Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aerial Tramway and Boat Tour in the Chichibu Area

Gondola number 2, "Bambi", of the Hodosan Ropeway
Mt. Hodo is a small mountain in the Chichibu area of Saitama Prefecture, which is located 70 km northwest of Tokyo. Following my visit in 2012, I headed to this scenic spot again last month. To reach its 497 m peak, it is convenient to take an aerial tramway, called Hodo-san Ropeway.

Hodo-san Ropeway was opened in 1961 by a subsidiary of Chichibu Railway. It delivers passengers between Sanroku (foot of the mountain) and Hodo-sancho (summit of Mt. Hodo) stations in 5 minutes. The route is only 832 meters long. The height difference between the highest and lowest points of the route is 236 m. A total of 2 gondolas, which can hold 50 people each, are operated every half an hour at the speed of 3.6 meters per second.

The riveting steel gondolas, which were manufactured in 1960 by Nippon Sharyo, look aged and out of date, but the classic design is very nostalgic and my favorite. They are gondola number 1 called Monkey and number 2 called Bambi, which was named after the fawn in the famous Austrian fairy tale.

After visiting Mt. Hodo, I descended the mountain and headed to Arakawa River, where I enjoyed a boat tour, which paddled down the river on a traditional boat without an engine. A local waterman piloted the boat and shot the meandering rapids perfectly. It was a thrilling adventure for holidaymakers. Cool!

The nostalgic aerial tramway and the splashing boat... early autumn in the Chichibu area is a satisfactory spot to visit.
Arakawa River boat tour near Nagatoro Station

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Mito Line: Unique AC-DC Local Route

EMU JR East 415-1500 series travels on the Mito Line
The JR East Mito Line is an east-west trending local route in the northern part of the Tokyo metropolitan area. Connecting Oyama in Tochigi Prefecture and Tomobe in Ibaraki Prefecture, there are 16 stations on the 50.2 km long route. The track is single and its gauge size is 1,067mm.

A unique feature of the Mito Line is its electric system. 1,500V DC overhead is applied in the western section between Oyama and Otabayashi, while 20,000V AC overhead is used in the eastern section between Otabayashi and Tomobe. The reason for applying the AC system in the eastern section is that the direct current has adverse effects on the observation work taking place at the national magnetic observatory located near the track. AC-DC local line is quite unique in Japan.

The trains on the Mito Line, of course, have an AC-DC dual electric system. As I introduced before, the EMU E501 series is an example of such trains. The other AC-DC trains on the Mito Line are the EMU 415-1500 and the E531 series.

The 415-1500 series was launched in 1986. It is a 4-car train, which has bolster-less bogies. The electric control system is an old-fashioned rheostatic with a field weakening mechanism. The E531 series was launched in 2005. It is mainly operated on the Joban Line with a maximum speed of 130 km per hour to reinforce its competitiveness against its adjacent new railway, Tsukuba Express.

The Mito Line is a fascinating unique route for rail-fans.

EMU JR East E531 series travels on the Mito Line

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Preserved Dead Track in Yokohama City

EMU JR East E233-1000 series stands at Yokohama Station on the Keihin-Tohoku Line
Yokohama is located some 20km southwest of Tokyo. It is the second largest city in Japan. This mage-city has a population of 3.7 million and has been developed as Tokyo's outport since the 19th century. With the development of the port of Yokohama, passenger and freight railways to each pier had been constructed.

Currently, most of the railway tracks have already been abolished, but some of them are preserved as industrial heritages by Yokohama City Office. They are well-groomed trails and open to the public. I enjoyed a stroll on the preserved track with my family last weekend joining a special walking event held by JR East.

Our walk started from JR East Kannai Station. We headed to the preserved track of the ex-Yokohama Harbor Line, which was opened in 1910 and abolished in 1987. There are many historical constructions on the ex-track such as a platform and truss bridges. My most favorite spot is Yokohama Seamen's Club & Inn Building, which was constructed in 1999. Why is this new building my favorite? It is because this building was constructed over the ex-railway track to preserve the heritage. In other words, the preserved railway track penetrates under the building.

To visit this interesting spot, JR East Keihin-Tohoku Line is convenient. It takes only five minutes from Yokohama to Kannai Station on the light blue colored train. It is the EMU E233-1000 series, one of JR East's standard commuter trains in the Tokyo metropolitan area.

Preserved dead track passes under International Seamen's Club & Inn Building in Yokohama City