Kato makes several kinds of poles and overhead structures intended to replicate typical Japanese railroad power wiring (catenary). However, for the purists some of these may be less than ideal for Shinkansen lines, as they typically model the kind of structure used on narrow-gauge low-voltage lines (Shinkansen lines use 25,000 volts AC rather than 1,500 volts DC, and have correspondingly larger and more complex insulators which are quite obvious if you look for them). And even those that use the Shinkansen “style” of hanger have insulators that are too small for high-voltage lines.
Note: I’m focusing on Kato here because that’s what I use and because it’s more easily available in the U.S., but Tomix makes similar non-functional catenary poles (designed for their double-track spacing, which differs from Kato’s). And there are manufacturers (primarily European) of catenary systems that include metal wires. Some of that is functional if you have trains that can use overhead pick-up; typically Japanese models do not.
When I originally built my Kitchen Table Layout I didn’t install the catenary poles at all. When I finally started construction of the new layout, I was surprised to discover that Kato’s double-track catenary poles actually come in two widths. One size (23-057 and 23-060) fits inside double-track viaduct, giving a better appearance, while the other size (23-061) fits outside the viaduct. Both can be used with non-viaduct track using flat base parts. Kato also makes poles for single track, and these can be used for double-track with a pole on each side, using either width of base, although the spacing isn’t correct for the “outside the viaduct” bases. Kato appears to be moving to use of the wider design, as this avoids clearance issues on curves, particularly with tilting trains.
Kato may be discontinuing the narrower width part, as the pre-stressed concrete style viaduct pier set that contains the base (23-018) is “discontinued”, replaced by a new set (23-020) containing the wider base. However the double-track poles are still available, and you can still get the bases with the poured-concrete style bridge piers (23-019).
On the prototype, examples can be found of double-poles mounted inside or outside the viaducts on both Shinkansen and normal lines, and of single poles likewise used on double-track. So any choice is “prototypical” unless you are trying to model a specific line, and I’m not.
Kato has several styles of catenary pole. With all of these, wire height is approximately 23’ (7m) above ground, which is too high to be strictly prototypical, but allows clearance above a fully-raised pantograph. In the photos below, height is marked in scale meters for non-Shinkansen Japanese trains, with each line at 1 cm intervals (1.5m at 1:150 scale). Multiply by 1.067 (160/150) to get height in U.S./European N-scale or Shinkansen N-scale (1:160).
Note: narrow-base poles do not typically come with bases, and will require additional parts, see the components list below.
Types 23-057, 23-059 and 23-062 model a cantilevered lever type of wire hanger, suitable for Shinkansen but also used on narrow-gauge lines. Two of the assemblies are in the “B” style with tensioners that clip onto the pole, plus a separate tensioner that should be mounted a short distance behind on another base (the box says 124mm behind the main pole).
Note, however, that the insulators (the disks between the vertical post and the actual wire hanger) in the modern double-track type only consist of two disks. That’s appropriate for low-voltage lines, but high-voltage lines typically have more. The horizontal insulators connecting the hanger to the central post look like high-voltage ones with multiple disks and a longer insulator. See the Catenary Reference Images page for some examples of real-world catenary. However, I’ll note that Kato uses the same design for the catenary supports that come with the Shinkansen Station Accessories set, so it’s clearly intended to be used for high-voltage AC catenary, even if I don’t think it looks right.
23-057 Modern Double Catenary Support Set (sized for narrow base) - style A
23-057 Modern Double Catenary Support Set (sized for narrow base) - style B
23-057 Modern Double Catenary Support Set (sized for narrow base) - style B w/ tensioner
23-059 Single Track Catenary Poles (sized for narrow base, usable with wide base if you don’t mind them being off-center)
Note: the ones in the photo above have been painted in preparation for installation on my layout, the normal color is gray like the others.
23-062 Wide Arch Catenary Pole Set - Style A
23-062 Wide Arch Catenary Pole Set - Style B
23-062 Wide Arch Catenary Pole Set - Add-on tensioner
23-060 Double Track Catenary Poles (narrow base)
23-061 Double Track Catenary Poles (sized for the new wide base) - Style A
23-061 Double Track Catenary Poles (sized for the new wide base) - Style B
The 23-063 set comes mostly pre-assembled (only the pole footings and tensioner need to be added) and is made of a silver-colored plastic rather than the usual gray. The tensioner and pole footing is cast of a beige plastic.
23-063 Truss Catenary Pole for Double Track (wide) - Style A
23-063 Truss Catenary Pole for Double Track (wide) - Style B
The four-track catenary actually requires more assembly than the two-track 23-063, as it has four gusset plates that need to be snapped into the pole-and-truss assembly. The A style has no central post, but the B style has a tensioner cast with a post that clips onto both the base and a bracket on the overhead truss (the latter takes some work to get attached properly).
23-064 Four-track Wide Catenary Poles - Style A
23-064 Four-track Wide Catenary Poles - Style B
Types 23-060, 23-061, and 23-064 model a simple truss structure with a simple insulator style of hanger. Type 23-063 models a more complex truss structure, but also with the simple insulator hangers. Although both commuter and Shinkansen lines use truss structures, the simple insulator hanger is more appropriate to a narrow-gauge line.
V15 Set (20-874) shown with unique tubular arch pole (wider than usual to span platform; not available separately)
V15 Set (20-874) tubular arch pole dimensions
The V15 adapter tracks come with a single curved tubular catenary pole for each adapter (above), similar in design to 23-062 (or 23-057), and again appropriate for Shinkansen.
23-239 Shinkansen Station parts - end
The Shinkansen Station Parts kit includes both some catenary units that can clip to the roof of a platform on either side of the tracks, and a unit that goes at the end of the platform. Unfortunately both seem to be designed only to work with two side platforms with double-track between them. That is one kind of typical Shinkansen station (an important mid-line station where all trains stop), but it’s not typical of stations with the platforms on sidings (to allow express trains to bypass the station) or end of line terminals (which typically have island platforms. In the photo above, the spanning catenary is set atop two normal island platform ends, neither of which has the right mounting holes for it.
In 2016 Kato introduced a new single-track “Warren Brace” catenary pole set, 23-058. This is a riveted box girder similar in style to the double-track 23-063 Truss Catenary Pole shown above. Although it replicates a low-voltage prototype, the hanger looks similar to those used for high-voltage (i.e., Shinkansen) lines, and Kato appears to say that some Shinkansen did use this type of structure).
Kato Catenary Parts
Note: Both flat-track and single-track viaduct bases for narrow-style are sold separately. Flat-track bases for the wide style are packaged with the catenary poles and not sold separately. Double-track viaduct bases are sold with the viaduct supports as described below.
23-018 - Original Pre-cast concrete viaduct supports - includes bases for “inside the viaduct” catenary poles. (qty. 6)
No longer in production (Kato Japan says “discontinued”), but still available from some stores. Replaced by 23-020.
23-019 - Double-track pier - Poured concrete double-track bridge supports. (qty. 6)
Still in production (in Japan) and as of 2010 included the older (“narrow” or “inside the viaduct”) form of catenary bases; an expensive way to get them if you also have to buy the viaduct supports, but at least it’s possible. Note that this appears to be the only way to get these bases, which is expensive if you plan to support your viaduct in some other fashion.
23-020 - 50mm (2”) Double-Track Pier Set, Pre-Cast. - This is the replacement for 23-018, reportedly with the “wide” or “outside the viaduct” bases. Note that this appears to be the only way to get these bases, which is expensive if you plan to support your viaduct in some other fashion.
23-056 - Catenary Pole Base Set (16 bases each type) - single pole bases, a pair can be used with double-track poles.
This package includes 16 bases for attaching to track (23-050) and 16 bases for attaching to single viaduct (23-051).
23-057 - Modern Double Catenary Support Set (curved poles, similar to those on the Chūō line near Ochanomizu).
Contains 10 poles, eight normal and two with spring tensioners (for some reason the each tensioner pole includes both a tensioner for the wire pole, plus a separate tensioner on its own pole, see photo above); tensioners are sometimes used in pairs for the messenger and contact wires, so that may be the reason for this.
While spring tensioners were not historically used on Shinkansen lines, newer versions that can be used there have been developed recently, so this would be appropriate for a 21st century Shinkansen line.
These poles are sized for the narrow bases.
These poles have the cantilever arm hanger for the wire, so they look appropriate for a Shinkansen line (but are also appropriate for other lines).
23-058 - Warren Brace Catenary Pole set (12 pcs)
These are single-track poles, similar in style to the 23-063 double-track Truss Catenary poles.
These poles have a cantilever arm hanger for the wire, so they look appropriate for a Shinkansen line, but were actually modeled on a low-voltage rural line prototype.
These are primarily for single-track bridge use, however they may be usable with viaduct (this isn’t clear) and can be used for ground-level poles also (requires 23-056 Catenary Pole Base set).
23-059 - Single Track Catenary Poles - set of 16 single poles, with an offset appropriate to the “inside the viaduct” bases.
These poles also have the cantilever arm hanger for the wire, so they look appropriate for a Shinkansen line.
For single-track viaduct or non-viaduct track, the bases sold in set 23-056 are needed.
These poles can also be used on double-track viaduct with the older “inside the viaduct” bases.
23-060 - Double Track Catenary Poles - set of 8 “inside the viaduct” catenary bases and poles.
These poles use the simple insulator style of hangers, more commonly found on low-voltage commuter/regional lines than Shinkansen.
This set does not include bases, those for non-viaduct track are sold in set 23-056, those for double-track viaducts in sets 23-018 and 23-019.
23-061 - set of 10 “outside the viaduct” catenary bases and poles.
These poles use the simple insulator style of hangers, more commonly found on low-voltage commuter/regional lines than Shinkansen.
This package includes wide bases for double track. These are a single piece, not two that snap together (it’s only for double-track).
This set includes eight standard poles and two poles equipped with simulated weights (for tensioning catenary)
23-062 Wide Arch Catenary Pole Set (10 pcs) - Released in 2011
This is the “wide” version of 23-057, using curved tubular pole and overhead structures. These are divided into 6 “A” and 4 “B” units with a spring-tensioner assembly. These poles also have the cantilever arm hanger for the wire, so they look appropriate for a Shinkansen line. Like the 23-057 each B has a separate pole-mounted tensioner that should be installed a short distance from the pole, and include an extra base (that can be cut to make two single-pole bases) for these.
23-063 Truss Catenary Pole for Double Track (wide) - Released in 2011
This is an older style box truss structure of upright and crossbeam catenary support for double-track. It includes six truss structures, plus four tensioners (pulley and weight units) that can be added to a truss. It is sized for the wide (outside the viaduct) bases. The insulator design is for low-voltage lines. Some sites translate “truss” as “rahmen”.
23-064 4 Track Wide Catenary Poles (10 pcs) - Released in 2011
This is a set of catenary poles using the low-voltage style concrete-post and truss design (same look as 23-060) for two parallel double-track segments. It includes 8 “A” units that have only the outer poles, and two “B” units that include a center pole plus two tensioners (one cast as part of the center pole, one that snaps into one of the outside poles).
23-239 Part Set for Shinkansen Platform - Released in March 2012
This is new enough that it doesn’t appear on Kato’s stock list (even in Japanese) as of April 2012. However it is in (limited) stock in stores, and is shown on the Japanese page for the new-style stations. This set contains two catenary supports designed to span roofless side platforms with double-track between them, plus five additional catenary supports designed to clip between platform roofs. A note appears to say that two sets of these are adequate for a ten-car train. The catenary wire supports are similar to the cantilever style supplied in 23-057, with the large insulators characteristic of high-voltage AC lines. The set also includes other details such as safety fences, small signpoles, bench seats and other things. Note that while the five roof-mount elements will fit either side or island platforms with the new (tile floor) platforms, they will not fit the roofs of the older (asphalt floor) platforms. And the end sections will only fit the long ends of the side platforms (sets 23-117) and not island platforms or the short open ends supplied with the side platform set (23-121).
The Japanese Railway Modeling site has an online J-Module Standards book with info and pictures of Tomix catenary.
Kato Japan has a Stock Information page (see link on their main page) which lists the status of the components.
JNS Forum has a thread on catenary poles with detail on the types of Kato poles available.
The Railway Technical Research Institute has a short technical article (PDF) on a recent development in 1500V catenary, with some detailed illustrations of the actual feeder and messenger wires (and some definitions); a useful reference.