‘Dr. Yellow’ train keeps line safe, elates spotters


Kyodo News

NAGOYA — A seven-car shinkansen line inspection train runs about once every 10 days between Tokyo and Hakata in Fukuoka Prefecture, and rail buffs who spot it claim it brings good luck.

The train has been nicknamed “Dr. Yellow” because of its color but it is officially called a comprehensive shinkansen test train.

Nobumasa Naruchi of West Japan Railway Co.’s shinkansen management headquarters said it is “what you might call an X-ray train, in that it collects data on deflections of overhead wires and bending of the rails while running.”

The train’s job is to inspect aboveground equipment.

On Jan. 29, the Tokaido Shinkansen Line was halted in Kanagawa Prefecture when an overhead power catenary severed, apparently after being struck by an out-of-place pantograph — an accordionlike device that extends from the train to touch the wire and thus transfer electricity to the train’s electric motors.

The test train that travels the 1,174-km distance between Tokyo and Hakata is popular with rail fans. An urban legend has it happiness comes to those who spot it.

Its timetable is not published. Nevertheless, a Web site details the places and times it passes so those interested may figure out when they can see it. A cheering crowd with cameras was on hand when Dr. Yellow pulled into Shin-Osaka Station en route to Hakata in December.

All of the coaches’ windows are blocked out. Carriages six and seven house large equipment to gauge signals and electricity. A dome in coach five lets inspectors view pantograph connections.

A special platform under the floor of coach four is used to inspect the tracks.

Gear to control the dome and all data collected by the various diagnostic equipment is fed to coach three. Coach two carries a device to check wear on the overhead power cable. Signals and power are monitored in coach one.

“Based on data provided by Dr. Yellow, maintenance workers on the scene fine-tune electric wires and the rails,” Naruchi said. “That’s a rewarding job for us.”