Odakyu Electric Railway operates the Romancecar Limited
Express between Shinjuku in the heart of Japan’s capital
Tokyo and Hakone and Enoshima, both internationally noted
Japanese tourist spots. The Romancecar ticketing system
uses a capacity control system, meaning all seats are
reserved, to carry some 12.8 million passengers annually to
these two sightseeing destinations.
Since the first unveiling back in 1957 of the Type 3000
SE (Super Express), eight streamlined models—reflecting
the times—have served day in and day out right through until today.
By making continued efforts to reduce onboard equipment
weight and by using a monocoque body design to lighten the
rolling stock with a low centre of gravity and streamlined nose
for less resistance, the Type 3000 even held the world speed
record (145 km/h) for a narrow-gauge railway before it was
retired finally in 1999 after an illustrious career.
Following the Type 3000, Odakyu Railway introduced
various designs of Romancecars as partners to the joys of
railway holidays, and March 2005 saw the Type 50000 VSE
(Vault Super Express), take to the tracks for the first time while boasting world-class design and technological innovations.
The Type 50000 design concept is based on the idea of
‘Exciting Travel’. Odakyu Railway commissioned an architect
to coordinate a total high-quality design enabling passengers
to ‘slip’ into holiday mode from the moment they board. Of
course, an observation deck, which is synonymous with
the Romancecar image, is incorporated into the front of the
train while interior comforts include unprecedentedly high
carriage ceilings, concealed lights, and larger windows.
Passengers enjoy dynamic views through the 3D-curved
front window on the observation deck with four rows of four
seats in the front section of the lead car.
The aluminium, double-skin structure supports an interior
carriage width of 2.66 m (despite being narrow gauge) and
a separate-type air-conditioning system secures a ceiling height of 2.55 meters.
By fitting 4-m panoramic windows with seats angled at 5°
to them, the observation deck offers supreme uninterrupted
views of Tokyo’s cityscape as well as the burgeoning natural scenery of Odawara and Hakone.
Concealed interior lighting spreads a gentle glow
across the white vaulted ceiling, while two rows
of LED lamps under the luggage racks create linear sharpness.
To give the impression of running through from
city centre to suburban areas in natural bounty, the
carriages are painted in silky white with a line of vermillion orange, the traditional Romancecar livery.
Other than the lead-car observation deck, the
Type 50000 body is a simple, rigid, double-skin
structure, providing excellent sound and heat
insulation. One trainset is composed of 10 cars in an articulated truck configuration of 5 cars each at
the back and front ends; the lead cars are 18.2-m
long and intermediate carriages are 13.8 m. There
are buffet bars and toilets in carriages 3 and 8.
Onboard LCD TVs provide destination guides and
food menus in Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean,
ensuring passengers get the information they want.
During the 1960s and 1970s, Odakyu tested pendulum
and truck steering systems, but never put them to practical
use. However, as better safety and greater travel comfort
became design goals for the Type 50000 concept, Odakyu
incorporated an air suspension system with car-body tilt control and truck steering.
The new technologies in the Type 50000 are explained below.
Articulated trucks with air suspension are used to tilt car
bodies and enhance running stability. To reduce centrifugal
force for better ride comfort on curves, the carriage bodies
are tilted by up to 2° using position data from trackside
sensors and distance information calculated by the Train
Information Odakyu Management System (TIOS).
By making full use of articulated trucks where one truck
supports two carriages, with electromagnetic lock dampers
between each carriage body and truck frame, truck rotation
on curves is smoothed out, reducing lateral force on the
outer rail and absorbing yaw to improve safety.
Implementation of TIOS with transmission of electronic
commands reduces fittings and wiring. Furthermore, to deal
with changes in braking power force caused by external
factors such as rain, we have developed and installed a
brake control system incorporating train-braking control and
anti-slip control, In this system, TIOS calculates the braking
force required for the entire train and any inadequate braking at one car is covered by the other cars.
To reduce running noise, Odakyu Railway developed a fully sealed self-ventilated cooling traction motor that does
not leak cooling fan noise externally when the rotor is turning.
To add a touch of class to the trip to Hakone, instead
of conventional aisle-trolley sales, a wireless LAN system
speeds up sales by allowing passengers to place orders with
attendants who input the details into a handheld terminal.
These orders are relayed to the buffets in the third and eighth
cars, so the orders are ready when attendants come to pick
them up. In addition, purified water for coffee makers and drinking water helps provide higher quality service.
In general, there are two types of sales and dining on trains:
the dedicated space type where passengers go to a dining
or buffet car to make purchases or eat; and the mobile
sales type where attendants move through the cars carrying
merchandise and food on trolleys. Odakyu has adopted
the latter type, because of several factors including lack of
space caused by short trainset, and short maximum travel time (1 hour 30 minutes).
Odakyu’s onboard sales date back to the postwar era in
1949. In 1948, we launched ‘weekend spa limited express’
services from Shinjuku to Hakone Yumoto (a major spa area)
using Type 1910 limited expresses that had just entered
service. On these services, waitresses took and served
orders without passengers needing to move from their seats. It was nicknamed a ‘travelling café’.
During the postwar period, the number of tourists visiting
Hakone grew annually and Odakyu’s special onboard sales
service, adding to the ‘specialness’ of the trip became
very popular. With the Type 3000 debut, onboard sales
became part of the Romancecar trademark image right up
to the modern day. However, the role of the Romancecar has evolved over time. First, the idea was to simply carry
tourists to Hakone and Shonan (Enoshima), but by the
1990s, people commuting to work and school as well as long-distance shoppers had increased. To accommodate
this passenger diversity, Odakyu increased the number of
stops and added more cars to limited expresses. With these
changes, it became difficult to provide the leisurely waitress
service of the ‘travelling café’ and it was stopped in 1995.
Nevertheless, onboard sales of bento lunchboxes and
drinks continued. This was followed by an aisle-trolley
service where passengers make purchases from their seats.
The service has changed but the line of products remains
much the same, right through until today. As well as staples
like coffee and beer, the contents of popular items like
lunchboxes are reviewed and updated regularly.
With the Type 50000 debut, to distinguish services
from other trains, Odakyu restarted the ‘in-seat service’
where attendants take orders and serve each seated
passenger. Based on the bygone ‘travelling café’ idea, we
are improving and adding ideas to make journeys to Hakone
more satisfying for passengers. Even the lunchboxes are
tailored to customers’ tastes and the unique train-shaped
‘Romancecar VSE Lunchbox’ is very popular. In September
this year, we launched the ‘Romancecar-Bowl’ meal for kids.
The bowl is a traditional Japanese donburi in a train design
that can be taken home as a souvenir; it is a hit product.
At present, this onboard sales service is provided on
the Hakone and Super Hakone trains running between
Shinjuku and Hakone Yumoto. Odakyu Railway looks
forward to spa-bound passengers choosing its Type 50000
to enjoy wonderful scenery and unique carriage interiors over lunch onboard.
Over its long history, the Romancecar limited expresses
have offered diverse services matching the era. With its
groundbreaking technologies, the new Type 50000 VSE has
returned to the ‘in-seat service’ of the previous era. The crew and attendants try hard to ensure every customer feels like they have just entered a high-class hotel from the instant
they step onboard, making their trip to Hakone even more
enjoyable. Odakyu Railway started a limited express through
service to and from subway lines in 2008 and currently
has six types of trains dedicated to limited express service
alone, an outstanding number for a private railway in Japan.
From here on, we will continue to relentlessly adopt the latest
technologies and passenger-catching charisma to offer attractive trains and services.