World-class Technology and Knowhow

2012-04-06

Rail Update Japan

1000 Series Trains for Tokyo’s Ginza Subway Line: Yesteryear Exterior, With the Latest Technology Inside

Brand New Rail Cars for Asia’s Oldest Subway Line

Out of the darkness of the tunnel come the lights, and until they are quite close you’d think they are headlights on an old steam locomotive. The train rolls up to the platform, revealing bright yellow sides. The color surprises young people as nicely unconventional, and reminds their elders of the good old days of subway commutes on this line.

On Tokyo Metro’s Ginza Line, test runs are continuing for a new 1000 Series train. About three years ago, the subway company began looking at replacing its older fleet, the silver-colored 01 Series that has been running since 1983. Some thought was given to refurbishing the existing cars, but it was decided it would be best to purchase newly designed vehicles, to take advantage of the latest technology — something that would be difficult with the existing rolling stock. On the Ginza Line, the oldest subway line in Japan, rail cars are only 16 meters long and 2.55 meters wide, petite when compared with the standard 20 x 2.8 meters elsewhere.

Just 14.3 kilometers in length, the line serves some of Tokyo’s most well known districts, extending from Asakusa to Ueno, Kanda, Nihonbashi, Ginza, Shinbashi, Toranomon, Akasaka-mitsuke, Omote-sando and finally Shibuya. Providing a direct link to commercial districts and prestigious streets in the metropolitan center, the Ginza Line is a moneymaker, often quite crowded even when it is not the rush hour.

The line structure, requiring different cars and a different track gauge, does not permit through services for suburban private railways. This disadvantage was turned into an opportunity to come up with a radically new rail car design. “We wanted to recall the spirit of Asia’s first subway cars, while at the same time introducing the latest rail transport technology,” explains Tomohisa Ogino. He was involved in the rail car development as the consulting engineer and the deputy manager in charge of equipment at the Design Section of the Rolling Stock Department, at Tokyo Metro’s headquarters.

Rail Car Exterior: Vehicle Wrap, Not Paint

Tokyo Underground Railway, established by Noritsugu Hayakawa and associates, launched its first services in 1927, on part of the existing line (between Asakusa and Ueno). To reduce the risk of fire in the tunnel, the subway cars, the old Type 1000, were made entirely of steel — a major innovation in those days. And anticipating tight schedules, the company equipped the cars with an automatic train stop system (ATS) to prevent collisions. Type 1000 cars were painted lemon yellow, and the third fleet, the Type 2000, came in orange. So Tokyoites of a certain age have fond memories of yellow or orange on the Ginza Line.

Over time, steel gave way to aluminum, making for lighter vehicles and taking away the need for paint, because of aluminum’s anti-corrosion properties. Today, most rail cars in Japan are an aluminum silver in color, and bright narrow colored lines on the silver give them character. So Tokyo Metro doesn’t even have a facility to paint its subway cars. To color the new Series 1000 their distinctive lemon yellow, the company used vehicle wrap.

In the mid-1920s, to keep subway construction costs down the Ginza Line tunnel was dug just below ground level, with a low ceiling that today prevents the use of pantographs (power is supplied through a third rail). Stations are close to one another and the line has many sharp twists and turns — the sharpest in Metro’s network are on this line, near Ueno Station. This has resulted in swaying cars and squealing wheels, two problems the company wanted to avoid with the new cars. So the axles on Series 1000 cars are attached to steering bogies, allowing the wheels to self-align automatically with the track curvature. The steering mechanism, somewhat akin to the steering in an automobile, has greatly reduced sways and squeals.

On board, one gets the impression that the trains aren’t using much power while gliding along. But this is a subway train, not a Shinkansen or limited express, and because it stops often for commuters it’s more important that it accelerate and decelerate quickly. This it certainly can do — to shorten time between two stations, its maximum acceleration rate is a high 3.3 km/hr/sec. During peak times, Ginza Line trains run at intervals of less than two minutes, so the new cars, though small, must offer high performance.

Inside, the cars enjoy the latest specs. Like their predecessors, each car has three doors per side, but the seats have an improved cushion feel and offer more width per passenger. Like the bright headlights outside, the interior lighting is all LED, cutting illumination power consumption by about 40%. Seat-side partitions, shelving for bags, and the gangway doors are all made of a strong, transparent glass to improve sightlines and boost illumination efficiency. The gangway glass doors are cheerfully decorated with illustrations reminding passengers of the places they are passing, like the Kaminari Gate at Asakusa Temple and the pandas at Ueno Zoo.

The driver’s cab has a single T-shaped master controller handle, similar to the ones in new trains on other subway routes, like the Fukutoshin and Yurakucho lines. Existing cars on the Ginza Line have a separate brake, so operating the new handle is one thing operators will have to get used to.

In the spring of 2012, one Series 1000 train will begin running as part of regular scheduled services, and plans call for the entire fleet on this line to consist of the new lemon yellow trains in a few years. The company will also change the lighting for Tawaramachi and Kanda stations to LEDs. Plans for the future include the installation of platform doors to increase safety, and the relocation of Shibuya Station, the line’s western terminus, in 2021. The Ginza Line is a small but mighty player in the big metropolis, and its evolution never ends.

This article is an extract from a feature called Tetsudo Saikido (Railways Back on Track) in the February 25, 2012 issue of Weekly Toyo Keizai, a well-known magazine with an economic focus. We thank the magazine publisher, Toyo Keizai, Inc., for granting us permission to present this article in translation.


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