Wednesday, 11 May 2016

JAPAN - Tokyo Part 2.6

Tokyu's underground station at Sangen-Jaya

Day 6 (7 May 2016)

On Saturday, the sky had cleared and it was a fantastic summer day ideal to explore Tokyo's surviving tram lines. I first took a Yurakucho train from Iidabashi down to Nagatacho, where I changed to the Hanzomon Line, which at Shibuya becomes the Tokyu Den-en-Toshi Line. Among the private railway companies, Tokyu is probably the one that most intensely uses the line codes on signage, this being the DT line. At DT03, i.e. Sangen-Jaya, I got out of the underground station, followed the signs to the SG line, but these signs became fewer and eventually I had to ask, as the terminus of the Setagaya Line is somewhere hidden behind some shopping centre. I actually came in from the wrong side, where the trams come out, but there is a side entrance on the arrival platform. The line has only 10 stops, but a day pass is sold at 320 Yen. It is not available from the ticket machines, but from the ticket window and they hand it out with an information brochure.

 Setagaya Line in Stuttgart livery between Shoin-Jinja-mae and Setagaya

The Setagaya Line is in fact more light rail than tram. It has its own exclusive right-of-way, though with many level crossings which are all protected with barriers. The stops have high-level platforms and with the rather modern rolling stock, it has a certain resemblance with some lines in Stuttgart or Frankfurt; this impression is even stronger when a vehicle in yellow (Stuttgart) or turqoise (Frankfurt) turns up, because each car has a different colour. With the nice weather and the sun in the right position for a morning tour, I stayed around for a while and got pictures of all cars in service that day. The journey is somewhat slow, though. The rolling stock is nice, but could do with an extra section in the middle as some arrived pretty full at the southern terminus, and this being holiday week. They run quite frequently, about every 6 minutes. If they wanted to increase headways, the single-track termini might cause problems. People get on through the front door and pay a flat fare of 150 Yen in cash, or if they use an IC card, it's just 144 Yen. Taking pictures along the line is very easy as the right-of-way is rather wide and no cars get in between.

Setagaya Line in Frankfurt livery at northern terminus, Shimo-Takaido

Unlike the southern terminus, the northern one is well integrated with the Keio station at Shimo-Takaido. But as I had been on that Keio line already, I returned two stops to Yamashita, which lies adjacent to Gotokuji, a station on Odakyu's Odawara Line. I knew that this line was directly linked to the Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line, but apparently not as much as other such interworkings. As Gotokuji is a local stop and all trains were shown as for Shinjuku, I took the next inbound train hoping that at the next major stop, which is the underground station Shimo-Kitazawa, I would be able to change to a Chiyoda Line train - but again all trains that stopped showed Shinjuku. 

Odakyu's tube station at Shimo-Kitazawa

I asked the assistant dispatcher who had previously told me to step behind the yellow line, if there was a Chiyoda train and he said something like Yoyogi-Uehara. I got on the next train, got off at Yoyogi-Uehara, queued orderly on the other side of the platform to board a Chiyoda Line train only to find out that the next one actually came from the Odawara Line. In the end, a very long trip for a short distance because I got off at Meiji-Jingu-mae to have a quick look at the Meiji Shrine.

Southbound Arakawa Line tram at Higashi-Ikebukuru

But my real next destination was actually the Toei Arakawa Line, the only real remnant of Tokyo's streetcar system. Therefore I headed north on the Fukutoshin Line to Zoshigaya and change to the tram, although the tram stop is actually called Kishibojin-mae, while Toden-Zoshigaya is one stop further north on the tram line. I first rode a tram south to the Waseda terminus, only three stops down, but without any connection to other rail services, and then worked my way up towards Oji, getting off at various stops to take pictures. 

Older Arakawa Line streetcar on short street-running section near Askuayama

In fact, in part the Arakawa Line also resembles a light rail line with its own right-of-way for most of its route, just a few sections interfere with road traffic. There are, however, numerous level crossings, many of them just for pedestrians, and I think all or most are protected by automatic barriers, so you hear the bell every few minutes with the barriers coming down. Interestingly, there's not just a light the blinks, but also an arrow indicating from which side a tram will pass - all very useful also for the waiting photographer, not only to get his camera ready, but also to be aware that a tram might come from the opposite direction. The vehicles, however, are not really light rail-like, although they actually have a medium-high floor. But otherwise they are just too tiny to be acceptable as light rail cars. In fact, I can't understand how they can bother to purchase so small cars. In most cases it should be possible to extend the platforms to accomodate at least an articulated car. But they have just been through a fleet renewal, so this situation will probably persist for the next 30 years. Like on the Setagaya Line, you get on at the front to pay the driver (I purchased a 400 Yen day pass - another line, another day pass...), and you get off at the rear. Some stops even have modern next-tram indicators, which show where the next tram is right now, or the next trams, if they are very close. But most people don't look at these, and just try to squeeze into an already full tram, which is then even more delayed, while another, mostly empty tram is already arriving. So this was the first rail line in Japan I have seen with regular irregularities. 

Arakawa Line tram in retro style at Machiya-ekimae

After having done loads of photos of all different types and liveries, I couldn't be bothered to ride to the very end of the line, instead got off at Machiya-Ekimae to change to the Chiyoda Subway Line, which would take me to Kita-senju, as yet another rail line was waiting for me.

Tsukuba Express at Kashiwanoha Campus

At Kita-senju I got on the Tsukuba Express Line, and I was quite happy when I realised that this line is indeed fast. In fact, technically-speaking, it appeared to be the best rail line in the Tokyo area. It's a kind of hybrid between a metro and a suburban railway and as such reminded me of BART in San Francisco. The route is completely separate from other railways, partly underground, though mostly elevated, and the trains sort of glide through the suburbs at speeds up to 120 km/h or so. Surprisingly, the line is operated manually, not in ATO. So while I was quite impressed by the quality of the train ride, the surface stations looked rather plain, whereas the underground Akihabara terminus in the city centre is quite appealing. 

Tsukuba Express city terminus at Akihabara

They also operate express trains, but local trains stop everywhere between the Tokyo terminus at Akihabara and Moriya every 10 minutes. And that's how far I travelled. To avoid paying high fares, I stayed inside the system for a while and tried to take some shots at the end of the platforms, and eventually returned and continued into the city. Maybe this was too long for a ride from Kita-senju to Akihabara, so the ticket barriers didn't let me pass with my PASMO card. I went to the ticket window and the guy checked it and mumbled some words in a language still unknown to me after three weeks and we somehow agreed that everything was OK...

Go back to Tokyo Part 2.5 | Continue to Tokyo Part 2.7 (last)

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