Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 38 (pp.2 & 71)


Battery-powered Tram Developed by RTRI

A tramcar being developed by Japan's Railway Technical Research Institute (RTRI) may eliminate unsightly overhead wires in the future. It is powered by on-board rechargeable lithium-ion (Lilon) batteries commonly used for hybrid cars. The rapid charge–discharge cycle of Lilon batteries as well as their high energy density (33 kWh) and light weight make them ideal for driving rail vehicles. Moreover, the quick charge–discharge cycle is suited to regenerative braking, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy when the electric brake is applied and the traction motor acts as a generator. This very efficient system recovers up to 75% of braking energy, without wasting it as frictional heat, enabling nearly 50% of the kinetic energy to be restored in the batteries. The prototype tramcar was able to make 15 round trips on a 500-m test track with a brief stop at each end, before the batteries dropped from full- to half-charged level. The rapid charging characteristics of Lilon batteries permit full recharging while standing for a few minutes at a terminus. The current RD is focused on increasing battery capacity to provide power for on-board equipment such as air conditioners, as well as extending battery life. When this technology successfully comes into practical use, almost pollution-free public transport could save many historic towns where overhead wires for conventional tramways disfigure attractive townscape.

Photos: RTRI's battery-powered tramcar eliminating overhead wires (top) and its on-board battery unit (bottom) with measuring equipment on left and battery equipment on right

Southern Half of Kyushu Shinkansen Opens

JR Kyushu opened its first shinkansen line between Shin Yatsushiro and Kagoshima-chuo (126.1 km) on 13 March 2004. The line forms the southern half of the 256-km Kyushu Shinkansen connecting to the San'yo Shinkansen at Hakata. Until the northern half is completed, the line will remain isolated from the main high-speed network covering major cities in Japan with a route length of 2000 km. Five sets of six-car Series 800 trains offer 32 daily super-express services (nicknamed Tsubame meaning Swallow) in each direction, with a maximum speed of 260 km/h. For passengers travelling from Hakata to Kagoshima, the conventional Relay Tsubame express services connect to shinkansen sharing the same platform at Shin Yatsushiro, enabling transfer within 3 minutes and cutting total travel time by 100 minutes to about 2 hours and 10 minutes.
The Kagoshima main line between Yatsushiro and Sendai has been transferred to the newly founded third-sector Hisatsu Orange Railway while the remaining sections continue to be operated by JR Kyushu.

Photo: Long nose and white body of JR Kyushu's Series 800 Tsubame
(JR Kyushu)
Photo: The 2+2 seating with natural wooden armrests
(JR Kyushu)
Photo: Japanese-style deck using natural colours such as lacquer
(JR Kyushu)
Photo: Japanese-style rush curtains from Yatsushiro area
(JR Kyushu)