A year after the retirement of its popular predecessor, a new luxury sleeper train is making its debut. Production of the Twilight Express Mizukaze, which will be launched by West Japan Railway Company (JR West ) in the spring of 2017, is reaching its peak.
Besides observation cars at the front and back, the 10-car train will feature a dining car, a lounge car, and six passenger cars. Passenger cars will come in three classes— suite, twin, and single—with a maximum capacity of 30 people. The trains are being manufactured by Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Kinki Sharyo.
On February 24, the observation cars manufactured by Kinki Sharyo were shown to the press. Because the driver’s compartment is higher than the public space, with windows that reach the roof, passengers can step outside onto the observation deck and feel the wind.
Observation decks in the last car
Trains with observation decks in the last car of the train used be commonplace in Japan, from the special express Tsubame to JR West’s recent SL Yamaguchi . Mizukaze has also adopted this feature. It is difficult to imagine passengers standing on the observation deck of the lead car, so it is likely that passengers will look outside from the observation deck of the last car. According to JR West: “A limit hasn’t been decided, but three to four adults can stand on the deck.”
As seen in the final computer graphic image , the train exudes the atmosphere of a specially made luxury train. However, the actual steel body is similar to that of the usual special express trains on the commuter line. When the observation deck is combined with the steel body, the silhouette is that of a long hood special express train.
“We designed it from start to finish without relying on the designs of current trains,” says Masaki Omori, manager of JR West’s car design section. “However, any train with the driver’s compartment so high up is going to look similar to other such trains.”
An example of a train with this design is the 683 series used for JR West’s special express, Thunderbird. It is constructed with through doors so that even when two cars with drivers’ compartments are connected, passengers can still pass through, since the drivers’ compartments are located above.
On Mizukaze the driver’s compartment is placed above the observation deck. At the foundation of this design can be seen the accumulation of JR West’s experience in designing safe commuter line trains. “On the surface, the train may be luxurious, but structurally, the train has been made to be safe,” Omori says. “We would be satisfied if people can sense JR West Japan’s safety first thinking in the Mizukaze.”
Like its predecessor, Twilight Express, Mizukaze has a green body. However, according to JR West, Mizukaze’s green is not entirely the same as the original Twilight. It is an “evolved, even more gorgeous shade of green.”
Mizukaze was designed by architect and interior designer Kazuya Ura and industrial designer Tetsuo Fukuda. Ura has designed numerous guest house facilities for hotels and companies and was involved in the design of the Kyoto State Guest House. Starting with the N700 series Shinkansen (bullet train), Fukuda has contributed to numerous railway car designs. The concept for the exterior of the cars is called “nostalgic modern”. It is a design that combines old-fashioned charm with a modern touch.
The hybrid-diesel-powered and motor-driven cars allow the train to run even where there are no overhead wires. In other words, it can run on various service lines. Routes include the Sanyo Route that passes through Kurashiki and Onomichi along the Seto Inland Sea and the San-in Route that passes through Izumo and Tottori Sand Dunes along the Japan Sea. There is also a round trip of two nights and three days that combines the Sanyo and San-in routes.
The area serviced by JR West has a number of famous tourist spots, including World Heritage sites. New service routes are certain to be added to the ones above. In the future, routes may even extend to those belonging to other companies, such as East Japan Railway Company (JR East).
One of the joys of travel is the dining experience. In the past, the authentic French cuisine offered on the Twilight Express made the journey even more extravagant . Mizukaze is also putting a lot of effort into its dining experience. Seven “masters of Japanese cuisine” will oversee the entire breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, offering everything from French to Japanese cuisine.