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End of the line for Japan's only all-double-decker 'Max' E4 series shinkansen bullet train

An all-double-decker E4 series shinkansen bullet train is seen at JR Niigata Station in the city of Niigata. (Mainichi/Yosuke Tsuyuki)

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.

    Joetsu Shinkansen conductor Masayuki Ito, left, and driver Hajime Toshima are seen in the city of Niigata on Sept. 24, 2021. (Mainichi/Yosuke Tsuyuki)

    "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 3+3 seating is seen on the upper deck of the E4 series shinkansen's first car in the city of Niigata on Sept. 24, 2021. The middle seats have no armrests. (Mainichi/Yosuke Tsuyuki)

    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)

    In Photos: Japan's E4 series all-double-decker shinkansen set for last run

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