to the window direction to enjoy outer views.

VSE is a 10-car train with articulated bogies, so, the total length of one set is not long... 146.8 meters. A total of two sets, 20 units, have been built by Nippon Sharyo. Japan Rail-fan Club (JRC) elected VSE as the 2006 Blue Ribbon Prize. This prize is awarded to the best train, which was launched in the previous year. The reasons for the award to VSE were not only the design, but also incorporation of advanced technologies such as the truck steering control system and the body tilting device for tight curves.

The VSE era is going to go on.

EMU Odakyu 50000 series, VSE, passes through Chitose-Funabashi Station