I have done a couple of posts relating to the lucky photographs I managed to get of Dr Yellow and East-i – the special maintenance shinkansen that travel at normal shinkansen speeds checking the infrastructure for any problems. In this post I thought I would write a bit more about my experiences of travelling on Dr Yellow.
I have been on Dr Yellow twice or, more accurately, I have been on two Dr Yellows. The first time was back in 2001 during my first proper fieldwork trip to Japan for my research on the shinkansen. This Dr Yellow was one of the ones based on the 0-series shinkansen. Officially it was set T2 and had the class number 922-10. It was introduced in 1974 and was withdrawn in 2001. I was one of the last guests to travel on the train. Here is a picture of it that I got on my old digital video camera (so excuse the poor quality) as it came into the platform at Nagoya before I took it to Tokyo.
Here is also a picture of me shortly before boarding the train.
In 2002 (as one of the first guests on the new model), I travelled on the new Dr Yellow, based on the 700-series shinkansen. Officially this set is T4 (with official class of 923) and had been delivered in 2000 (and is still operational as of 2021). This is the one that I photographed at Kokura and discussed in my post about the lucky photograph of Dr Yellow. A photograph from my visit in 2002 was included in my book Shinkansen: From Bullet Train to Symbol of Modern Japan.
Going back to my experience in 2001, once onboard, the history and purpose of the train was explained to me (in 2002, the explanation was done at JR Tokai HQ) and I was then shown around the train, with all the functions of the various pieces of equipment being pointed out and explained. Having seen much of the train, my guide then spoke to the driver, who agreed for me to travel in the cab for some of the time.
In terms of the difference between the 700-series and a 0 series Dr Yellows, in aviation terms, it is like the difference between the latest high-tech fighter plane and a Lancaster bomber. The thing is, my father was a pilot of a Lancaster bomber… and I think that is part of the reason why, at the end of the day, it was that journey that was more enjoyable and memorable.
The 0 series Dr Yellow was full of old machinery. The front panel of the cab is covered with all sorts of knobs and buttons. This did not give the appearance of being the type of train that was at one time a world beater. Car no. 2 was largely empty, stripped of all the usual comforts… including the normal devices to combat changes in air pressure, which meant it was very noisy and that opening and closing the doors was very interesting… especially in tunnels. In two places there were even what looked like gun turrets with appropriate seating (actually there for observing the overhead power-cables).
One irony was the greater feeling of speed in the 0 series. Although we were going around 70km/h slower, it felt faster than the 700 series. I think the extra height (and so being closer to the power cables, i.e. something close by to see relative speed) made the speed feel more real. The darkness also confirmed something that I learnt on a later trip to Japan from one of those involved in the design of the shinkansen, that there is little use for the headlights – you certainly cannot see very far with them on and my video only really became worthwhile after I turned on the infrared. Arriving in Tokyo was a strange experience – pulling into the station at around 10pm with no announcements about which platforms to go to, etc.
The 0 series may not be what most of us think of when we picture high-speed rail travel in Japan now, but my journey on 0 series Doctor Yellow reminded me of the magic of the 0 series and why it is so fitting that this symbol of Japanese modernity will have a place in the National Railway Museum in York (UK) rather one of its modern descendents.
As for the retired Dr Yellows, T3, which was also based on the 0-series, is now in the SCMaglev and Railway Park in Nagoya. I visited there in 2013 as part of another visit to JR Tokai and had my photograph taken with the train…