E233 on the Joban Line (Photo: えぬはち/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0)

Photos: えぬはち/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

JAPAN: East Japan Railway expects to start automatic train operation in commercial service on March 13, when the equipment goes live for Joban Line (Local) services in northern Tokyo.

JR East decided in October 2019 to install ATO on a 29·7 km section of the Joban line between Toride and Ayase, 13 km northeast of Tokyo station, for use by the all-stations stopping trains. The Series E233 EMUs which work this service have now been equipped.

The trains will operate in Grade of Automation 2, with the ATO overseen by a driver who will initiate departure from each station. When ready, the driver presses a ‘depart’ button on the cab console. After this, the train automatically accelerates up to the permitted line speed, recognising all the ATC train control information (such as temporary speed restrictions) in each signalling block section, and then stopping automatically at the next station.

The Joban Line (Local) trains provide a peak-hour service at the 12 intermediate stations between Ayase and Toride, departing Ayase from 06.54 to 08.03 and 15.00 to 18.15, with a journey time of around 35 or 37 min. This allows other trains to operate faster by omitting some stops. There are frequent local and rapid services over this stretch of line, which carries around seven other services per hour during the peaks.

As well as the mix of ATO and non-ATO trains, the route also includes one junction, in the form of a connection to the Narita Line immediately to the west of Abiko. Several stations provide interchange to the capital’s metro network.

JR East is currently working on two other ATO projects, although both remain in the experimental phase. Driverless test runs were undertaken using a Series E235 EMU on the orbital Yamanote Line in December 2018 and January 2019, reaching speeds of up to 34·5 km/h. And a Series E7 high speed train is due to be tested on a non-revenue section of the Joetsu Shinkansen between Niigata station and the city’s rolling stock maintenance depot.