Popular Cassiopeia sleeper train makes final regular service run


East Japan Railway Co.’s flagship Cassiopeia sleeper train completed its last return journey from Sapporo to Tokyo on Monday morning, marking the end of an era.

Cassiopeia will now disappear from the rail operator’s timetable after the 17-hour trip wrapped up at JR Ueno Station.

JR East ended the regular service between the capital and Sapporo ahead of the opening later this month of the Hokkaido Shinkansen Line.

The new line will open Saturday and use the same long undersea tunnel utilized by the overnight limited express that connects the main island of Honshu with Hokkaido.

When the train returned to Ueno at 9:25 a.m. Monday, about 2,200 rail fans greeted the locomotive-driven silver sleeper cars, took photos and yelled “Thank you.”

It followed a similar greeting by about 400 spectators when it arrived at Sapporo Station on Sunday morning.

“Railway buffs waved from platforms at every station as they watched the train leave. That was touching,” said Takako Yamazaki, 42.

The Utsunomiya, Tochigi Prefecture, resident — who took the train Saturday to Sapporo with her husband and three children — said she would miss the flagship overnight train.

Cassiopeia debuted in 1999 and has been popular with travelers and train fans alike, with its suite, dining and lounge cars offering a premium experience.

Its removal from the regular lineup comes after other overnight express sleeper trains — often painted blue, and nicknamed “Blue Trains” — were discontinued amid dwindling passenger numbers as more people opt to travel by air or the faster shinkansen.

Train operator JR East, however, plans to start using Cassiopeia sleeper cars as a chartered service for package tours in June, and will retain the name.