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.
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.
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.
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!
Not the best photos... but for the first time I saw the actual service in flight; whilst I had a camera ready. Success!
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!
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
I 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.)
An EF210 came in, 10 minutes early... and then the EF66 I'd seen earlier proceeded to Suita with a short rake of flats.
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.
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.
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.
Passing time was easy... there was a local every so often and expresses interspersed.
And then it happened... the EF81 came through and the world was at peace.
So you're in the big smoke for the day and want to see a freight train? The best advice I can give you is to head on over to Minamisenju as Shinjuku sees very little activity. On the off chance you can't do this, please refer to the table below.
The timetable covering Shinjuku station incorporates two paths through Tokyo. The major path is the branch to Sumidagawa Freight Terminal (aka Minamisenju) and secondly the less-busy line through Shinjuku Station to Shin-Tsurumi yard. It seems that trains choose a path south from Omiya and split at Tabata Station to either destination.
I'll just cover the freight through Shinjuku for now.
|▲3080 ~ (▲3071)||Sapporo||0205||0226||0254||0314||▲ = X間-Y間 月曜日運休
(Not Mondays between Aomori[Junction]-West Hamamatsu)
|3086 ~ (3075) ~ (3073)||Sapporo||1135||1152||1212||1227|
|4070 ~ (5072)||Sendai||0214||0236||0256||0326|
|8086||Sumidagawa||!!||1449||1509||1528||!! = Starts at Sumidagawa at 1402 to Tabata by 1410.|
|(▲3070) ~ ▲3081||West Hamamatsu||0246||0301||0321||0340||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(3090) ~ (5090) ~ 4081||Nagoya||0227||0249||0309||0334|
|(96) ~ (5096) ~ 4083||Nagoya||0446||0502||0522||0543|
|8089||Yokohama Hazawa||1528||1551||1611||!!||Proceeds to Sumidagawa at 1743 after Tabata. NOT Omiya.|
Well, not really chasing, more like just being in the right place at the right time. It turns out they've flipped the schedule on this and the UP service now runs through to the CBD at around 2pm daily.
This is nothing short of perfectly timed. The steel runs down around 3 hours earlier... it's therefore good to go and stretch the legs when these services come through the area.
Just past Hawksburn
South Yarra Station
Just after South Yarra Station
The curve after South Yarra, just before Richmond...
Nice and colourful... no post processing on any pics!
This line is an extension of the Suita to Umeda freight/express-train line that runs from Shin-Osaka Station to the Umeda Freight Yards.
This line continues further south-west, rising back up to the height of the kanjosen and then branching off on the Yumesaki Line to Universal Studios Japan. Before this though, is Ajikawaguchi freight yards. The home of Sagawa Transport's M250!
This freight train is famous... it's actually an EMU high-speed express freight service that runs through the night to get your urgent deliveries to Tokyo. The opposing service departs Tokyo at the same time and they pass somewhere half-way along the Tokaido Main Line in the middle of the night.
Due to its timetable, you'll really only ever see it resting in the Ajikawaguchi yard. Sometimes I've seen it photographed in the early morning at the Tokyo end, but never really in daylight when moving.
Due to this, I still haven't managed to properly photograph this train. I've seen it depart Ajikawaguchi once and you can find a post with a movie of the departure over here.
The last column on each table is a rail-set train. I've seen this pass before from an assortment of locations.
This area is difficult to photograph, but there is a large level crossing on which you can gently walk into the middle of and take photos. Just be very considerate and respect the requests of staff if they ask you to get out of the way!
As per previous Osaka timetables, all times are up until Suita. I'll look into extending the SRC through to Tokyo at a later date.
|▲51||Tokyo||––||0511||0526||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲59||Tokyo||––||0451||0510||▲ = 土 or 休日運休 (Not Saturdays or Holidays)|
|(4078) ~ (1081) ~ 91||Sendai||ºº0723||0833||0900||ºº = ??|
|▲93||Osaka||1102||1111||1157||▲ = 月曜日運休 (Not Mondays)|
|(1881) ~ 1883||Kyoto||1447||1603||1628||Rail-set or 'other' cargo.|
|▲50||2309||––||2324||Tokyo||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲58||2259||2320||2328||Tokyo||▲ = 土 or 休日運休 (Not Saturdays or Holidays)|
|▲90||1703||1739||1742||Osaka||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|5088 ~ (3089)||1818||ºº1851||1944||Sendai||ºº = ??|
|1180 ~ (1182)||1040||ºº1127||1225||Kyoto||ºº = ??
Rail train or 'other' cargo.
I will go back and get the Super Rail Cargo once more!
REALLY BIG UPDATE: As of ... god knows when ... this yard has been entirely removed! Here I was, 2 weeks ago, at Shin Osaka station, waiting for a train from Umeda to pass but, alas, nothing came through. Turns out that, upon cruising past on the Haruka, the Umeda Freight Yards no longer exist! The timetables below are still valid but all traffic terminates at Suita.
Any mention of Umeda below is historical. The timetables have been updated to show Osaka... This yard is located right next to the Shinkansen Depot to the south-east of Senrioka.
Buried in upper-central Osaka is Umeda, home of the Hep-5 ferris wheel, the Umeda Sky building, the amazingly-new Osaka station and a relic: The Umeda Freight yards. Very easy to access, these yards' time has to be limited. The yard is situated on a prime development location and the surrounding buildings have slowly been creeping in.
In the yard you'll usually find any number of EF66s, EF81s, EF210s and DE10s for the shunting. There was a rake of WAMUs in there when I checked it out 10years ago, but recently it's been only container traffic. There is a large shed at the southern end which restricts visibility. You'll also find a very long passenger tunnel under the width of the yard. It connects the Umeda Sky Building to Yodobashi Camera. I really do wish this was an overpass!
I've previously walked around the area and took a few photographs. The album is here if you want to check it out.
This yard is on the 'Osaka Station Bypass' that the high-speed trains to Wakayama and the Airport use. Also the Super Rail Cargo to Ajikawaguchi and the freight trains I'll mention in this post.
The traffic mentioned is fun to photograph and the lighting at any time of day provides great opportunities. Below are some shots of the area. Note that the first photo below was taken from the Heart-Inn hotel just south of the yard and walking distance from Osaka Station.
Times listed are between Suita and Osaka and don't relate to the map above :) I'll update that soon!
|▲4058||Niigata||0654||0732||0741||▲ = 休日運休 (Not Holidays)|
|(2060) ~ 4060||Sapporo||2026||2054||2103|
|▲5066||Hiroshima||ºº1446||1533||1545||▲ = 火曜日運休 (Not Tuesdays)
Has ºº, define this.
|▲56||Tosu||0506||0516||0528||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(3072) ~ 72||Matsuyama||1002||1034||1045|
|(3076) ~ 76||Niihama||0329||0433||0445|
|86||Himeji||ºº1747||1838||1850||(Timetable has ºº. Define this.)|
|▲90||Ajikawaguchi||1739||1742||1754||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(4088) ~ 1085||Sendai||0458||0536||0545|
|2074||Kagoshima||ºº1248||1319||1330||(Timetable has ºº. Define this.)|
|1392||Hirano||1459||1501||1515||配給 = Light Engine Movement|
|1476||Suita||––||0926||0937||配給 = Light Engine Movement|
|▲57||2043||2056||2058||Tosu||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲4059||2232||2241||2319||Niigata||▲ = 休日運休 (Not Holidays)|
|▲93||1049||1102||1111||Ajikawaguchi||▲ = 月曜日運休 (Not Mondays)|
|▲1080||1924||1934||2017||Niiza||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|1084 ~ (4089)||1829||1839||1925||Sendai|
|▲2081||1230||1243||1256||Fukuoka||▲ = 月曜日運休 (Not Mondays)|
|62 ~ (3051)||1640||ºº1651||2029||Fukuoka||Define ºº on stop at Suita.|
All traffic above is containerised. Also note that the yard can only be entered from the north. Hence trains to Ajikawaguchi (which is further down the line) have to be accessed by running around at Suita!
There are three ways for freight to be delivered into Osaka by rail. The first is into Ajikawaguchi located to the west of the city near Universal Studios, The second is into Umeda Freight Terminal, right in the heart next to Osaka Station, and the third is to take the Osaka Higashi Line to the east and arrive at Hirano Station. The latter service is the one we'll be investigating today.
The freight line itself runs south out of Suita Terminal, over the Yodogawa (Yodo River) and then wraps around the city, clockwise from Shigino to Hirano. This used to be freight only, or for movements to dead-head electric stock, but it currently being upgraded to a passenger line. The line was originally to be called the 'Osaka Outer Loop Line', but is now to be known as the Osaka Higashi Line. At Suita, the freight approaches from Suita in the east, whereas the passenger services will approach from Shin-Osaka in the west. Likewise, at the end of the line the passenger services will take the triangle to the west and arrive at Shinkami/Kyuhoji, whereas the freight ventures west to Hirano Freight Yard.
Currently there is no passenger service between Shigino and Shin-Osaka, but this is expected to start by 2018. There seems to have been an illegal site occupation on the former alignment near the triangle at Suita.
Seen to the left is the map of the line from both Google and Yahoo respectively. As you can see, the blue line highlights the path which crosses the river and then heads around lower Osaka.
There are no yards in between Suita and Hirano, so the freight will proceed as quickly as possible south, slotting in to the passenger traffic at the junction north of Shigino.
Once at Hirano, the freight is transferred to road vehicles for the rest of the journey.
I believe that both electic and diesel locomotives work over this line, but I've only currently seen DD51s pulling the freight services. Then again, if you look at the an EF66 here on Street View and an EF81. That latter EF81 looks like the locomotive I photographed in Umeda Yard years ago.
Thanks to the latest JR Freight Timetable for 2015, I can provide the following timings for the freight services in and out of Hirano. Please do take note of the comments column and ensure that you're ready for disappointment. Not all services run on this line, regardless of the slots available.
|▲65||Tokyo||0542||0547||0623||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(▲1077) ~ ▲1079||Niiza||0948||1145||1222||▲ = 新座(夕)-横浜羽沢間 稲沢-百済(夕)間 日曜日運休
(Not Sundays between Niiza[Evenings]-Yokohama and Inazawwa-Hirano[Evenings])
|▲1092||Nabeshima||1311||1350||1422||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲4070||Niigata||0625||0637||0719||▲ = 南長岡-百済(夕)間 休日運休
(Not Holidays between South Nagaoka-Hirano[Evenings])
|(▲4077) ~ ▲4076||Hachinohe||1647||1713||1748||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(82) ~ (▲3082) ~ ▲5087||Asahikawa||1420||1422||1453||▲ = 青森(信)-百済(夕)間 月曜日運休
(Not Mondays between Aomori[Junction]-Hirano[Evenings])
|¤7085||Tokyo||0411||0420||0457||¤ = Runs on unknown dates, not regularly.|
|▲64||2129||2201||2232||Tokyo||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲1074 ~ (1076)||1945||2018||2044||Niiza||▲ = 百済(夕)-稲沢間 日曜日運休
(Not Sundays between Inazawwa[Evenings]-Hirano)
|▲1093||1929||2002||2043||Fukuoka||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲4071||1303||1335||1427||Niigata||▲ = 休日運休 (Not Holidays)|
|▲4075 ~ (▲4074)||1959||2030||2123||Aomori||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲5086 ~ (▲3083) ~ (83)||2231||2304||2312||Sapporo||▲ = 百済(夕)-青森(信)間 日曜日運休
(Not Mondays between Hirano[Evenings]-Aomori[Junction])
|¤7082||2150||2222||2240||Tokyo||¤ = Runs on unknown dates, not regularly.|
|1392||1425||1459||1501||Osaka||配給 = Light Engine Movement|
I've translated the comments from the timetable to the best of my ability. From this I've even learnt of new freight yards that I had no idea about. For the comments that also suggest places, I'm a little confused... Should there be a need to state the to/from, when you could just say that the service doesn't run? Or is it part of a greater service where some legs aren't always operating? Does this mean that the consists will be shorter?
I'll find out in a few weeks when I go stalk this service for a morning or two!