Friday, March 07, 2008

"Closer to the Process"

Part of what it takes to run an efficient train system is the constant replacement of older trains with newer ones. All well and good, but there are some drawbacks to the newest class of railway car - chief among them being less ventilation than the older ones (they've done away with the roof vents in the newest ones), and then there are things like motor noise....

A quieter train should be a good thing, but quieter is only good if you can relax. When you're packed in as a vertical sardine with a few hundred other sardines in the same train car, then distractions like wind noise and motor noise can be quite welcome as a distraction and indication of speed.

And... something else. The old type trains are manually run, with a throttle lever and a brake lever. The train is taken up to speed with the throttle, and then the throttle is cut back to zero and the train just coasts for a while, until it's lost enough speed that the throttle is thrown back on to get the speed back up. For braking, there's motor braking where the motors are basically turned into generators and some power is pumped back into the lines, and then the regular brakes are used towards the end of the stop.

I bring this up, because I go out to Mitaka from time to time on the Chuo Line and they've been phasing out the 1982 trains over the past year, to the point where there are only a few of the old trains left and soon those will be gone. Last week, I got on one of the old ones, and since it was running just about ten minutes in front of an express, the operator was racing between stations as fast as the train would go so as not to hold up the express (which passes the slower train at Mitaka). I was standing looking out a door window, listening to my MP3 player (Creative), and I could perceive how the operator was running the machinery (motor noise heard over the voice recording I was listening to). They got full on the throttle right out of each station, and left the throttle on full until the train was up to near its maximum speed (about 100km/h I think), at which time they cut the throttle and let the train coast for just ten seconds or so before starting fairly heavy braking for the next station.

So - big deal I guess... but there really is something to be said for sensing the speed of the train through the motor noise, wind leaking through the rattly windows a little, the sound of the metal doors rattling back and forth in their old worn tracks, etc. The more isolated we are from understanding how machinery works, the more numb & ignorant we become. Or not? I hope not.

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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