JAPANESE rolling stock supplier Nippon Sharyo clinched an important deal in December when it was awarded a role in a contract with Sumitomo Corp of America to supply 250 bi-level cars to Metra, Chicago’s operator of commuter services. The US$398·6m procurement funded from the Illinois FIRST public works investment programme includes an option for 50 more cars.

Although much of the work will be carried out in the USA, with Super Steel of Milwaukee assembling the cars, the deal brings much-valued business to Nippon Sharyo. The company’s factory at Toyokawa is currently busy with an order for Series 700 shinkansen cars: Nippon Sharyo President Kazuhisa Matsuda says that his company has the largest share of the shinkansen rolling stock market and supplies around 50% of JR Central’s needs.

JR Central has a fleet of 20 Series 700 sets, each of 16 cars, and Nippon Sharyo supplied nine of these sets. A further 34 sets are required, and 18 are already on order, with 16 to follow. Nippon Sharyo’s expected share is 19 sets. These 34 units are the key to JR Central’s programme to withdraw its last 37 Series 100 trainsets, launched in the 1980s to provide premium Hikari services. Series 100 has a maximum speed of 220 km/h and is now considered outdated and expensive to run. All are to go by 2003, when JR Central aims to operate its entire Tokaido shinkansen service with Series 300 and Series 700 trainsets. Both will be able to operate at the maximum line speed of 270 km/h, allowing greater operating flexibility.

There are relatively few shinkansen orders for JR East, but Nippon Sharyo has just completed a second generation Series E2 trainset. It will also share in the work to produce Series 700 derivative trainsets for Taiwan High Speed Rail Corp under the contract signed on December 12.

The company has no other firm orders for high speed trains, and production is likely to slow considerably from 2003. However, given that JR’s first Series 300 sets entered commercial service in 1992, Nippon Sharyo is already studying technology for trains to succeed Series 300.

Among other prospects, Matsuda identifies orders for trains to be built for the future Chubu airport, which like Kansai airport at Osaka, will be constructed as an artificial island in the sea, in this case near Tokoname. Preliminary works are already in hand, and a two-track branch is to be built by Nagoya Railroad into the airport site. ’We expect to get the rolling stock order for this service’, says Matsuda.

In Aichi prefecture a major exhibition site is planned at Fujigaoka. As a local company, Nippon Sharyo is expected to participate in the project, and it has been earmarked as the supplier of a magnetic levitation HSST vehicle for a link between Fujigaoka city and the expo area. ’We don’t know if this is good business, but as a prominent member of the local business community, we will participate’, remarks Matsuda. In fact, Nippon Sharyo is expected to ’take the leadership of the design, make the cars and supply the system, so we are currently studying how best to meet this expectation.’ The company already has some maglev experience, as it built several of the intermediate high speed cars on trial at the Yamanashi superconducting maglev test centre.

Nippon Sharyo has traditionally enjoyed a strong position in the market to supply metro and commuter stock for both domestic operators and for export. On the production lines at the moment are 61 suburban cars for Japanese private railways, 60 cars for the Singapore metro, and 10 cars for Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

The company is currently working on 52 stainless steel cars for 25 kV 50Hz operation on the 43 km Tuy Medio suburban railway between Caracas and Cúa in Venezuela. These are being built under a contract signed between the Venezuelan government and an Italian/Japanese/Venezuelan consortium, Contuy Medio, in May 1996. The first set should be delivered for testing this month, and some cars will be fitted out in Italy by Costaferroviaria before final delivery.

Under a project being led by Japan’s Railway Technical Research Institute, Nippon Sharyo has been involved in development of the experimental variable-gauge (1435 mm and 1067mm) shinkansen train now on test with TTCI in Pueblo, and this has been fitted with a second design of variable-gauge bogie. Whereas the first had independent wheels, the new design has rotating axles that are much closer to conventional high speed technology.

The company has extensive test facilities at Toyokawa, and it is currently testing a bogie that may eventually be used on a Korean high speed train.

Looking to the long term, Matsuda expects rolling stock orders, the core business at Toyokawa, to decline. The company is therefore looking at developing its other activities; these include bridge construction and a possible venture into high technology recycling of used PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles into new bottles.

CAPTION: Nippon Sharyo President Kazuhisa Matsuda can look back at a long history of shinkansen rolling stock production. In the background is a preserved Series 0 car built in the 1960s

CAPTION: Japanese private railways provide a steady market for commuter cars

CAPTION: Murray Hughes examines the eddy-current disc brakes for a Series 700 shinkansen trainset (below right) during a visit to the Toyokawa plant