E231 Joban Riverside 2402
Jōban Line E231 (Kato Model) with lighting and figures added

This site is an online notebook devoted to my N-scale model railroad(s), the trains I run on it, and my experiences in building it. It’s also a repository for my notes on Japanese railroading, scenic features and other things I am considering or have considered including on the model, as well as other things related to model railroading that I am or have been interested in. Click on the links to the left (or above) to view the various sections of the site. The railroad itself is an attempt to capture the flavor of urban railroading in Japan’s capital city, Tōkyō.

Much of the activity on this site now is on Musings, my blog pages, which describe current projects, plans for future projects, and anything else related that tickles my fancy. However, existing pages on other parts of the site get updated (or even rewritten) when I have something to say. The general RSS feed (link on the left side of the page below the site links) is a good way to keep track of what has changed.

While Sumida Crossing itself is my main railroad, I’ve built or partially built several others. All of these are described in the My Layouts section. At present I’m planning the successor to Sumida Crossing, but this is a rather drawn out process and it will be some time before there’s an actual plan to discuss. When there is, a new set of pages for it will be added.

If you want to jump right to the pictures, go to Sumida Crossing and see the various “scene” entries, or go to the "Photo Albums" category (although many of those are of diagrams or “work in progress” photos, and may not be as interesting.

There are also sections (see topic list at left) devoted to my collection of trains, to general model railroading topics, to Japanese prototype railroading, and to the urban scenery of Tōkyō, as well as a number of pages detailing the how and why of the design and construction of my model railroad.

About The Real Tōkyō

Tōkyō is a big city. Actually, Tōkyō is a city, a prefecture (the Japanese equivalent of a state or province) and a “metropolitan area” that extends even beyond the prefecture. The prefecture contains twenty-three “special wards”, originally the city of Tōkyō itself, that are effectively individual cities, plus twenty-six additional cities. There are over 8 million people in the special wards, nearly 13 million in the prefecture, and 35 million in the Greater Tōkyō Area that sprawls beyond its boundaries. Over two and a half million commuters flow into Tōkyō every day, many, perhaps most of them, by train. And that doesn’t count the regional and long-distance trains traversing greater distances.

Tōkyō has literally dozens of rail lines in and around the metropolitan area, the largest of which routinely move 70,000 to 90,000+ passengers per hour at peak times. In comparison, a multi-lane highway moves 2,000 to 2,400 cars per hour per lane, so you’d need a 20-lane (each way) highway to match the capacity of just one rail line, even assuming a fair bit of carpooling.

Tōkyō’s trains are almost exclusively electric, an important consideration in a densely populated city. Further, much of their power comes from hydroelectric power (although even that source is not without controversial aspects), making the system much less polluting than highways. And the system is well-integrated with other transportation modes (linking to bus, taxi, subway, tram & monorail lines, and airports). Parking areas, and even whole garages, dedicated to bicycles can often be found at train stations (although it must be said, the railway is not particularly friendly to people who want to travel with a bicycle; they’re often prohibited).

The city itself is visually interesting as a backdrop for trains, or in its own right. Modern concrete and glass structures tower into the sky alongside centuries-old buildings and more recent ones in traditional style. Like any city that’s grown from a pre-industrial past, the side streets are narrow and twisting, and not really suited to motorized vehicles in many instances. But above, under and around them run highways choked with cars and trucks, some of them built above canals, as that was the only available space. And scattered about are public parks, wooded temple grounds, and other islands of nature amidst the concrete.

Tōkyō is also very much a seaport city, with extensive docks and industrial areas, some of them now converted to residential or entertainment districts. The edge of Tōkyō bay is dotted with artificial islands separated by narrow canals, but otherwise indistinguishable from the city around them. Much of the land is low, some of it below high tide level, and tidal barriers, locks, and levees dot the edge of the bay.

Several rivers run through the city, including the Sumida river, a branch of the Arakawa river, which bisects the city. Many rail lines cross the Sumida, and I’ve taken that as one of the key scenic elements of my model.

Trains run through this at ground level, on elevated structures, and underground, and stop at stations from small single-track platforms that can only handle a few cars, to massive stations such as Shinjuku, the busiest passenger station in the world, which handles up to 3.64 million people PER DAY, with over 200 separate exits.

Lines radiate out from the city in all directions, or circle around it in belt lines at various distances. Most rail lines are double-tracked, and a few have separate tracks for local and express trains. In many places several separate lines run alongside each other, and trains on the same track often run at separations of only a few minutes at peak time. In stations, busy lines will have multiple platform tracks to accommodate frequent trains. Grade crossings exist, and some of the busiest are closed more often than they are open, at least at peak hours.

And the trains themselves come in a variety of forms. Although Commuter and Suburban trains look similar, being variations on a common pattern, the Limited Express and Shinkansen equipment is more individualistic.

As it provides more than enough variety, I’m mainly limiting my collecting to trains that operate in and around the Tōkyō Metropolitan Area. And my initial focus is on the trains operated by JR East, partly because they appeal to me visually, and partly as a way to give my collecting some focus. I expect this will broaden over time.

Note: There are presently two RSS feeds: one for the site as a whole that tracks significant changes to pages, and one for the blog page (Musings). There are links for both at the bottom of the left column on this page if you want to subscribe. New Musings are typically posted once a week, but not on any kind of schedule. Other page updates are typically pushed out at the same time, but may occur at other times.

About The Model Railroad

Tōkyō is a big city, and trying to replicate even a small part of it in a model railroad would be a vast undertaking. But within the city are many different railroad stations, both large and small. I’ve tried to capture two typical forms, the elevated multi-modal station, and the smaller neighborhood station, along with some urban scenery.

The layout isn’t intended as a display layout, nor for “prototypical” operation. It’s a place for me to play with trains, and an excuse to work with my hands rather than at a desk. It’s for recreation, and fun, and if I try to adhere to specific prototypes, or obsess about some detail, it’s because I consider that part of the fun. There are plenty of others I ignore or gloss over.

It also gives me an excuse to buy toy train models that I like, while tending to limit my possible choices (not that I haven’t bought some models that have no place in the real Tōkyō).

See the Overview page for more information about the layout itself.