Off in the Weeds


I’m modeling urban trains, so I don’t usually spend much time thinking about rural railroading in Japan. Which is a shame, because in some ways it’s at least as interesting. Between diesel railcars and DMUs, small electric trains (EMUs) and the “mini-Shinkansen” (standard-gauge trains operating over rural lines that interconnect to the main Shinkansen network) there’s a lot going on back in the hills. And hills they are: away from the coast Japan’s topography takes on a vertical aspect, and trains run along wooded hillsides and over ravines filled with rushing streams to reach isolated valleys that are mostly agricultural. It’s incredibly scenic.

A case in point is the train above (found on Flickr). That’s a single-car EMU, one of JR West’s 125 Series (Japanese wikipedia), which operates in sets of one to five cars. Note that instead of the three or four sets of doors on a typical urban commuter car it has only two, supplemented with a central single door (which is for wheelchair access). This suits the less-dense rural areas where it is used. It’s a very modern train, with a design dating from 2002. It’s somewhat similar to the 207 series (Japanese) and can apparently operate in multiple with both those and the 221 series (Japanese).

Kakogawa Line (blue)
Map Copyright © 2011 Google.

It’s not really as rural as some trains, as it operates on the Kakogawa line in Hyōgo prefecture within the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area. The line links JR West’s Sanyō Main Line, running along the inland sea with their inland Fukuchiyama Line at Tanikawa, both ends about 72 km from Osaka. The Tanikawa end is well inland, although only 90m above sea level (the surrounding mountains are around 400 - 600m above sea level), and largely an agricultural region, although probably close enough to the city for commuters.

JR West Tanikawa Station with 125 Series EMU
Source: Wikipedia, Photographer: Ribbon

So why am I, a modeler of the Kanto region around Tōkyō, interested in a model of a train that operates far from there, in the western portion of the country? The reason is the coffee-table layout I mentioned in a musing a month ago. I’ve been thinking of making the double loop of track a tram line plus a commuter line, but to do that I needed a small commuter train. And since that layout isn’t tied to any specific prototype (I’m using a Tokyo-based tram, but with street running the original doesn’t do), I felt free to use anything I could find.

One thing I considered was using a couple of cars from a JR East 205 series train, as those have been cascaded to smaller lines as the larger lines replaced them with E231 vehicles. But that didn’t really appeal to me. I’d also considered using a DMU of some kind, but again the older ones didn’t appeal and none of the newer ones really said “buy me!”.

But then I stumbled over the 125 series, and just loved the look. And while I first found it through the image at the top of this page, I quickly discovered that Greenmax was releasing a model of it this fall, and that the single-car motor and trailer cars were still available for preorder. I preordered one of each (allowing me to run a one or two-car train) and saw them go “waiting list” when I did, so presumably I got the last slot in the preorder. Hopefully they’ll both come in (getting just the trailer car would be seriously disappointing).

So now I have my EMU, although “have” is a bit strong since the preorder isn’t due until “after September”. Still, it’s progress, of a sort. Now I just need to finalize the track plan, and start actual construction beyond the flat, gray table I have today. And do all the things on the main layout I’ve been talking about without doing for the past six months. Procrastination: it’s a lifestyle.

Other website changes (it’s been busy lately):
- I updated my Getting Started in Japanese Model Trains page (which used to link to a musing from last summer, now it’s a page I can update as needed).
- I’ve added detail to my Expressway page describing the model expressway, and created a Scenery section page on the Tōkyō Metropolitan Expressway it’s based on, to hold reference photos.
- I’ve updated photos on my Urban Station scene, River Crossing scene and Subway scene pages (mostly reflecting photos that have appeared in past musings, but also some fixes to color balance).
- I’ve updated the Reservations page reflecting the Series 125 and a Kato Ginza subway train.
- And I’ve started a new prototype Subway Trains page, although it’s quite incomplete as yet.
- I created a page on Solderless Wiring, describing some techniques I’m going to use on my building lighting (mostly copied from stuff others over on the JNS forum have mentioned over the past few months).
- Work on the layout hasn’t amounted to much, just a bit of re-painting on the Riverside Station scene, which I’ve noted in a new “Phase 2l” construction page. Mostly I’ve been working on the capacitor circuit I plan to use to control flicker in my EMUs (as described last year), but that’s not yet to a point worth writing more about. I’m getting closer to having a way to readily build them, but still dealing with some issues.
- And I added or updated photos in the Structures, Electronics and Diagrams albums (mainly stuff I’d done on other pages).