Currently, there are only “Sunrise Seto” and “Sunrise Izumo” regular night trains in Japan, but there were many night trains in the past. Freight trains still run day and night. However, from the beginning until now, Shinkansen trains generally do not operate at night.
0-6 am working hours
The inspection and maintenance of facilities and equipment is crucial to the safe operation of trains. On regular lines, work is carried out between commercial trains coming and going, or during the day or night, with a few hours of idle time (maintenance intervals). .
However, working between commercial trains is not practical on the fast and frequent Shinkansen. Converting 300km/h into a speed per second is 83.3m. When you think, “Oh, I see a train in the distance,” it’s right in front of you. In this case, it is impossible to work with people and equipment on track.
Therefore, on the Shinkansen, the time period for commercial train operation and the time period for facility equipment inspection and maintenance are completely separated. The latter is basically between 0 and 6, but you can’t use it for a full 6 hours.
First of all, after confirming that the last train has arrived at the terminal station and all trains in operation have left the track, it is necessary to go through the “track closing” procedure. In addition, power to the overhead catenary needs to be stopped. Without these, workers and maintenance vehicles cannot access the tracks.
In addition, it takes time to go to and from the site from the office or maintenance base that is the work base. If it’s just people, there is a way to drive to a place close to the construction site by car, but materials and equipment will not work. When withdrawing, remove all materials and equipment and inspect the entire work target section for any remains.
In addition, as a measure to prevent leftovers, “confirmation of the number of items” is performed before and after entering the track of night maintenance work. It’s common to rely solely on visual inspections and paper checklists, but JR West is researching and developing the use of RFID to do this quickly and reliably.
Actual use time is less than 3 hours
The author has interviewed the night maintenance work of the Shinkansen several times. Judging from the data at that time, the time from entering orbit to starting and leaving after completion is 3 hours, only about 3 and a half hours.
In that short period of time, various works were carried out, such as ballast and sleeper replacement, rail replacement, and overhead wires (more precisely, tram lines).
Working remotely at one time is not practical due to the limited time available. You cannot access work in progress the next morning. Then commercial trains will not be able to run.
So, for example, in the case of ballast replacement, the distance that can be done in one night is on the order of tens of meters (and even longer due to improvements in equipment). When replacing the rails, cut and remove the existing rails at both ends of the section to be replaced, install new rails and weld them on the front and rear rails, and check whether the assembly is accurate. Do this in less than 3 hours.
In addition, installation and extension of sound insulation walls, erection and modification of electrified poles (so-called overhead poles), grinding to properly maintain the shape of the top of the rails, compaction of the track bed and replacement of worn tramlines. There are various night jobs. It maintains the status of facilities and equipment and supports safe and comfortable operations.
It should be noted that in cold regions, snow falls in winter, and snow removal work at this time is also carried out during night working hours.
And there are cases where “confirmation car” is unique to the Shinkansen. After all the night work is over, a confirmation vehicle will be dispatched on the main line to check whether there are any obstacles hindering the work. The train can only be put into operation after the barrier-free is confirmed. In other words, no work can be performed on the vehicle after it has been sent out. Need to secure time for this confirmation car to travel on the main line and return to base.
Shinkansen maintenance bases can be found everywhere
Basically, maintenance bases are set up at a rate of about one per station, and care is taken to ensure there is not too much space between maintenance bases. Otherwise, additional time is required to advance from the maintenance base to the field.
Because it is a facility unfamiliar to passengers, the location is often not known. However, maintenance bases can sometimes be seen where they are easily seen by passengers. For example, on the Tokaido Shinkansen, the maintenance bases of Yunoki, east of Shizuoka Station, and Maibara, north of Maibara Station, can be easily seen from the window.
In addition, the Washinomiya maintenance base of the Tohoku Shinkansen has held public events many times in the past. This is near Higashi Washimiya Station on the Tohoku Main Line (Utsunomiya Line), and away from the Shinkansen Main Line to the west. It is installed next to regular lines so that freight trains can bring in materials such as rails. This is a rare opportunity to see a normally invisible maintenance vehicle up close.