Monday, June 05, 2006

A train with a view

One of the very nice things about travelling on Japanese Railways is that you get a perfect driver's eye view of the track ahead on most ordinary trains. Somehow it's taken for granted here that passengers find it reassuring to see that their driver is awake, alert and not reading his paper or supping a flask of tea. Or even exceeding the speed limit, because if you are so inclined you can see all the controls and dials.

Here's my 204 unit speeding to Inage-kaigan this morning. It's hard to believe for an English 'gricer'that this spectacular view comes free! Long ago some of our early diesel multiple units had glass between driver and passengers but generally it was in the first class and most drivers immediately closed the blinds if anyone showed any curiousity about the track ahead. There's probably some rule against it or perhaps the unions kicked up a fuss about the driver's right to privacy to have a 'fag' or pick his nose. Nowadays you never get this view on a British train.

Here in Japan the driver's blinds come down at night or on route sections with long tunnels and then the trick is to go to the back of the train where the guard sits in the other cab - the blinds there are always open. Otherwise crews seem to take a real pleasure in people watching their skilled handling of the train. It's good PR eh? And good for security too.

You don't get this view on the shinkansen or some expresses because cabs are at higher levels. But maybe the most spectacular views you will ever get anywhere like this are on the 'Furico' units between Kushiro and Sapporo up in Hokkaido. Here the driver's cab is higher but a lower 'connecting door' to link units has a glass window so you can stand right at the front of the train and look forward like that bit in the 'Titanic' movie! There are long mountain tunnels blasted through rock on that line and it's pretty scary to roar through those at 80 mph peering down the bore in the train headlight!


At 5:28 PM, June 05, 2006, Blogger Eddie said...

Until sometime in the Mid 1990's, I actually had the same view on Chicago's CTA Rapid Transit trains.
today the motorman has a full width cab in Chicago Illinois.

The front seat across from the cab used to be called the
"Railfan Seat". I miss it because it gave the "El" train commuters an "Engineers View" back then.

Thank You.

At 11:57 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger Mugo said...

One time on the way back from college in Hastings to Rye my friend and I got to ride up front with the driver. But what I actually wanted to say Iain is how about describing all those white gloved hand signals the driver does. I was most impressed with all of that while in Japan last year.

Your passion for trains is catching by the way...


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