Thursday, May 30, 2024

About Keikyu

by Oliver Mayer

Keikyu, one of the typical urban railways, serves the Yokohama and Yokosuka area from Tokyo with a complicated but interesting operation pattern.

Keikyu (short for Keihin Kyuko Dentetsu – Keihin Express Electric Railway) is one of the 15 big private railways of Japan, and operates from Tokyo southwards via Yokohama to the Miura- peninsula. I consider Keikyu to be “my” railway, as it is the railway that I have used most often in Japan. I lived near Kami-Ooka station in southern Yokohama for three months in 1989 and for another month in 1991, using the Keikyu every morning to commute to central Tokyo, changing to JR at Keikyu’s terminus at Shinagawa. During my other visits to Japan I traveled on the Keikyu at least once to see all the old places again and also to realize all the changes that have taken place since. In many aspects the Keikyu is similar to the other private railways around Tokyo, as it has one main line and several branch lines, runs parallel to JR lines, ends at the Yamanote-line and has through- running with a subway line. Although being one of the biggest railways in Japan, Keikyu is not well known. The reason for this is mainly that it starts in Shinagawa, the southernmost point of JR’s Yamanote-line; a place rather far away from the big railway hubs such as Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, Shibuya or Ueno. But there are some unique features of the Keikyu; there are 12-car-trains, the longest trains of all private railways in Japan and the top speed of 120 km/h, which is only surpassed by one other private railway, the Kintetsu (the table in Bullet-in no. 16, page 16, does not list Keikyu as they started to run 120 km/h from 1995 only). Also, Keikyu has a very interesting, and slightly complicated, system of slow and fast trains overtaking each other. Keikyu has a route length of only 84 kilometers, but a total of 1.2 million passengers travel on its trains every day; these are more passengers than Meitetsu has on its 539 km of track, making Keikyu the 11th biggest railway in Japan in terms of passengers carried (except subways). Keikyu is of course not only a railway, but a group of several companies with the railway as its center. Similar to Tokyu (described in Bullet-in no. 14) but smaller, Keikyu has department stores near, or directly at, their stations. It also develops the land around their lines, and operates buses in this area.

The first part of today’s Keikyu network opened for traffic on the 21st January 1899, the section between Rokugobashi and Daishi (today Kawasaki-Daishi). Rokugobashi station does not exist anymore, it was near the Rokugo-bridge, between the today’s stations Minato-machi and Keikyu- Kawasaki. This first line is now the northern part of the Keikyu Daishi-line in Kawasaki city. Daishi is the name of a temple, and was probably built for the people making a pilgrimage to the temple. The company was called Daishi Denki Tetsudo (Daishi Electric Railway), and it was the third electric railway in Japan after Kyoto (1895) and Nagoya (1898); thus there was an electric railway in Kawasaki while there were only steam locomotives and horse trams in the capital, Tokyo, only a few miles away. Traffic was not very heavy in the beginning, as the company had only 5 cars and the line (single track) was 2 km long. However, it was Japan’s first railway using the European standard gauge, 1435 mm. Although it was considered to be a very expensive railway, costing 5 Sen for a single trip, the line got the divine favor of the Priest Daishi, and the business developed very well. Note that 100 Sen made 1 Yen, and so 5 Sen would today be the equivalent to about 0.03 Pence.

Only three months after opening, the company was renamed Keihin Denki Tetsudo (Keihin Electric Railway), as they had the plan to built a network between Tokyo (here shortened to kei) and Yokohama (hin). So the line was extended from Rokugobashi to Omori (7.2 km) in 1901, and one year later for one more kilometer to Kawasaki. This station is now called Keikyu-Kawasaki, to distinguish it from JR’s Kawasaki station. Also in 1902 a 3.6 km long branch line was opened between Kamata (again today called Keikyu-Kamata) and Anamori, today a part of the Kuko- (Airport-)line. As the company had the plan of a joint operation with the trams in Tokyo and Yokohama, they decided to regauge the whole line to 1372 mm, which was done in 1904. In the same year, the line was extended 4.3 km northwards from Omori-Kaigan to Kita-Shinagawa, and one year later it was extended 9.9 km southwards from Kawasaki to Kanagawa. Kanagawa is the name of the prefecture, in which Kawasaki and Yokohama are, but it is also a ward in Yokohama, very close to the center. So in 1905 Keihin Electric Railway started through traffic between Shinagawa, in the south of Tokyo, to Kanagawa, about 1 km north of Yokohama station. The National Railways, which were operating trains between Shimbashi and Yokohama (Japan’s first railway, opened in 1872), were of course opposed to this parallel line; and so three days later they introduced an express service making two return journeys per day, taking only 27 minutes. Keihin Railway’s trains were rather tram-like with many stops in between, taking 55 minutes.

During the next 25 years not much happened; then in 1930 Keihin built a small extension southwards and finally reached Yokohama station. In the same year a new 36 km long railway, the Shonan Denki Tetsudo (Shonan Electric Railway), opened between Koganecho (3.3 km south of Yokohama) and Uraga, with a branch line from Kanazawa-Hakkei to Zushi. This meant that only 3 km were missing between the two railways, so in 1931 Keihin extended its line from Yokohama to Hinodecho, and Shonan from Koganecho to Hinodecho, so that a through service could start. However, two problems arose: the Shonan Railway was a real railway with 1435 mm gauge and a voltage of 1500 VDC, while Keihin was a tram with 1372 mm gauge and 600 V dc. So Keihin was regauged again to 1435 mm, the through-running with Tokyo’s municipal tram, that had started in 1925, was no more. Now the Keihin trains ran through to Uraga, the fist dual voltage trains being used for this.

In 1941, Shonan Railway and Keihin Railway merged, and one year later they became part of the big wartime merger with Tokyu, Odakyu and later Keio, being the Shinagawa Operating Office of this big railway. During the war the line was extended further southwards from Horinouchi to Kurihama, and all the old tram-lines were classified as a railway, thus higher speeds could be achieved. After the war, the lines had to be partly rebuilt, and during this time the voltage on the former tram- lines was increased to 1500 VDC.

Keihin became independent from Tokyu in 1948 and was renamed Keihin Express Dentetsu (Keihin Express Electric Railway). More extensions southwards were opened in 1963 (2.7 km from Keikyu-Kurihama to Nobi), in 1966 (4 km from Nobi to Miura- Kaigan and in 1975 (2.2 km from Miura-Kaigan to Misakiguchi, which is still the southern terminus). A further extension, 2.1 km south to “Abura-Tsubo” is being planned.

There have been some changes in the northern part of the Keikyu-network as well: The Daishi-Line was extended in 1944 and 1945 for 5.2 km, and 2 km of this extension was given to the municipal trams of Kawasaki in 1952. However, 1.2 km closed in 1970, and so the 2 km between Kawasaki-Daishi and Kojima- Shinden is the only part remaining today as a part of this wartime extension. The airport-line was extended in 1956 and again in 1993 to reach the new terminus of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport. Finally, in 1968, a small but very important link of 1.2 km length was opened between Shinagawa and Sengakuji (underground), to connect the Keikyu with Toei’s (Tokyo Municipal Subway) Asakusa underground line.

Keikyu Today:
Today, Keikyu has five lines: The main line from Sengakuji to Uraga (56.7 km), the Airport-line (Kuko-line) from Keikyu-Kamata to Haneda (airport, 3.3 km), the Daishi-line from Keikyu-Kawasaki to Kojima-Shinden (4.5 km), the Zushi-line from Kanazawa-Hakkei to Shin-Zushi (5.9 km) and the Kurihama-line from Horinouchi to Misakiguchi (13.4 km), making a total of 83.8 km.

Keikyu’s Service Pattern:
Keikyu’s slowest trains are called Regular (Futsu in Japanese), which comprise of 4 or 6 cars, stopping at every station. Faster is the Express (Kyuko in Japanese), which is distinguished by blue on the destination table. But even the Express have to wait for faster trains sometimes; the Limited Express (red colour, Tokkyu in Japanese) are quite fast, stopping only at big stations, and the Rapid-limited-express (green, Kaisoku-Tokkyu in Japanese) stops only at very few main stations. The normal service pattern during the daytime is one Rapid-limited-express, an 8-car-train, beween Shinagawa and Keikyu- Kurihama every twenty minutes, and a Limited express, also an 8-car-train, every twenty minutes in between, so making a ten-minute-service between those two stations.

The Limited Express all start in Misakiguchi and go through to the Asakusa Subway, and then on to the Keisei Railway as far as Oshiage, Aoto, Keisei-Takasago or even further over the Hokuso Railway to Chiba New Town Chuo. The Express, 6- or 8-car-trains, have two services: the first is from Shin-Zushi to Kanagawa-Shimmachi, and the second is from Haneda into the Asakusa subway, the same direction as the Limited Express. Local Regular trains normally go from Uraga to Shinagawa, and on the Daishi-line, there are also only local trains. Every train runs every ten or twenty minutes with other trains between, thus every station is served at least once every ten minutes. The only exception is the section south of Keikyu-Kurihama, where there is only one Limited Express every twenty minutes.

This changes slightly during the rush hour, when far more trains run; the trains are also longer with the Commuter-rapid-limited-express having 12 cars, making it the longest train of all private railways in Japan. The Commuter-rapid-limited-express (Tsukin-Kaisoku-Tokkyu in Japanese) is very similar to the Rapid-limited-express, except that it is called “Commuter” It uses violet/mauve colour for the destination tables, only runs during the rush hour (and only “up” to Tokyo) and also stops at Keikyu-Kamata.

One new service was introduced a few years ago, the “Keikyu-Wing”. This train runs every twenty minutes between 18.45 h and 21.05 h between Shinagawa and Kurihama or Misakiguchi. It does not stop until Kami-Ooka, and from there it uses the service-pattern of the Rapid-Limited express. You can only enter the “Wing”, if you have a ticket for your seat reservation; this is 200 Yen extra to your normal ticket. You can buy your reservation between one week and one day before departure at any Keikyu-station, and on the day of departure only at ticket-machines at Shinagawa station. The Wing is not faster than the other trains, but it is much more comfortable as you have your seat reserved.

The through-service with Tokyo Municipal Subway’s Asakusa line is not as important to Keikyu as it is for other companies. Tokyo Municipal Subway is quite expensive, and many people prefer to change to JR at Shinagawa instead of going on into the subway without having to change trains. But it is very interesting to see not only subway rains, but also Keisei- and Hokuso-trains on Keikyu’s tracks. The Asakusa subway line has probably the most interesting variety of liveries of all Tokyo subways.

A Journey into Tokyo in The Morning Rush-hour:
Most Japanese railways have different types of train-service to make the best use of their tracks; Keikyu is no exception. They have one of the most complicated systems of train movement in Japan. To understand this system of trains overtaking each other, let’s start a journey into Tokyo in the morning rush-hour.

We start at Uraga, the last station on the main line, with the Regular (local) train, leaving the station at 6.59. (It goes all the way through to Shinagawa, 55.5 km away.) The third stop of this train is Horinouchi, where we arrive at 7.04. Here we wait for a fast Limited Express, to which, if you are in a hurry, you transfer. (As most passengers in the rush-hour are in a hurry, nearly everybody gets off the local train.) The Regular will arrive in Shinagawa at 9.13, and the Limited Express at 8.17, nearly one hour earlier.

The Limited Express leaves Horinouchi at 7.05, and we follow one minute later. Then we pass along the depot near Kanazawa-Bunko station, where we stop. We do not wait for a faster train this time; but passengers who have joined the train at the previous stations, alight here to wait for another train. Our first long stop is at Keikyu-Tomioka, where we wait for 9 minutes; a Commuter-rapid-limited-express and a Limited Express pass and an Express stops. Again, the chance arises to change to the Express. About one minute after the Express, we leave Keikyu-Tomioka, and go to Kami-Ooka. Many people leave the train here, again to wait for faster trains or to change to the Yokohama municipal subway. For us, there is no time to wait for an other train, so we go on to Minami-Ota, where we let again three faster trains pass, one Commuter-rapid-limited-express and two Limited Express. When the signal has turned green, after the last Limited Express has passed, we leave Minami-Ota. After 7 minutes we are in Yokohama, Keikyu’s busiest station. Here you can change to JR, Sotestu, Tokyu and the subway, but also of course to Keikyu’s faster trains. As Keikyu’s Yokohama station has only one track per direction, we cannot wait for an other train, and so we have to go on very fast to Kanagawa-Shimmachi, where we wait for 9 minutes. First an Express stops at the other side of our platform, and so the passengers can change. Then a Commuter-rapid-limited-express passes through the station, followed by a Limited Express that stops here. The Limited Express leaves at 8.20, and we leave at 8.22. But 5 stations later, at Keikyu-Tsurumi, we have to wait again to let a Commuter-rapid-limited-express pass, and then we go to Keikyu-Kawasaki. There we arrive at 8.38, leaving enough time to go to the other side of the platform and to change to a Limited Express leaving at 8.41 and to a Express leaving at 8.43. We leave Kawasaki at 8.44, and our next longer stop is at Heiwajima, where a Commuter-rapid-limited-express passes and a Limited Express stops. We leave the station at 9.00 just after the Limited Express, but at Samezu (3 stations later) we have to wait for an Express, and the passengers can change again to this faster train. Then we have a green signal until Shinagawa, where we finally arrive at 9.13. This journey took a total of 2 hours and 14 minutes – much longer that the 73 minutes that a fast train from Uraga takes. We could have taken a Commuter-rapid-limited-express, leaving Uraga at 7.06, to have been in Shinagawa at 8.19.

This system behaves differently during the day, when the stops for overtaking are only at the biggest stations as Kanazawa-Hakkei (or Kanazawa-Bunko), Kami-Ooka, Kanagawa-Shimmachi and Keikyu-Kawasaki. Then the local trains are slightly faster, but it is still much better to change to faster trains at these stations. Keikyu’s local trains (Regular) are very slow compared to the local trains of other railway. Most passengers take a Regular only to go from their home station to the next big station to transfer to a faster train, and back from there in the evening. More important stations are served by the Express. As the Regulars stop at Keikyu-Tomioka and Minami-Ota a long time, some Express trains stop at Tsurumi-ichiba, Idogaya, Gummyoji and Nokendai in the rush-hour to give the passengers of these stations much faster connections.

Competition to JR:
So why, you might ask, does Keikyu have this complicated system? (Actually, it is not as complex as it sounds.) The conductor makes many announces as to where to change and to which train, so – if you understand Japanese – you hardly ever board the wrong train. At all stations, there are big tables showing where the trains stop, how long the trains are and where to change. In fact, after a few days on the Keikyu, you can understand the system quite well. However, there are two reasons for this complicated system: The first is due to Keikyu’s history as a tram between Shinagawa and Yokohama until 1930. A tram has many stops, and nearly all of them have become railway stations today. Thus, there must be quite slow local trains to serve these stations. Take the section between Shinagawa and Yokohama as an example: Keikyu has 25 stations, while JR’s Tokaido-line has only 3 and JR’s Keihin-Tohoku-line has 9; both lines being just a few 100 meters away from Keikyu. Competition to JR is the second reason for the train system: Besides the slow trains that are necessary, Keikyu must have fast trains, so that the long-distance-passengers do not use JR on their way to Tokyo or Yokohama.

JR and Keikyu do not only run parallel between Shinagawa and Yokohama, but JR’s Yokosuka-line goes (from Tokyo, Shinagawa and Yokohama) to Zushi, Yokosuka and Kurihama, so to the same places as Keikyu. There is also competition between Haneda-Airport and Tokyo, as Keikyu’s Airport-line goes via the Asakusa Subway to central Tokyo, and on the same route the Tokyo Monorail can be taken. So Keikyu must invest all the time to keep its place as a railway in this area. A good example is the 2000 series, which was introduced in 1982. The cars are very comfortable with cross seats, only two doors per car and are much better than JR’s cars on the Yokosuka-line. The 2000 series won the Blue Ribbon in 1983.

Over the last seven years, I have observed the development of Keikyu quite well. There have been no major changes, but the service has slowly been upgraded. Firstly, there are now more trains before and after the rush-hour, thus some passengers can avoid the very crowded trains if they want. Also, in the rush-hour the Rapid-limited-express and Commuter-rapid-limited-express are all running as 12-car-trains between Kanazawa-Bunko and Shinagawa, and the Limited Express between Kanazawa-Bunko and Kanagawa-Shimmachi. Recently, the northbound platform of Keikyu-Kamata station was lenghtened to accomodate the Commuter-rapid-limited-express (normal Rapid-limited-express does not stop there).

The introduction of the Keikyu Wing was another step to make riding more comfortable. A second step to a more modern railway was investment in the track. Nearly the whole Keikyu network has continuously welded rail, so the ride is smooth. An advanced signaling system, including 5-indication signals with one special aspect (flashing yellow over green) at some points, enabled the speed to be increased to 120 km/h on some parts of the main line. Additional tracks for overtaking have been built at some stations, so more maneuvers are possible.

Many kilometers of main line have been raised and put on a viaduct, so all level-crossings on these sections are no more and Keikyu can make use of the space under the viaduct. There are new shops (most of them operated by Keikyu, of course), bicycle and car parking areas, footpaths, playgrounds and much more. In the stations, nearly all of the ticket barriers have been replaced by automatic barriers. Thirdly, there is more English. When I first traveled on the Keikyu, I had quite some problems to see where I was, as I could hardly read the Japanese place names. Now, most route-maps of Keikyu also give the English reading of the names, so making it easier for foreigners to use Keikyu. There are actually many Americans using Keikyu as there is a US Navy base at Yokosuka.

Rolling Stock and Car depot:
Keikyu’s trains are all for a gauge of 1435 mm, electrified with 1500 VDC. All cars are 18 meters long and between 2.70 meters and 2.80 meters wide. They are coloured red with a thin white stripe under the windows, the 600 and 2000 series have a wide white stripe over the windows.

2000 series: first built in 1982, total of 72 cars, of which six 8-car-trains and six 4-car-trains are formed. Two doors per car, cross seats. Used for Rapid-limited-express and Commuter-rapid-limited-express only.

600 series: built since 1994, total of 40 cars (more are being delivered), of which five 6-car-trains are formed. Three doors per car, cross seats. Can run in subway lines. Used for all services expect for local trains.

1500 series: first built in 1985, total of 166 cars, of which thirteen 8-car-trains, one 6-car-train and fourteen 4-car-trains are formed. Three doors per car. Some cars can run in subway lines. Used for all trains except for Rapid-limited-express.

1000 series: first built in 1958, total of 244 cars, of which eight 8-car-trains, five 6-car-trains, thirty one 4-car-trains and thirteen 2-car-trains are formed (some of the 2- and 4-car-trains are coupled to form 4-, 6- and 8-car-trains). Three doors per car. Some cars can run in subway lines. Used for all kind of trains (but for Rapid-limited-express only during the rush-hour).

800 series: first built in 1978, total of 132 cars, of which nineteen 6-car-trains and eight 3-car-trains are formed. Four doors per car. Used for local and Express-trains.

700 series: first built in 1967, total of 84 cars, of which twenty-one 4-car-trains are formed. Four doors per car. Used for local trains, mainly on the Daishi-line.

Of Keikyu’s old cars, de51 (1924) and de1 (1930) have been preserved in the Kurihama workshop. Most of the other cars have been scrapped when they were life-expired, but some have been rebuilt (sometimes new bogies for 1067 mm) and sold to other private railways: Cars of the 400 series are now running on the Konan Railway (Aomori-Prefecture), Iyo Railway (Shikoku) and Sobu- Nagareyama Electric Railway (near Chiba), cars of the 230 and the former 600 series (of course not from the new 600 series) are running on the Takamatsu-Kotohira Electric Railway in Shikoku. Keikyu has three depots in Kanagawa-Shimmachi, Kanazawa-Bunko and Kurihama. Each of this depot has about the same size and takes care for about 250 cars. The main workshop is in Kurihama.

Tips for Railfanning Keikyu:
When visiting the Keikyu, here are some tips. To watch the train operation, it is best to go to Keikyu-Kawasaki, to Kanazwa-Bunko or to Shinagawa. At Shinagawa, you can also see many different cars of the through-service with Asakusa subway line. For taking photos, the best place is Minami-Ota, as there are four tracks. When a fast train stops at a big station where a local train waits, the driver and the conductor of the local train help to lead the passengers to the fast train and to the exits. This can often be observed seen at Keikyu-Kawasaki and Kami-Ooka. Announcements at stations are often made by the conductors of the trains stopping there; they use wireless microphones for this. When you change to Keikyu, it is the best to use Shinagawa and Yokohama stations. At both stations you can change from JR to Keikyu directly without leaving the station. Buy a through ticket at your first station, so you do not have to buy a new ticket at Shinagawa or Yokohama again, thus saving time (but not save money!). At Yokohama you can also change from Tokyu to Keikyu directly by walking through JR’s main concourse.

Modelling the Keikyu:
Kato offers the Keikyu 800 series: a 3-car-set (cat. no. 10-058) and an additional 3-car-set (10-059) (N-gauge). Green Max has a kit to build the Keikyu 600 series, which comprises of a basic set of 4 cars (1/150).


I used the following sources to write this article: “Keikyu” by Mitsuo Yoshimura, Hoikusha Color Books; “Private Railways of Japan, their Networks and Fleet”, by Yasuo Wakuda; JRS member Naoaki Okada in Tokyo sent me information about the rolling stock.

The rail map and track layout were drawn by Hiroshi Naito.