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JAPAN: West Japan Railway plans to order four 11-car Series 273 electric multiple-units to replace the Series 381 trainsets used on Yakumo Limited Express services on the Hakubi line. This 1 067 mm gauge route runs across the main island of Honshu through the Chugoku mountains, connecting the Sanyo region on the Seto Inland Sea with the Sanin area on the Sea of Japan coast. The trains will run between Okayama, Kurashiki, Yonago, Matsue and Izumoshi, with the first unit expected to enter service early in 2024.

The 1∙5 kV DC Series 273 fleet will be the first in Japan to incorporate ‘natural’ passive tilting. Developed jointly by JR West, the Railway Technical Research Institute and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, this continuously records the location of the train and adjusts the amount of tilt according to stored route and track configuration data.

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The Series 381 EMUs date back to the pre-privatisation era in Japan.

The tilt system differs from the previous ‘natural pendular tilting’ which relied on centrifugal forces to tilt the car bodies with activation of the mechanism through track-mounted transponders. Early versions of this system on Series 381, which was first introduced in 1973 on the Nagoya – Nagano route, led to passengers suffering tilt nausea, but later versions incorporated modifications that helped reduce the problem.

Series 273 will have VVVF inverter control to enhance energy efficiency and multiple operation will be possible. Bodyshells will incorporate impact absorption zones, and the interiors will include wheelchair spaces, a generous seat pitch and ample luggage accommodation. Air purifiers, LED lighting and CCTV will be fitted, and passengers will have access to power and USB sockets as well as wi-fi reception.

The Series 273 order marks the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the first Yakumo Limited Express service. In the meantime a six-car Series 381 set is to be restored to its original JNR livery and will return to Yakumo service on March 19.