The Tokyo to Osaka Line #7: Addenda

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #7: Addenda

Following the publication of the five parts of the The Tokyo to Osaka Line covering the classic railway route and the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, the sixth, seventh and eighth parts were drawn up covering other aspects of the New Tōkaidō Line. In other words mostly stuff that’s little known to the English speaking world!

High speed freight on the New Tōkaidō Line

The original plans from 1938 envisaged passenger trains during the day and freight trains at night. The idea was carried through to the 1955 plans for a high speed railway and in due course part of the works at Osaka indeed included what would have been a cargo terminus for the line’s high speed freight trains. In addition to that a completed section of high speed freight line was completed at Nagoya and later utilised as a train depot.

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Artist’s drawing of a freight Shinkansen train. Source: Yoshiroshi JNR

Four cargo stations were planned at Tokyo, Shizuoka, Nagoya and Osaka, and services would begin in 1965. Of those four the Osaka cargo terminal was partially built, including a structure known as the Mishima Viaduct. Nagoya (Hibitsu) was completed but never used as a Shinkansen freight yard. It later became one of the line’s four main passenger train depots.

I’m not sure where Tokyo’s yard was meant to be. Some think it was to be at Oi depot but that’s uncertain. It seems it might have possibly been at Shingawa where the new Shinkansen station stands. There was once a series of dive-unders that basically went nowhere as the picture below shows. It does seem possible that the yards to the north of the Shinkansen had at one point been intended for high speed freight use.

How the layout with its dive-unders between the Shinkansen’s tracks looked in the 1990s. Source: Shinagawa Station Reconstruction

The page at Shinagawa Station Reconstruction does give a chronological look at how the line appeared before Shinagawa station was built and its clear from the demolition progress of the old layout that there was a series of linking arches off the Shinkansen which presumably would have led to the high speed freight yard.

The new Shinagawa station (2003) was built in the same location where those tracks had descended to pass below the Shinkansen itself. The site was rebuilt to give the Shinkansen an additional intermediate stop between Tokyo and Yokohama as well as affording a turn back facility for trains that should need to terminate here rather than at Tokyo.

The same location today. Notice how the entire layout has been straightened out since the Shinkansen station (on the left) had been built! Its possible some of the yards on the right hand side had been intended for the Shinkansen high speed freight project. Source: Google Earth Pro.

In terms of that at Osaka (Torikai) part of the route to the new high speed freight yard was built during 1964. Certain aspects remain include a concrete drainage ditch which was to run alongside the new railway alignent. Its been said the tracks on the north side of Torikai depot were destined to be the Shinkansen freight terminal.

The unfinished high speed freight viaduct just outside Osaka. It consisted of a pair of flyovers which would connect into a viaduct taking high speed freight trains to a dedicated yard on the north side of Torikai depot. Source: M&A Online.

The drawing of the Shinansen freight terminal (shown above) is in fact an artist’s depiction of Torikai depot! The location from which the drawing is made is what’s known today as Shinkansen Park. There are old trains sited here for education and amusement and these include a Series 0 Shinkansen train and a 1954 built electric locomotive (which may have been for the newly electrified line through the Tanna tunnel.) The southern perimeter of Shinkansen Park overlooks the freight yards which were once destined to be that high speed rail depot.

In terms of the Tokyo area, a special area was reported to be under construction at Shingawa freight yard ready for use between 1965 and 1967. It was asserted that dedicated terminal would be built in due course on reclaimed land near Haneda airport. That turned out later to be the Oi yards.

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The Shinkansen’s freight traffic was due to begin on 1st October 1965. Source: World Bank.

These high speed freight trains were planned to have a length of 450 metres and take five and half hours for the journey to Osaka. The cargo would be carried in modules (or containers) and there would be up to 150 of these on each train. The freight idea was eventually dropped and the cargo terminal aborted. One newspaper report described the proect as being unviable.

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In April 1966 JNR announced the high speed freight option was practically all but abandoned – they insisted the operation would be better focused on the traditional Tōkaidō main line. This is six months after the high speed freight services had been planned to commence!

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The remains of the aborted high speed freight terminal in 2014 just outside Torikai depot not long before it was removed. Source: Internet Archive

The aborted freight terminal approach viaduct is sited just to the east of Torikai depot. Even though it is now gone, it can be seen on Google Streets from 2010. The same view in 2019 shows the modified Shinkansen viaduct with the partially built cargo depot approach no longer present, except for some columns which clearly help to support the main viaduct.

As mentioned the only and only Shinkansen freight yard (and viaduct approaches) to be built to a completed state was at Nagoya. The line still exists but as described elsewhere it is now a train depot.

The Shinkansen’s own specialist high speed rail viaduct in Nagoya. It can be seen here (at right) having split from the main Tōkaidō Shinkansen (left) via a flyover and will head towards the rail yards at Hibitsu. Source: Google Streets.

Since the depot at Nagoya was originally built as part of the Shinkansen freight scheme its elevated viaduct happens to be a fully completed example compared to the partially built one at Osaka. In fact both these locations’ viaducts had remained incomplete since the opening of the New Tōkaidō Line in 1964. In 1965 JNR were asked why the viaducts had not been completed. JNR’s response was that it was still going ahead with its high speed freight system and the viaducts in question would therefore be finished.

The high speed freight viaduct seen about half way between the Tōkaidō Shinkansen and the outlying depot at Hibitsu. Source: Google Streets.

In January 1965 it had been reported the ‘super-express freight Shinkansen’ had become economically unviable. Thus there as an impression JNR woud no longer have any wish for the land that was affected by the viaducts partial construction. However JNR were insistent their Shinkansen freight would begin at a later date therefore there was no chance of any of the land in question on that alignment being given up or even returned to its original owners.

Evidently JNR were able to complete construction of this lengthy viaduct system for it remains in use today as a dedicated stabling depot branch off the Shinkansen at Nagoya. From 1975 the new branch was re-allocated to serve as a depot for both the stabling of Shinkansen trains and Shinkansen maintenance stock. Its history from 1966 to 1975 is unclear however it might have possibly been blighted by the same objections that ultimately prevented other viaduct sections (see below) in Nagoya being put into use.

In terms of the Shinkansen freight scheme being aborted rail freight continued to be taken on the older Tōkaidō line. Major upgrades and enhanced line speeds means the narrow gauge system nowadays conveys ‘Super Rail Cargo’ expresses between Tokyo and Osaka in just 6 hours. Its a considerable achievement since that transit time is just half hour longer than the time the original Shinkansen freight cargo trains would have taken!

The Shinkansen Depots

Two main depots were originally built and both are still in use. These are the Oi depot (officially its Tokyo Inspection Depot but is sometimes known as Shinagawa) near Tokyo and the Torikai depot near Osaka. There are also substantial stabling depots at both Nagoya (as described above) and Mishima and these latter two were brought into use somewhat later than 1964. Mishima was opened in 1966 and that at Nagoya either 1967 or 1975.

Mention must also be made of the Hamamatsu branch which leads to the JNR factories where all the new Shinkansen trains are built or refurbished or are needing some sort of major work that cannot be done elsewhere.

Similarly there is also the Kamomiya facility which is too a maintenance depot for the Shinkansen. This was originally the site from where the early test track operations were conducted during 1962 and 1963. Instead of making the site redundant it was repurposed as a maintenance depot. Thus in a nutshell there are maintenance depots at Oi, Kamomiya, Mishima, Shizuoka, Nagoya and Osaka which means the eastern, central and western sections of the Shinkansen are well covered.

Oi depot is within the city’s docks area and is reached by tracks which leave the Shinkansen between Tamachi and Sengakuji stations. The connecting line is largely on viaduct that crosses the various waterways and roads in the locality in order to reach the Oi depot.

The second generation Doctor Yellow on the approach to the the Oi depot. (The first was a locomotive used to haul the prototype trains as detailed in an earlier post.) Source: Wikipedia.

Incidentally the Oi depot is where the celebrated Doctor Yellow is stabled when its not in use. For those not aware, Doctor Yellow is the high speed track recording and monitoring unit which twice weekly runs the Shinkansen from end to end in order to analyse the track and identify where work might be necessary.

Google Streets has several views of the Shinkansen depot at Oi. Here’s one view showing a N700A and here’s another – Google Streets view of the Oi yards with three N700As stabled.

This Google Streets view from a boat on one of the many waterways on the area shows the rail viaducts leading to the Oi yards. That on the left is the narrow gauge freight line. That on the right is the newer Shinkansen depot route.

Tokyo to Shinagawa track layout including the lines to Oi depot. Source: Yumpu.

The next train depot is Mishima. It wasn’t ever a site considered originally for the new railway but when it came to needing one, the locations that had been envisaged for an additional depot just were not available. And that is how there came to be one at Mishima. Its not a fully fledged depot but rather a facillity where trains can be stabled and cleaned and inspected. Its a large depot with twelve tracks (including an extra track into a building for train inspection and repairs) plus an additional small yard at which maintenance trains are based.

To understand how Mishima depot came into being, the original development plans for the Shinkansen post 1964 entailed an enhanced high speed service between Tokyo and Atami. Neither that site nor the next, Shizuoka, were found to be suitable for a depot. Thus Mishima was chosen instead. Even though the site in large proved to be ideal, there were still some constraints which resulted in the huge depot viaduct as shown below.

The huge Mishima viaduct which carries the depot’s turnback sidings high up in the air! Source: Google Streets.

The work to build Mishima depot was commenced in September 1965 with the main Shinaknsen lines being slewed somewhat to provide space to facilitate trackwork towards what would eventually be for the new depot. The depot was completed in July 1966 and the first trains into it were inaugurated on 26th December 1966. In 1969 Mishima depot (along with all the others) were expanded to accommodate longer trains.

One famous characteristic of Mishima depot is its turnback sidings. These are on a tall viaduct almost half a kilometre long. Its existence is because the elevations west of the depot area fall sharply towards the Kise river. The viaduct is celebrated among rail enthusiasts and is known as ‘the launch pad.’ The end of the structure sits ever so dramatically high above the banks of the river. Invariably there’s a joke among the railway fraternity that Mishima’s ‘launch pad’ is designed to rocket trains to Mount Fuji!

Shinkansen to Mount Fuji service! The end of the Mishima viaduct is so high its nicely aligned with the summit of Japan’s most famous mountain/volcano. Source: Twitter.

As a matter of interest all the four Shinkansen depots have been made earthquake proof. Work began in 2012 and by 2016 Mishima depot had become the third of the four depots to be completed in January 2016. Oi was the last to have this work completed in March 2016. Similar work which was undertaken at Torikai was completed in 2014 and that at Nagoya in 2015.

What that means is seismic reinforcement of the various civil engineering structures was undertaken. Even the depot buildings and train control rooms for example were also given similar treatment. Measures were also introduced to prevent derailment and deviation of trackwork, thus giving the Shinkansen even greater resilience against earthquakes. The power systems at these depots were also greatly enhanced to improve resilience against earthquakes.

After Mishima depot there is Shizuoka. Its not even a depot in any sense and is the smallest stabling point on the Shinkansen. Its basically two sidings which hold a pair of trains overnight. One of those forms an early morning passenger train from Shizuoka to Tokyo. On the other side of the tracks is a small rail maintenance yard.

The next, Hibitsu depot in Nagoya, opened 1975 with eleven tracks and is the third depot along the route. Its mainly stabling of trains but also undertakes inspections and maintenance of daytime Kodamas (stopping trains that terminate at Nagoya.) Its eleven depot tracks contributes a number of trains towards the Shinkansen’s total operating requirement.

Hibitsu wasn’t originally planned to be a train depot but rather a Shinkansen freight depot. That side of the story has already been detailed earlier on this page under the section on the Shinkansen’s high speed freight service.

The Shinkansen depot (with a N700 series unit visible) and maintenance stock stabling at Hibitsu in the north part of Nagoya. A Shinkansen ballast train can also be seen. As mentioned earlier this depot is at the end of the high speed freight viaduct that was built from the main Shinkansen route 1km away. Source: Google Streets.

The westernmost of the four Tōkaidō Shinkansen depots is Torikai near Osaka. It was the first to be brought into use and it was where the first production Series 0 trains were based during late 1963, this being because the tracks and the line into Oi depot at the other end at Tokyo were not available until the summer of 1964. Thus Torikai was where many trial runs with the new Series 0 trains would begin their journeys eastward, though not as far as Tokyo due to the uncompleted nature of the line.

Torikai depot is the largest of the four Tōkaidō Shinkansen depots, Oi being the second largest. Torikai is evidently the most important as it can undertake a wide range of work including difficult engineering tasks and major repairs compared to the other sites.

Torakai depot as seen from its webcam. Torakai depot live webcam.

Nagoya’s freight viaducts

The train depot at Hibitsu in the northern part of Nagoya was originally built for the Shinkansen freight scheme. It has approach viaducts over 1km long which are in fact the only fully completed Shinkansen elevated freight viaduct in existence. When that scheme was aborted the site became the line’s third depot. Besides that fully completed section of the Shinkansen which was then repurposed, comes the story of yet further viaducts in Nagoya that were completed but never used!

This vast system of viaducts officially known as The Southern Freight Line was meant to be complementary to the Shinkansen – but never actually be a part of it. Perhaps it was JNR’s intention to complete that section to Hibitsu that prompted the desire to built the freight viaduct system? After all JNR alluded sometime after the Shinkansen had been opened that they would be completing the high speed freight scheme – thus in a number of respects it was the Shinkansen’s existence which prompted this vast system of viaducts to be built.

A lengthy section of the abortive viaduct system in Nagoya. Source: Google Streets.

How that transpired was during March 1965 JNR informed representatives from Nagoya of the definite intention to establish a high speed freight system – in JNR’s words – ‘we are proceeding with our plan with the idea of carrying out cargo transportation by Shinkansen as soon as possible.’ This had been ascertained in view of a number of concerns on a lengthy yet unfinished freight viaduct for the Shinkansen to the north of the city. Clearly the the construction of those viaducts continued through at least 1966 thus the plans and contracts for the new Southern Freight Line viaduct system must have drawn up at the same time in order for it to commence construction in 1967.

The scheme was intended to alleviate problems with rail capacity in the Nagoya area, the area being a very industrial port city thus lots of railways were to be found serving the various yards and riverside locations. There was a problem of capacity on the city’s railways thus over time it was proposed that new viaducts be built to alleviate this issue – as well as avoid numerous road crossings etc. It was only when the Shinkansen was built that plans for a viaduct system became more urgent.

Work on the vast system of viaducts through Nagoya was commenced in 1967 and were 90% completed by 1975 when it was halted by legal issues plus objections to possible noise from freight trains (besides the noise that was coming from the Shinkansen.) Despite several kilometres of the viaduct being constructed and almost entirely completed none of it was ever put to use.

Thus these viaducts built on the back of the Shinkansen’s construction are basically a folly. A very expensive waste. It is said 34.5 billion yen in total was spent building the Southern Freight Line viaducts. The viaducts have been quite difficult to demolish. To date it has cost the City of Nagoya and associated authorities 30 billion yen to demolish perhaps around 60% of that vast system of viaducts over a period of twenty years! That’s basically a 65 billion yen spend for something that has amounted to nothing!

Remains of the Nagoya freight viaduct alongside the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Source: Google Streets.

Nevertheless substantial sections of the Southern Freight viaduct system remain. Several lengths are pure viaduct which remain as a folly whilst other sections have been converted into buildings, factories, industrial units and even dwellings. The sheer strength of the viaducts has evidently made its structure a good candidate for alternative uses. Several disused sections run immediately alongside the Shinkansen and these create a logistical headache in terms of demolition. Therefore its only those sections that do really need to be demolished – say for new roads or development – are the ones that have come down.

Continued in part eight.

Updated January 2023.

Other posts in the series:

The Tokaido Shinkansen (introduction)

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #1

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #2

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #3

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #4

The Tokyo to Osaka Line: A history #5

The last three (never published) are focused on specific aspects of the Tōkaidō Shinkansen:

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #6: Tunnels/Kozens/Hankyu

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #7: Freight/Depots/Viaducts

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #8: Dr. Yellow/Train Control