Thursday, May 30, 2024

The JR Tsurumi Line

By Hiroshi Naito

One of the more unusual EMU services among JR commuter lines in the Tokyo metropolitan area is the Tsurumi line. It is a short commuter line that runs in a heavy industrial area located just south of Tokyo on the seacoast of Tokyo Bay. The uniqueness of the line is: first; the patrons are mostly commuters who are involved in the area’s heavy industries, such as chemical plants, steel mills, ship yards, heavy machine works, electric works, etc.: second; it is associated with a lot of freight sidings with a number of tracks leading to industrial facilities: third; none of the passenger stations are staffed, except Tsurumi terminus.

The origin of the line was a private freight railway, called Tsurumi Port Railway, inaugurated in 1926. The founder of the railway was Asano Soichiro, who undertook reclaiming the seacoast of Tsurumi and turned the land to one of the most large-scaled industrial areas in Japan. When the railway started its service on the original segment between Bentenbashi and Hama-kawasaki, it operated only steam-hauled freight trains. The service segment was extended in 1928 to Ogimachi, the current far end of the line. In 1930, the line commenced passenger service with EMUs when it finally reached Tsurumi station on the national railway’s Tokaido main line with completion of electrification covering the entire route. During the war time, the line became very busy with a sharply increased number of passengers commuting to the area’s industries and a sharp rise of freight operation demands.

Under this situation, the railway was taken over by the national railway in 1943 who turned it into its Tsurumi line. Its prosperity continued even after the war for twenty years until around 1965. After this period, both commuter and freight transportation demands begun to decline as modernization in the industries it served resulted in a reduction of workers and a modal shift of freight away from rail towards trucks. As a result of measures having taken place to reduce the line’s operation costs in 1971, all stations became unattended, and some sidings and tracks leading to industrial facilities were removed.

However, even these days, the line busily carries industrial commuters, as a matter of course only at peak time in the morning and evening. JR Freight Co. still serves rail freight by the line for the area’s industries. Commodities transported by the line seem to be mostly petroleum products, cement and metal.

Rail Network:
Take a look at the rail map of the line. The line originates from Tsurumi on the Tokaido main line, but its terminus is located on elevated tracks, with no direct rail links between the lines. This is the remnant of an old feature that a private EMU line was extended to a station on the national railway.

The main route of the Tsurumi line is between Tsurumi and Ogimachi, a distance of 7.0km. Its branch lines are a 1.7km segment between Asano and Umi-Shibaura, and the Musashi-Shiraishi to Okawa section, 1.6km. The line meets the Nambu-branch line at Hama-Kawasaki, but passenger facilities of both lines are separated. The entire trackage is fully signaled with automatic blocking, and all the stations and yards are protected by a concentrated solid state interlocking, which controls all the crossovers and turnouts from one location.

The EMUs in service for the line’s fleet are all 3-car Type 103s in their yellow livery, which used to be dominant all over the national railway’s commuter lines in the Tokyo area, including the Yamanote circle line, Chuo line, etc. They are fitted with three types of ATS equipment, ATS-P, ATS-Sn and ATS-B, which allow them to run by themselves along other JR main lines when they are sent to a maintenance work shop.

The line’s service pattern is a little bit complicated. During rush hours, the traffic is fairly busy with Ogimach-bound trains running every 10 to 15 minutes, and through services to Umi-Shibaura and Okawa operated about every 15 minutes. The frequency on the busiest segment between Tsurumi and Asano is every 3 to 5 minutes in the morning from 7:00 to 9:00. After the morning peak time, the traffic drops to every 20 minutes at Tsurumi terminus with one out of three going on to Umi-Shibaura. No trains are operated to Okawa during off-peak periods. In the evening rush hour, the line resumes busy operations, but is not so frequent as in the morning. Trains depart from Tsurumi terminus with about 5-minute dispatch intervals during the evening peak.

Train Ride

At Tsurumi:

Let's ride a train on the Tsurumi line. The Tsurumi line terminus in JR Tsurumi station is on the elevated structure just adjacent to the main line on the ground level. Automated ticket gates are at the boundary between the station's main concourse and the terminus checking passengers for the possession of tickets, which have to be purchased from ticket vending machines placed at unattended stations on the line. The double track terminus looks obsolete with its old structure, but well retains the ambience of an old private railway's end terminal with the arched ceiling. A three-car train rolled in. The train was bound for Umi-Shibaura. The number of passengers aboard, according to my rough calculation, was about 120. It was a fairly good loading rate as in mid-afternoon on a Saturday. The train soon departed just on time.

(The Tsurumi line crosses over the Tokaido main line just after leaving Tsurumi terminus.)

Tsurumi to Tsurumi-Ono:

The train proceeded along the track on the viaduct over some hundreds meters looking down at the left on a bunch of tracks of the Tokaido main line, Keihin-Tohoku commuter line, Yokosuka line and freight lines. Then, it suddenly swung left through a sharp curve and rolled along a truss bridge that crosses over both the JR's main line tracks and Keihin Electric Railway's track. Passing over national road #15, the train rolled into the next station, Kokudo, meaning "National Road," named because of its location. The neighborhood is so-called Namamugi, well known for the Namamugi incident which occurred at the last days of Tokugawa Shognate in the early 1860s on the old Tokaido Road running just east of the current #15 national road. The monument of the incident is near the station. Involved in the historic incident were three British, one of whom was killed by a samurai (warrior) from Satsuma (Kagoshima) prefecture with his sword, with the others seriously injured. The British encountered the feudal lords from Satsuma prefecture on their way back to their country when the victims on their horsebacks happened to cross the road just in front of the march. Some angered samurai attacked the British causing the tragedy. The incident developed into a diplomatic problem later and even resulted in a war between the British navy and the prefecture.

(A bunch of tracks of the Tokaido main line, Keihin-Tohoku commuter line, Yokosuka line and freight lines, with the viaduct of the Tsurumi line behind)

Tsurumi-Ono to Asano:

The train soon crossed over the Tsurumi river, then dropped down to ground level, soon reaching Tsurumi-Ono. The station was named after the family name of a landlord who used to own the neighborhood, which is now densely populated. Close to half of the passengers got off. Passing through the viaduct of an express way, the train swung left. On the right was Nippon Kokan's (NKK: Nippon Steel Co.) steel pipe mill plants. The line used to have a branch to the complex, but it was abandoned a long time ago. A row of manufacturing facilities of Asahi Glass Co. followed on the right. On the left was Bentenbashi car depot where a number of Type 103 EMU sets were seen resting in the sidings. The line's operation center is located in the depot.

The next station was Bentenbashi, named after a small shrine deified by fishermen who used to inhabit the seacoast around this area. From Tsurumi-Ono, a single track in use for freight traffic runs parallel to the double track EMU line as far as Hama-Kawasaki, with many branches to industrial facilities.

(A train pulls out Bentembashi station.)

Asano to Okawa and Hama-Kawasaki:

Let's continue traveling along the main line from Asano. Crossing over Asahi-canal, on the right is the gas production facility of Tokyo Gas Co. Some huge gas tanks can be seen. The train rolled into Anzen, named after Yasuda Zenjiro, the founder of the Yasuda financial conglomerate. JR Freight's Anzen yard stretched on the right to the platform with a number of tank cars in the sidings. A DE10 hydraulic diesel engine was working at switching operations in the yard. Some oil refining complexes are near here, being linked through rail to the yard. After departing from Anzen, the train crossed over Sakai(boundary)-canal, which is the boundary between Yokohama city and Kawasaki city. The complex of Fuji Electric Co. came into view on the left as the train reached Musashi-Shiraishi, named after Shiraishi Motojiro,the founder of NKK. To avoid duplication with Shiraishi on the Tohoku main line, "Musashi," the old prefecture name, was apparently pre-fixed.

The Okawa branch line diverges from the point just in front of this station. A vintage Kumoha 12, a single unit EMU built in 1929, shuttled during rush hours between this station and Okawa until quite recently. The unit was displaced earlier in this year when through service from Tsurumi was introduced using the usual Type 103 EMUs. Around the branch line are a number of complex industrial facilities including Tsurimi thermal power plant of Tokyo Electric Co. Okawa was also named after Okawa Heizaburo, the founder of the Okawa financial conglomerate. The track further stretches beyond Okawa for freight traffic.

(A Tsurumi-bound train rolling into Anzen station.)

Asano to Okawa and Hama-Kawasaki:

Turning slightly left, then right, the train pulled into Hama-Kawasaki. The platform for Nambu-branch line coming down from Shitte on the Nambu line is located across a street. After leaving Hama-Kawasaki, the line becomes single track, but runs through a fairly complex freight yard. An EF65, an electric locomotive, and some DE10s were seen in the yard. The line looks like double track, but the neighboring track is for freight operations. Crossing over Watarida-canal the train stopped at Showa, named after Showa Denko Co., an electrical plant which was stretching on the right.

After leaving Showa, rolling along the edge of another freight yard, the train finally arrived in Ogimachi. The area used to be a good seaside resort for sea bathing and gathering shellfishes before the war, known as Ogi island. Now, the station is surrounded with some oil complexes, warehouses and other industrial facilities. In the yard were a number of tank cars. The freight track extends further from the yard beyond the station.

(Ogimachi terminus, the far end of the line.)

Nambu-branch Line:

On the way back at Hama-Kawasaki, I changed trains to the Nambu-branch line. This is a 4.1km branch line from Shitte on the Nambu line. Like the Tsurumi line, the line busily serves industrial commuters during rush hours, but operates trains with 30 to 40 minutes intervals during off peak periods. On holidays, the frequency drops to only once an hour. The rolling stock in service is 2-car Type 101 EMUs in their different livery from the Tsurumi line. When I got on a train, I found it almost empty. However, the branch line plays an important role for freight traffic, linking some freight depots and yards located in the heavy industrial area in Kawasaki.

(Hama-Kawasaki terminus of the Nambu branch line.)

I like the Tsurumi line because of its special features, such as having a lot of sidings and industrial tracks with a number of turnouts protected by position light dwarf signals, with which the ambience of real railways has been well retained. Also few big changes have ever occurred in the line’s station facilities and in the industrial scenery outside the window, although some sidings and industrial tracks have disappeared. I had the experience of commuting to one of the stations on the line for a couple of months when I was very young, more than 30 years ago. When I travel along the line sometimes, I feel everything on the line is almost the same as at that time, except the modern rolling stock that displaced the old EMUs.