Japan: The passenger operator unveiled the first E8 high-speed train for the Tsubasa train service in its depot at Rifu. The train will operate on the Tokyo–Shinjo route of 403 km in the northern part of Honshu island. The commercial operation is scheduled to start in the spring of 2024 after a yearlong trial service.
Ken Okuyama Design company devised the train, and Kawasaki and Hitachi Rail manufactured it. The new rolling stock is expected to replace 15 seven-car E3 series EMUs which entered service in 1995–2009.
Although the new vehicles are faster than E3 trains, 300 km/h compared to 275, they will operate on the line with significantly lower speeds. For example, the line of 30 km in an urban area between Tokyo and Omiya station (Saitama) and 149 km section in mountains and with many sharp curves between Fukushima to Shinjo allow a maximum speed of only 130 km/h.
According to JR East, to increase the speed, the nose part was lengthened from 6 to 9 m. The new EMUs have 355 seats: 26 of the first class, and 329 of the second. The number of seats is 39–47 fewer compared to the previous series but that is not a disadvantage. The new vehicles have space for wheelchairs and other improvements for physically challenged passengers.
The nose of E8 high-speed train by Kawasaki Rail and Hitachi Rail. Source: tetsudo-shimbun.com
Each E8 train has five motor cars and a body of aluminium alloy. The traction system ensures operation on AC 20 kV and 25 kV lines. Active suspension improves comfort in motion, especially when running through mountains west of Fukushima.
In March 2020, JR East placed an order for 17 seven-car E8 trains. Later they revised the ridership forecasts during the COVID-19 pandemic and reduced the number of trains to 14 units. When the traffic recovered, in May 2022 the ordered number changed again, to 15. The entire new fleet is expected to be delivered by 2026.