Train Overview

Japan's Trains

A train or "densha" (電車, "Electric multiple unit") in Japanese, is a generic term for a rolling stock that uses electric power as its power source and is equipped with facilities to carry passengers and cargo.

The electric power required to drive a train is supplied in two ways: by using a current collector from outside, or by using storage batteries installed onboard.
Other types of vehicles, in which electric power is supplied by a generator powered by an internal combustion engine, are called "Diesel multiple units" and are not included in the electric car category.

Nowadays, trains are one of the essential public transportation systems used by many people, mainly JR lines, for traveling long distances on foot or when commuting to work, but there are many people who don't know much about their intricacies because they are a natural part of transportation.

In this article, we'll introduce the history, structure, and types of trains in detail.

The History of Trains

It is said that the first electric tram was shown at the Berlin Industrial Exposition of 1879, with the present-day electric locomotive pulling a passenger carriage with a man on board.

Two years later, in 1881, the world's first streetcar began operating in Berlin, and two years later, in 1883, in France and England, and just two year after that, in the United States.

By 1895, the system had spread to Japan as well, and mainly in Japan, the Shinkansen and other electrified areas, as well as commuter routes around cities and conventional lines in rural areas, the main form of commuting to work became trains.

About the Structure of Trains

Here are some of the main structures on trains.

1.Driving Gear (Running Gear)
In the early days of small cars and streetcars, a dual-axle type was popular, but most of today's high-speed trains, including the articulated type, are built with what is called a bogie type with a device that can rotate horizontally with respect to the body of the train.

Trains that generally use series-parallel control of DC electric motors must have an even number of electric motors, so the number of coaxes is also even.
It is said that there are no examples of single bogie type trains except in special cases.

2. Power Transmission
Current is drawn into the circuitry of the train from the overhead wires installed at the upper level of the track, or from the current collectors (pantographs, trolley poles, current collector, etc.) that touch the third rail, or from the storage batteries in the case of the storage battery type.

The current taken into the train first passes through a current breaker and then flows to the main resistor.
Alternating current must be used in an alternating current train, in which case a transformer drops the voltage from extra high voltage to high voltage before it enters the main resistor, and a rectifier rectifies the alternating current to direct current.
In AC trains, as in DC trains, the voltage drops from extra high voltage to high voltage, and from there it is fed to a variable frequency drive and a thyristor drive in the main resistor.

The current flowing to the main resistor controls the voltage and then flows to the drive system to drive the main electric motor in the power bogie.

3. Control
When multiple trains are connected, multiple-unit train control​ is used.
Multiple-unit train control control is achieved by operating the master controller in the driver's seat of the lead carriage, which sends commands to the second and subsequent cars by means of electric signals to drive and operate the electric brakes on all cars in the train.

The electrical signals are sent through the jumper coupler on the bottom of the connecting surfaces of the cars and the electrical couplers on the bottom of the couplers.

4. Breaks
All Japanese trains are required by law to be equipped with two or more brakes, and every train is equipped with a mechanical brake for parking and an air brake for braking.

Some of what are called ultra-low-floor trains are called "airless trains," which do not use any compressed air mechanisms, and only in these cases are only electric brakes used permanently and mechanical brakes are used immediately before stopping the train.

Air brakes are used in single trains as direct brakes, and automatic brakes are used in linked operations.
Nowadays, electromagnetic straight air brakes and electronically controlled pneumatic brakes are commonly installed on trains as permanent brakes.

There are other types of brakes, such as "dynamic brakes" that convert the electric current generated by the electric motor into heat using a resistor on board the train, "regenerative brakes" that return the current to the overhead wires and third rail, "eddy current brakes" that use electromagnetic induction, and "track brakes" that attach electromagnets to the rails in order to brake.

The Various Types of Trains

Trains are an excellent means of transportation, but nowadays, there are various types of trains that are used, and you may be left wondering, "Is this really a train? There are even those that exist that you would not expect to see.

Here, we'll introduce some of those trains.

1. Streetcars/Trams
Streetcars refer to trains that run on street railways, mainly on tracks laid on the road (street running).
Streetcars refer to trains that run on street railways, mainly on tracks laid on the road (street running). Like cars, these trains run on the road and are a relatively gritty means of transporting passengers between the city and the rest of the country. They are mainly used for sightseeing and commuting to school.

2. Monorails
Monorails are a track-based transportation system that are guided by, as their name implies, a single track.
Monorails run on rubber wheels.

At one point monorails were popping up left and right. However, because the cost was not as low as expected, they never replaced standard trains, which were already in widespread use, and even now only a few are in operation.

3. Sleeper Trains
Sleeper trains are night trains equipped with sleeping facilities.

This train has become very popular because it allows you to travel far away from home while getting sleep at night, and although not necessarily large in number, it is becoming more and more popular.

4. Trolleybuses
A trolleybus is a bus powered by electricity taken from overhead wires strung above the road. It looks like a bus but has the advantages of both a tram and a bus.
A trolley is actually the current collector on a tram.

Nowadays, due to the increase in car traffic and the advent of upwardly compatible diesel and hybrid large-route buses, all trolleybuses that used to run in metropolitan areas of Japan have been phased out.

These are just 4 of the many different types of trains that exist around the world.

Trains are generally classified according to their functions, mode of operation, and drive system, so we have briefly summarized them below.

1. Classification of Passenger Trains
Passenger trains are classified into various types of trains, including high-speed trains that operate at speeds of 200 km/h or more, intercity trains that connect cities, commuter trains that transport commuters between suburban areas, and night trains that operate throughout the night.

Trains are also classified by type of train, including local trains that stop at every station, express trains that make fewer stops than local trains, and express trains that only stop at major stations.

2. Classification by Function
・Control Car
・Electric-powered rail motor
・Electric-powered control car
・Rear car

3. Special Classification by Industry
・Light rail
・Automated People Mover (APM)

4. Classification by Drive System
・Nose Suspension Drive
・Cardan Jointed Drive
・Hollow Shaft Parallel Cardan Drive System
・Westinghouse-Natal Drive system
・Twin Disc Parallel Cardan Drive System
・Perpendicular Cardan Drive System
・Linear Motor Drive System

5. Classification by Electric Power
・Direct Current Trains
・Alternate Current Trains
・Multi-system Trains

6. Classification by Power Supply
・Overhead line system
・Third and fourth rail systems
・Store battery system
・Non-contact power supply system

Trains - Japan's Most Popular Means of Transportation

Train fares are generally cheaper than other public transportation systems, and as a transportation system mainly used by working people and students they are incredibly useful and often become completely packed.
If you aren't used to it, the inconvenience of transfers and congestion can be a real headache, but nowadays you can check transfer information, train operation status, and timetables on the Internet, so it's easier to get around than ever before.