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Hakone Tozan Railway – August 2015

I've always wanted to visit this place. I have modes of one or two of the trains, but didn't really know of the actual railway. It turns out that the Hakone Tozan Railway is one of the steepest non-rack railways in the world. It's really worth going to check it out.

Getting there

The Odakyu Railway will get you all the way from Shinjuku Station to Hakone-Yumoto station. If you're on JR, then take the shinkansen to Odawara station and transfer. I was coming from Osaka and caught a Hikari to Shizuoka and then a Kodama to Odawara.

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The best bit about this is that you get to wait and watch all the Nozomis and Hikaris bolt past.

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Once at Odawara, you'll need to take the Odakyu railway to Hakone-Yumoto. The Hakone Tozan Railway used to operate all the way to Odawara station on its standard gauge line. The dual-gauge portion has since been truncated back to Iruida Station.

Hakone-Yumoto Town

This little river town is picturesque and serene. The river is quite wide in the center of town and makes a lot of noise due to some shallow waterfalls.

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I stayed at Hakone Suimeisou and loved it! Great staff and great location! It had a good view of the sweeping curve into the station. Also a very short walk.

Climbing the grade

The Hakone Tozan Railway, as soon as you depart west from Hakone-Yumoto Station, starting climbing steeply. As you can see in the photo previously, there's a sharp right-hand turn as you pass over a local road.

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It doesn't get any less steep. Further up the mountain are three switchbacks and numerous stations. The scenery is superb. The first station is Tounosawa, which happens to be the railway that this blog is based on. I've been following it for years and it was great to finally see the area that provided the inspiration.

Switchbacks

To prevent incidents, switchbacks are used to traverse the grade. Each switchback consist of an inclining path, a declining path, a double crossover (or two sets of points) and two roads for each passing consist to pause.

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Chokokunomori Station (Hakone Open Air Museum)

The main goal was to get up to the Hakone Open Air Museum and check out the sights (they even have a Picasso Gallery.) This was an easy task, as it's a short walk from Chokokunomori Station. The first afternoon, after arriving, I tried to rush there, but would've only had 20mins to check the place out, so instead I checked out the railway.

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It's a beautiful area with beautiful curves and great angles for photography. The lush forests around make for perfect backdrops and I love it when you have to try really hard to take a shit photograph.

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The mix of old and new rolling stock is also amazing. Anyway, the next day I made it into the museum... the view of the railway from inside was actually quite cool!

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Back to the old rolling stock... the windows open... take advantage of this!

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Back to Tokyo

From Hakone-Yumoto is easy... the best part is that, when choosing which Romance-car to take, the departure board actually has a picture of which series EMU is to be used. They really do cater for the train nerds. There's also a cool cafe in the station with a great view.

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Another place to go back to...

14Sep/150

Osaka – Imamiyaebisu – Nankai Rapi:t

Staying in Tennoji this time around meant that I was close to the main trunk like of the Nankai railway. The closest station was Shinimamiya which is a shared JR/Nankai station. It allows passengers to transfer from the loop line to the Nankai service. From here you can proceed north into the heart of Namba or south towards the Airport, Koyasan or Wakayama.

DSC08598Between Shinimamiya and Namba is one station: Imamiyaebisu. This station exists on the two east-most lines and is only really served by local trains. Its location provides a great view in both directions, from both ends of the platform.

The two tracks to the west are for anything other than local trains. The expresses will pass along these lines at moderate speeds. Most express services still stop at Shinimamiya, so they wont be full tilt.

The only real drawback of the area is the ability for services to block your view and the overpass just to the north providing unwanted shade. First world problems, really. There were even other photographers there when I visited.

Southbound View

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Nice sweeping curves and no issues getting full consists in the frame. Nankai has some basic liveries and a lot of stainless stock. Fortunately they like mixing it up quite a bit.

Northbound View

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Northbound is just as nice... quite a straight stretch until the final right-hand curve into Namba. And then ... the consist I was waiting for approached.

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The Nankai Rapi:t is the express train to Kansai International Airport. If you're staying in Namba, or don't have a railpass, then take this train when you arrive... it's fantastic.

10Sep/150

Osaka – Super Rail Cargo

I've tried before, but always failed. The Super Rail Cargo is an express EMU freight service that runs in the middle of the night and is a hard one to photograph. Turns out though, that Japan doesn't do daylight-savings. Therefore, in summer, in the wee hours of the morning, one has a good chance of seeing this thing on the move.

One service leaves Tokyo whilst the other leaves Osaka, around the same time, nearly every night of the week. I've never tried to hunt down the Tokyo end, as it's sorta out-of-the-way down past Shinagawa. Fortunately, the Osaka side passes through Umeda, on it's way towards (and along) the Tokaido Main Line.

The Stake Out - Fukushima Station

This train runs from Ajikawaguchi yards, along the Yumesaki Line, joins the Loop Line at Nishikujo, passes Noda and then heads north where it branches off the loop at Fukushima. It's even at road-level and there's a level-crossing, so you get an advance notice of anything approaching.

I used my freight timetables as posted here to know when it might arrive. It was my last morning in Osaka, a Tuesday, and I wasn't going to miss it this time.

I was staying in Tennoji and awoke at 4am. There were no train services at that time, so I found a taxi and asked to go to Fukushima Station. The driver alerted that there was nothing to be gained in going there, but I actually stated that I hoped to take a photo and he chuckled and agreed that it was OK.

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It was around 4:40am and indeed still dark.. but I was very happy to have the sun rising.. although on the wrong side for a good shot. There were lively characters coming out of Karaoke venues or bars, but also people making their way to work.

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At 5:05am, the booms triggered and an EF66 with a short rake appeared. It seems this would be ▲59 making it's way from Suita. I think I still had my polariser on at this point, not really knowing the best way to shoot in low light. Hence the photos are quite dark.

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A loop line service came through at 5:12am... meaning that I could've slept in a little later and taken it from Tennoji. There was no way I was going to risk that timing though.

Either way... The gates then activated again and the M250 came through!

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Not the best photos... but for the first time I saw the actual service in flight; whilst I had a camera ready. Success!

4Sep/150

Osaka – Umeda and Hirano – August 2015

The goal was simple... there's a freight train that runs from Umeda to Hirano and there's enough time to catch it at Shin-Osaka, bolt to Hirano and catch it again. Of course... this would be correct... if Umeda Freight Yard still existed. Little did I know that, whilst waiting at Shin Osaka station, the yard had been demolished some 3 years earlier!

The timetables I posted here were initially wrong. Wherever I had 'Umeda' should have actually been 'Osaka'. I thought 'Osaka' (from the freight train timetable) meant 'Umeda'... but it actually meant the yard right next to the Shinkansen depot out past Senrioka!

Shin-Osaka Station

I waited here for a while to see the freight head through to Umeda. Instead I got to see the standard array of express trains. Mixed in with these was a freight heading to Ajikawaguchi which caught me off-guard. You can find the timetables for Suita to Ajikawaguchi here.

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The Ocean Arrow/Kuroshio in pictured above actually left 5 minutes late. That last picture shows the driver hanging out the front of the train with the stationmaster discussing something that was preventing him from leaving. What I didn't capture was the guard bolting down the platform with a few sheets of paper that must have been the timetable/run-sheet that you see paper-clipped in the cabin. It seems the driver was issued with the wrong one, as he swapped the one in the train with the one the guard delivered. The train then departed.

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It was 30 minutes past the time that the train was meant to arrive and I decided to cut my losses. These trains are usually very close to clockwork and the Ajikawaguchi train had passed... so it was time to go.

Transit to Hirano

I took the Haruka Airport Express to Tennoji (thanks Rail Pass!) and then a local to Hirano. It was a quick trip. Of course, the goal was to pass the freight yard to see if there was any activity. Instead I was presented with the following...

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I think I let out a big 'Ohhhhh....' at that point and had fellow passengers look oddly at me. Everything clicked. I was glad I'd left, but unhappy that I'd waited so long at Shin-Osaka. This is Japan... if the train doesn't arrive 5 minutes after schedule then move on.

Hirano Station

This is a little station on the line to Nara. I've posted the freight timetable for this yard here. It is located two stations east of Tennoji and you must take a local service on the Yamatoji Line to get there. The stop between Hirano and Tennoji is Tobushijomae and is located on the south-west corner of the freight yard I sought out. Stay on the left side of the train between these two stations and you'll get a good view of what's about to depart.

The yard has three staging roads immediately next to the passenger lines, but at ground level... the passenger lines are elevated. In these roads you'll find made up trains that have just been delivered, or are about to depart. Trains that arrive are staged here whilst either the engine that brought them runs around or the yard worker takes them away. There is a shunt road that runs right up beside Hirano station for this purpose.

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I ventured out to Hirano on a Wednesday. As I passed the yard, I saw an EF66 about to carry out this very task. I got to the station in time to see it shunt right up next to the platform. It proceeded back into the yard and everything was quiet. There are occupation indicators line-side on the freight shunting roads that show you if anything is approaching. They'll flash if the track is occupied and stay lit if nothing is happening. Note that the flashing indicates that the road is in use. The train on the road may not come all the way up to the station. The points are situated a fair way back west and the shunting will only reach the station when long consists are being worked.

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I followed the timetable and realised that there was an inbound freight due. From the city-bound platform, you can see the triangle to the east where the freight trains come from. It didn't take long before a freight came in, 5 minutes early. This was dragged through by an EF210. After this, there was nothing scheduled for a few hours... of course, I stupidly only looked at inbound traffic.

DSC08242I was out of time and had to head back... completely failing to look at the outbound traffic timetable. As I left at 1pm on a local back to Tennoji, I passed an EF81 on its way to Suita. Totally pissed off, I was. EF81s are a favourite and I've taken a shot of one very similar to this one before... years before! In Umeda Yard! This poor old thing has been hanging around Osaka just waiting for me to return!

I returned to the apartment only to find that everyone else was still shopping... so... knowing that Hirano was 10 minutes from Tennoji, I ventured back to see the ~2pm services (one inbound and one outbound.)

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An EF210 came in, 10 minutes early... and then the EF66 I'd seen earlier proceeded to Suita with a short rake of flats.

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There was now nothing due until after 5pm, so I decided to call it a day and visit Den Den Town. I'd come back later to catch the EF81 in action.

Hirano Station, 2nd Attempt

My second attempt was carried out on a Friday. I based my plan around the 1pm depature of the EF81. Arriving at 12, I hoped to see at least one service... but absolutely nothing came through. The yard had zero workers and zero locomotives... just a few rakes of half-built consists. As I passed the yard on the way in I could see that nothing was happening, but I waited in vain anyway. Fail.

What was worse? The platform indicators were showing 'Pass' on the nearest platform to the yards. I'd not seen a pax go through here at all... so I sat, staring at the indicator... waiting for that "Train approaching" sign. Hours. Nothing. Oh well... they must program the slots in and not cancel them.

Hirano Station, 3rd Time Lucky

This time I attacked the station on a Monday. As I passed the yard on the local train, the EF81 was not there. It had been there waiting to depart the first time I'd visited and so I was worried. This time there were other locos in the yard, but none ready to head out.

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I got to the station, parched. There was nothing due for about halfa so, despite the platform board showing a 'Pass', I ventured to the city-bound platform for a beverage. There are no vending machines on the outbound platform. Lo'and'behold, my favourite EF81 bolts past just as I'm on the other side, inserting coins. I leave half the coins inserted, grab the camera and got a few photos... school kids nearby were wondering why a photo was more important than a drink...I smiled.

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Not to be fooled again.. I proceeded back to the outbound platform and caught the next freight coming in. Turns out there was also a young railfan there doing the exact same thing.

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Passing time was easy... there was a local every so often and expresses interspersed.

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And then it happened... the EF81 came through and the world was at peace.

2Sep/150

Akihabara Washington Hotel

This is the first post of my most recent trip to Japan. It was the first time I'd been there in Summer and I was not expecting the weather to be so damn nice. Yes, humid, slightly, but not quite tropical-humid... somewhere half-way towards out-back humid.

Anyway, the trip started in Tokyo. I usually stay on the west-side of the Yamanote Line, but this time I stayed east. Akihabara to be exact. The good thing about the east side? The Shinkansen lines run on this side, terminating at Tokyo Station.

Akihabara is north of Tokyo, so only the 'northward' Shinkansen run through. Well, the north-west-ward also run through too now. Fortunately, the shinkansen tracks are all above ground until just after Akihabara station, so there are several vantage points if you search for them.

One vantage point is the Akihabara Washington Hotel. It is actually so well known for it that they have an actual room dedicated to trains; including a model railway! (Note the single bed.)

Checking in

When booking the hotel, I left a comment requesting a room that could see the Shinkansen. I received an email response saying that this was not a problem. Upon check-in, I neglected to remind them and was first given a room staring into another office building to the south.

I returned to the counter and politely asked if my comment still existed and if there was any chance of a room looking over the tracks. The receptionists kindly oblidged... although I did hear a snicker between the two girls that the "gaikokujin ha densha wo mitai, heya kara." I couldn't tell if it was my bad Japanese or if I was a train nerd.

Room with a view

Second time lucky! The room had a great view of the Kanda River and a shrine on the opposite bank. To the right were the Shinkansen tracks heading to Tokyo. There is also an elevated flyover of the Ueno-Tokyo Line.

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From here ... it's going to just be pictures. There's a vending machine on every floor... so a few beers and a bit of train watching was had.

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Stay here, it's awesome. Just remember to check that your room has a view!