NIIGATA -- Japan's only all-double-decker shinkansen bullet train E4 series is set to be retired from regular operations on Oct. 1.
Crew members and maintenance staff with operator East Japan Railway Co. are set to bid a fond farewell to the popular "Max," or "multi amenity express" -- a train series that has embodied mass passenger transport since the 1990s.
"It left a strong impression when passengers cheered after they saw how high the view was when they entered the upper deck," said Masayuki Ito, 44, who has worked as a conductor on "Max Toki" and "Max Tanigawa," which connect Tokyo and the city of Niigata to the northwest.
"I want people to see Max's majestic figure right to the end," said Ito, ahead of its final run.
The E4 series was born against a backdrop of trends such as long-distance commuting to central Tokyo and the skiing boom. Its operation was launched in 1997 to realize mass passenger transport amid increased demand on the Joetsu Shinkansen Line, which connects Tokyo, the northern Kanto region and Niigata. One unit of the E4 series train consists of eight double-decker carriages. When two units are connected, the seating capacity of the 16-carriage train is 1,634 -- the world's largest for a high-speed train.
The preceding E1 series, which was retired in 2012, consisted of 12 cars, and did not allow for multiple trains to be connected. In contrast, the E4 series' first car has a coupling device, making it possible to operate flexibly using the eight carriage units.
The upper deck of the first car is spectacular. Each row has 3+3 seating, which is rare for a shinkansen. To secure space, seats are non-reclining and have no armrests. The train door entrance area was designed 30 centimeters wider than conventional models to allow passengers to board and alight smoothly. Compared to the E1, the E4 series is lighter in weight and also makes less noise by adopting a "long nose" to reduce wind resistance on the first car.
(Japanese original by Yosuke Tsuyuki, Niigata Bureau)