The Tokyo to Osaka Line #8: Addenda

The Tokyo to Osaka Line #8: Addenda

Following the publication of the five parts of the The Tokyo to Osaka Line covering the classic railway route and the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, three further 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! Due to numerous problems with the blog this substantial section was never published.

The original Shinkansen train drivers…

The drivers of the first Hikari express to Tokyo on this momentous 1964 day being interviewed about their experiences 54 years later. Kameo Seki (85) and Kazutaro Oishi (85) are seen at a railway conference in Kanagawa November 2018. Source: Facebook

Kazutaro Oishi as he was in 1964 (picture right) when he drove the first ever official Bullet Train out of Tokyo. Source: Twitter

Kazutaro Oishi had the first driver’s duty that momentous day. He drove the first express from Osaka as far as the Tenryu River crossing (about 6km east from Hamamatsu Shinkansen station and seen here on Google Streets.) From the Tenryu Kameo Seki took responsibility of the train for the remainder of the journey to Tokyo.

Here’s Kameo Seki at Tokyo in the days when he was a Shinkansen driver (1964)!

This is Kazutaro Oishi who drove the first ever duty on the Hikari Express to Tokyo – seen here at the controls of a Series 0 in 2018! Source: Docomo

Mr. Kameo Seki and Mr. Kazutaro Oishi, both 86 at the time this picture was taken, were the drivers of the first Bullet Train in 1964. Source: Yodo Line Blog

Mr. Kazutaro Oishi and Mr. Kameo Seki receive flowers in a tribute to their pioneering roles with the first ever public Shinkansen services in October 1964. Source: Yodo Line Blog.

Hideo Shima

Hideo Shima is a revered rail engineer and well known for his innovations upon the technical limitations of the time which he overcame and thus enabled the Shinkansen to be built. Here’s an example of this dedication:

Hideo Shima. Source: Twitter

Another Hideo Shima tribute. Source: Twitter

Here’s the first page of some notes by Hideo Shima in 1966 for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Source: SAGE

Track monitoring and maintenance

The original Doctor Yellow or at least one of them! This is 921-2. Source: Twitter.

The very first Doctor Yellow (as opposed to being a bullet train) was in fact the diesel locomotive (Number 4001 or 921-1) employed on the Kamomiya test track. It seems the Doctor Yellow name took sometime to catch on, but very late in the days of line testing or early days of Shinkansen operation evidently its what the locomotive had become known as. The original wasn’t exactly a track recording locomotive but rather a rescue locomotive. When the Shinansen opened it seems Number 4001 was adapted to use track recording equipment.

A second slightly newer model was employed from 1964 onward with a slightly different appearance even though they have the same body. This was 921-2. Thus both 921-0 and 921-2 were the Shinkansen’s first dedicated track recording stock. The former was withdrawn in 1980 and the latter in 1976.

The first proper multiple unit Doctor Yellow was Series 0 number 922-0. Again this was Kamomiya test track’s Class 1000 Set B resourced as a dedicated high speed track recording unit from 1964onward. Set B was of course the unit that attained a record speed of 256km/hr in March 1963 on the Kamomiya test track. The unit remained in use until 1976.

In those days the Shinkansen tracks were constantly monitored by means of 921-0 or 921-2. The results were relayed to control staff who analysed the input from these locomotives to ascertain whether there were any problems with the railway. They also had a route panel to help identify any problematic situations and specific locations. They would then initiate a programme of attention or repair to be delegated to the nearest maintenance yard responsible for the location in question.

The above process might seem cumbersome but that is how it was originally due to the limitations of the set up. Even though computers were in use then, their scope was rather limited. As time went on the process became more automated with on board train computers able to comprehensively analyse input from the various videos, sensors and monitoring equipment onboard Doctor Yellow and send the results back to control who would then initiate maintenance or repair jobs to the relevant maintenance yards according to the nature of the task.

The first production Series 0 to be utilised as a Doctor Yellow was number 922-10. It was introduced in 1974 and operated until 2001. The next model was Series 0 number 922-20 which was employed between 1976 and 2005. The former (922-0) was owned by JNR (later JR Tokai) and the latter by JR West for use on the Tōkaidō and the San’yō Shinkansens respectively.

Doctor Yellow is so popular the concept has been used on several railways the world over including our own! Yellow painted track monitoring trains to record and ensure the rail formation and structures are in full working order. We have a ‘Doctor Yellow’ in the UK but we call it the Flying Banana instead!

Doctor Yellow Series 0 high speed recording train. Source Twitter

The Doctor Yellows (their official name is ‘Shinkansen Electric Track Comprehensive Test Vehicle’) are the high speed recording trains which monitor the track, cantenary and everything else. The units have a shorter formation and run twice a week. Any issues found are submitted to the track maintenance department who must then attend to the problem, usually with a night time possession. The original unit was in use until 2001 when it was replaced by a Series 700. There has also been a Series 100 Doctor Yellow.

Another view of the Series 0 Doctor Yellow. Source: Twitter.

The Doctor Yellows have recording equipment of every possible kind. First are those that monitor and record the OHLE. There are video cameras that record the pantographs and the overhead wires and along with sonar equipment, computers can evaluate whether there is anything amiss with the OHLE. Generally a report is sent to the yard responsible for the section and a maintenance train will be sent out at night to sort the issue.

Similarly with the track. Cameras, sensors and sonar equipment record this too and compare the information against approved track profiles. Something that isn’t quite right – again the section yard responsible gets notification thus sends its maintenance trains out during the night to sort any problems.

The maintenance trains are not just for emergencies but also used to do planned jobs such as rail or OHLE replacement, infrastructure upgrades and so on. Unusually for the Tōkaidō Shinkansen, there are also ballast trains and track tamper machines. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen, by way of being the original high speed line, was laid as a traditional railway system that entails the use of sleepers and ballast. Concrete permanent ways and slab track were not even a thing at the time of its construction in the 1960s. However subsequent Shinkansens have been built with the more modern style of rail formation so do not require for example ballast trains.

Series 0 Doctor Yellow passing a somewhat misty Mount Fuji. Source: Twitter.

Its not to say that the San’yō to Hakata and the Kyushu Shinkansen to Kagoshima are built with concrete track slabs. The entire track formation between Tokyo and Kagoshima is classic rail ballasted track. The reason for that is even though these are new high speed railways, the Kyushu having been opened fairly recently, it has made sense to continue these as classic rail formations because it standardises everything across the board in terms of trains, track, rail formation, maintenance and so on.

Observers do express a puzzlement that the Shinkansens to the east of the Japanese capital and that to the west have never been linked up. The systems do both meet up in Tokyo station however they are not connected rail wise. The reason why that is has to be due to the fact the western Shinkansen and the eastern Shinkansen systems employ different rail formation systems. The Tōkaidō system also has to employ tilting trains because of the older and more sinous nature of its lines. Those on the eastern side have more direct routes and so do not have such constraints, thus they have no tilting trains of any sort.

Essentially the trains (and indeed the whole philosophy such as train design too) on the Tokyo to Kagoshima route are entirely different to that used on the Tōhoku, Jōetsu, Hokuriku and Hokkaido Shinkansen which uses slab track. Of course the other aspect (which is perhaps not so important) is that these are different privatised rail systems. In a sense its easier for those on the west side (eg Tokyo to Kagoshima) to have one set of cards and those on the eastern side of the island to have a different set of cards. These are the cards these distinct systems had to begin with, so it makes sense to keep these cards in their respective packs.

The current Doctor Yellow – a modified Series 700. There are two of these in use. Source: Twitter.

The best Doctor Yellow pic of them all? Series 700 among the buildings of Tokyo. Source: Twitter.

Train Control

The original Shinkansen control centre was at the end of the platforms in Tokyo station.

In an innovative move for 1964 the entire line was operated by Automated Train Control. In-cab signal control was used. The driver was in operation of the train and would observe the signal instructions that came up on the console. However the train’s movement itself was also monitored and if anything untoward should happen or excess speed was detected the train would slow down or stop automatically. The following is from the JNR’s booklet to commemorate the opening of the New Tōkaidō Line in 1964:

Safety of trains operation is guaranteed by A. T. C. (Automatic Train Control) and C.T.C. (Centralized Traffic Control) devices, in which the latest electronic techniques are fully utilised.

The conventional system. where it is required to keep a constant watch on wayside signals, has been abandoned, and the new line uses cab signals combined with the brake system for automatic operation. Brakes are automatically applied or released according to whether the train speed is higher or lower than the speed indicated by the signal.

Thus accidents due to misreading of signal indications or carelessness on the part of a motorman can now be eliminated.

To maintain a smooth and efficient flow of traffic on the line, an indication board through which the locations of trains over the entire line can be seen at a glance is installed in the train dispatch room of the General Control Center at Tokyo Station. Here, movement of all trains can be watched.

By means of the radio telephone system. any train on the entire line can be contacted simultaneously or individually for necessary instructions. Switches at all stations can be thrown by handling levers on the operation panel installed in front of the indication board.

The control centre for the Tōkaidō and San’yō Shinkasens is based at Tokyo. However there is a back-up control centre at Osaka which opened in 1999. This is used when for some reason the line is severed (eg an earthquake.) Other than that there is a special day every year when control of the entire line between Tokyo and Hakata is overseen by the Osaka control centre.

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The train control centre as it originally was in 1964.

Graphic showing how the Tokyo control room originally looked. In the top left hand corner is the main control room for the entire line between Tokyo and Osaka with its huge route panel covering every single bit of track, pointwork and signalling over the 320 miles (515km) of high speed railway. The people on the desks behind would oversee train operations and be in continual contact with train operating staff and station staff and also direct operations should there be delays or other incidents. To the right of that can be seen the OHLE and infrastructure power control room with its two large panels showing the various power feeds, local substations etc. The people on the consoles behind would be responsible for ensuring the Automated Train Control (ATC) system was working and locate any faults etc that ight cause the system to have problems. In the bottom left hand corner is the Passenger Directive Unit – this is where staff would make announcements to the various stations and show the train displays and other information. They too would be in contact with train staff and drivers in order to keep up to date on train progress. They would also answer queries related to the running of services. In the bottom right hand corner is the Communications Department. They would be responsible for ensuring all the communications systems worked including radio and lineside, plus the communications behind the ATC and CTC control systems.

As indicated earlier, the original train control centre was actually located at Tokyo station itself in a building sited above the main part of the station terminal. However in 2015 it was moved to a new location, the likes of which is kept secret. Its been rumoured visitors and news media who wish to visit must be met at a prescribed location, blindfolded, and then led to the new control centre! Its actually sited in a new building near Tokyo station but in respect of the security aspect that is the most one can divulge with regards to any actual location.

As mentioned there is also the control centre at Osaka. Its often used for training as well as those occasions when the Tokyo centre isn’t able to monitor the western part of the line. It can of course in extreme cases operate the entire line. And as has already been mentioned the Osaka centre is given full control of the line between Tokyo and Hakata at least once a year in order to retain staff familiarity.

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The Osaka control centre. The right hand panel is the Tōkaidō Shinkansen (Tokyo to Osaka) and the left hand panel the San’yō Shinkansen (Osaka to Hakata.) Source: Facebook

Shinkansen control at Tokyo. Source: Japan Foreign Policy Forum

In 2006 the ATC control system was renewed.

The San’yō Shinkansen from Osaka to Hakata. The route coninunes as the Kyushu Shinkansen to Kagoshima. Source: Wikpiedia.

On the above map two stops before Hakata can be seen Shin-Shimonoseki. As was mentioned in the early part of this series (with a map showing the original Shinkansen route), Shimonoseki was originally planned as the terminus of the New Tōkaidō Line before Shin-Ōsaka became its western terminus. From Hakata there’s the newer Kyushu Shinkansen which continunes the high speed rail route to Kagoshima.

Current high speed rail services are basically Tokyo to Osaka with a substantial number of services continuing to Hakata (Nozomi.) High speed western services on the Sanyo line start at Osaka and run through to Kagoshima and are known as Mizuho. Semi fast services are known as Sakura. The slower all stations high speed services from Tokyo to Osaka and from Osaka to Hakata are Kodama. Each named service has dedicated stopping patterns throughout the timetable day thus one will know by the name of the train whether it stops at their station or not.

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