Thursday, May 30, 2024

Sotetsu - The Sagami Railway

The smallest of the large Japanese railways.

The smallest of the large Japanese railways. Giving better access to newly urbanised areas northwest of Yokohama, Sotetsu - Sagami Railway has grown to one of the 14 big private railways. Its trackage is only 35km long, but it carries 677,000 passengers per day. This article provides the history and current status of Sotetsu as well as an introduction of its fleet of commuter service trains.

By Oliver Mayer

In Japan, 14 big private railways have for a long time been classified as "ote-shitetsu" (big private railways). But in 1990, Sotetsu, until then classified as "jun-ote-shitetsu" (semi-big private railway), was upgraded and joined the group of the ote-shitetsu, which makes 15 companies now. It is not clear, why Sotetsu was upgraded, or which characteristics the ote-shitetsu have. Sotetsu is the smallest of the big private railways, its track is only 35 km long, but in terms of passenger density it ranks second in Japan after Tokyu. Sotetsu has 677,000 passengers per day - compare this to the Swiss National Railways (SBB), which have 740,000 passengers per day on 3000 km of track!

(Yokohama terminus.)

History and Future:
The origins of Sotetsu go back to 1926. In this year, the Jinchu Tetsudo (Jinchu Railway) opened a steam-powered railway between Atsugi and Futamata-gawa, 21 km long with a gauge of 1067 mm, single track. This line was extended in several stages between 1927 and 1933 to reach Yokohama station, finally having a total of 27 km. This is today’s Sotetsu main line. In 1929, Jinchu Tetsudo introduced diesel railcars, and in 1942 electric cars. A connection between Jinchu Tetsudo and Odakyu at Ebina station was opened in 1941 and through traffic to Odakyu’s Hon-Atsugi station started, but was suspended only two years later. From 1941 the original track from Atsugi to Ebina was used for freight trains only.

An other private railway opened a line between Chigasaki (a station on the JR Tokaido-line) and Hashimoto (on the JR Yokohama-line) between 1921 and 1931, total of 36 km, with steam and later diesel trains. This company was called Sagami Tetsudo (Sagami Railway). Sagami is the name of an old province, that is now part of Kanagawa-prefecture, and appears also in many place-names and station-names.

The war forced the Jinchu Tetsudo and the Sagami Tetsudo to merge to one bigger railway in 1943, which was called Sagami Tetsudo and had two lines, the Sagami-line (the old Sagami Tetsudo) and the Jinchu-line (the old Jinchu Tetsudo). Only one year later, the Sagami-line was nationalised and became the Sagami-line of the JNR; today it is still JR’s Sagami-line. The Sagami Tetsudo now only had the Jinchu-line, and it became the Atsugi-line of Tokyo Kyuko (Tokyu) in 1945, but was independent again in 1947.

After the war, Sagami Tetsudo abolished the diesel railcars in 1947 and the steam locomotives in 1951 to run only electric trains. This was possible, because the former Jinchu Tetsudo had electrified its line until 1942. In contrast, the Sagami-line of JNR (now JR) was electrified in the 1990s!

As more and more people moved into the city of Yokohama after the war, Sagami Tetsudo (also called Sotetsu) got many more passengers. A first section between Nishi-Yokohama and Kami-Hoshikawa got the second track in 1951, the whole line was double-track in 1974. Electrification was raised from 600 V dc to 1500 V dc. 4-car-trains were introduced in 1957, 6-car-trains in 1965, 7-car-trains in 1970, 8-car-trains in 1975 and 10-car-trains in 1981. The through traffic to Odakyu’s Hon-Atsugi station, which was reopened in 1945, was finally suspended in 1964. A very small branch-line (1 km) for freight only between Nishi-Yokohama and Hodogaya (JR’s Yokosuka-line/Tokaido-line) was opened in 1948 and closed in 1979.

To give better access to newly urbanised areas, a new line, the Izumino-line, was opened as a branch-line from Futamatagawa in 1975 to Izumino (6 km) and 2 more km to Izumi-Chuo in 1990. The Izumino-line is quite different from the main-line, as nearly half of it is in tunnel, the rest on viaduct. There are no level crossings. The main-line has many level crossings and only one small tunnel to reach Yamato station, which is underground.

A 3.1 km extension of the Izumino-line is under construction. From Izumi-Chuo, the line will go to Shimo-Iida and Shonandai, where one can change to Odakyu’s Enoshima-line. An extension of the Yokohama subway is also under construction between Totsuka (JR’s Tokaido- and Yokosuka-line) and Shonandai. Both lines will run parallel between Shimo-Iida and Shonandai, the opening will be 1997 or 1998. A further extension of the Izumino-line is planned. From Shonandai the line will go via Kagawa (JR’s Sagami-line) to Hiratsuka (JR’s Tokaido-line), 14.5 km. However, there is no date yet for the start of the construction. More plans have been made, but it is not sure if they will ever be realised. They see two more tracks between Futamata-gawa and Tsurugamine, and a new line from Tsurugamine to Shin- Yokohama and from there either into Tokyu’s Toyoko-line or on an other new line to Kawasaki. From Tsurugamine southwards, the Yokohama loop line would make a connection to Higashi-Totsuka, Kami-Ooka, Negishi and the Minato-Mirai-21-line. Through trains with all these lines would be possible, because the car dimensions are the same.

Sotetsu today:
Most traffic on Sotetsu travels on the main line, which is 24.6 km long between Yokohama and Ebina: 667,000 passengers per day. The Izumino-line, 8.2 km long, has 77,000 passengers, which is about 11% of the main line. As most passengers on the Izumino-line use also the main line, the total number of passengers per day is 677,000. The most important station is Yokohama with 250,000 passengers daily. (all data for 1992)

The growth of Yokohama has brought Sotetsu many more passengers. Only 74,000 people traveled on the main line daily in 1955; 250,000 in 1965; 445,000 in 1975; and 573,000 in 1985. Modernisation has helped Sotetsu to keep up with the growing demand. All trains run as 10-car-trains now, and the busiest hour in the morning sees 30 trains per track and direction. The overcrowding-rate in the morning is 166%, much less than at other railways; the average loading-rate all over the day is 64%. Except for Yamato, Sagami-Otsuka, Sagamino, Kashiwadai, Ebina and Atsugi, all stations are within Yokohama city.

The service pattern is extremely simple. At daytime, there is one express(kyuko)-train leaving Yokohama every 10 minutes, and one local train only one minute behind it. The express-trains do not stop between Yokohama and Futamatagawa and then stop at every station between Futamata-gawa and Ebina. The local trains stop at every station between Yokohama and Futamatagawa, and then continue on the Izumino-line to Izumi-Chuo. At Futamatagawa, it is possible to change from the express to the local train. The service pattern of one express and one local is always the same between 6 am and midnight; in the rush-hour there is one train every 2 minutes. Before 6 am and after midnight (the first trains start at 4.45, the last ends at 1.15) there are only local trains.

The minimum fare on the main line is 130 Yen, on the Izumino-line 150 Yen. This difference is because the Izumino-line has had high construction costs and the passengers have to pay part of these costs. A ride from Yokohama to Ebina costs 270 Yen, from Yokohama to Futamata- gawa 180 Yen, from Yokohama to Izumi-Chuo 260 Yen, from Izumi-Chuo to Ebina 290 Yen.

The main depot is at Kashiwadai, and two trains for trackworks stand at Nishi-Yokohama. Sidings are at Hoshikawa, Futamatagawa and Sagami-Otsuka. Trains can be overtaken at Hoshikawa, Nishiya and Izumino, but at Izumino the tracks are used as sidings now. At Seya there is a track for overtaking only towards Yokohama, but this is not used now. At Ryokuentoshi, there is already space for two additional tracks, but they are not yet built.

The cars:
Sotetsu’s passenger cars are all very similar. Each car is 20 meters long and 2.80/2.90 meters wide, and has four doors; this is the standard for very many Japanese commuter lines. The old colour was light green, which is still used for most cars of the 6000 and 3000 series. The 2100, 5000 and 7000 series is stainless with two red stripes, and this scheme was the basis for the two latest series, the 8000 and 9000 series. The 8000 series is stainless with a wide red stripe and a white front, and the 9000 series is completely white with a red stripe.

The fleet list as of April 1995:

The cars were built by Tokyu Sharyo or by Hitachi. An interesting feature is that from the 5000 series, the cars have electric windows. Passengers operate them by pressing buttons beside the windows, but the big advantage is that the staff in the depot can close all windows at once when the car is taken out of service in the evening. The interior of all cars is very conservative, it is hard to distinguish the latest cars from 30 year old trains. While other companies use bench seats that are formed to make individual seats, Sotetsu is rather uncomfortable. One advantage is that two cars in each train of the 8000 and 9000 series have partly crossed seating, while all other cars and series have longitudinal seating. Although the 8000 series is also still being produced, the 9000 series is very modern. There is space for wheelchairs, and the top speed is 120 km/h. The 9000 series will replace the 6000 series, but due to the extension of the Izumino-line, more cars are needed.

The name:
Sagami is, as mentioned earlier, the name of an old Japanese province. It is not exacly known, what Sagami means; there are four different theories. However, the two Chinese characters (kanji) that form Sagami, are most probably not at all related to this old name. The first kanji is pronounced so, sho or ai, meaning aspect, minister or together; the second kanji is pronounced mo or bo, meaning copy. Both kanji together make no sense, but if they appear together, they are pronounced Sagami. Sagami Tetsudo is often shortened to Sotetsu, simply by taking the first kanji and a normal reading of this kanji. This is the same method as done with shortening Nagoya Tetsudo to Meitetsu.

Freight trains:
Sotetsu is one of the very few private railways which still has some freight trains. In the past, the main goods were cement and gravel, but now only fuel is left. There is a US Airforce base near Sagami-Otsuka, and they get fuel cars, but not on a regular basis. If they need fuel, then the tank cars leave Chigasaki (JR Tokaido-line) for Atsugi in the morning. There they are picked up by Sotetsu locomotives and pulled to Sagami-Otsuka. The empty cars are then returned to Atsugi, where JR takes over and brings them back to Chigasaki in the evening. Sotetsu’s locomotives stand in the depot at Kashiwadai; so first they have to go from Kashiwadai to Atsugi without any cars, and the same way back in the evening. It does not seem to be the most efficient way of transporting the tank cars; also because most trains are very short, having just two cars. The whole trip from Atsugi to Sagami-Otsuka is 6.7 km long.

I thank Shigehisa Kasagawa and Naoaki Okada, who sent me the information about freight trains and about the cars. The data was taken from “Toshi Kotsu Nenpo” (Urban transportation yearbook), and further information from “Sagami Tetsudo” by Shigetoshi Shibata, Hoikusha Color Books.

This article and photos contained herein all copyright Oliver Mayer.