This year JR West will introduce a new long-distance train linking key areas of western Japan. The new train is called the West Express Ginga and offers a variety of seating and sleeping options to suit the varying needs of different travelers. The name “Ginga” means “galaxy” or “milky way” in Japanese, but for railway fans the new train’s name is evocative of the original Ginga train, an overnight express sleeper train that ran between Tokyo and Osaka between 1949 and 2008. The new West Express Ginga is flexible in that it can operate either as a daytime or overnight service. Initially it will run as a sleeper service between the Kansai and Sanin regions, but from October it is scheduled to run as a daytime service between Kansai and the Sanyo Region.
The new train has been created by remodeling a 6-car JNR #117 series train that previously ran as a commuter train on the Sanyo and Tokaido main lines. The #117 series was first introduced in 1979, so the train’s basic form has a vintage appearance which is enhanced by its new exterior coloring: a deep lapis lazuli blue which represents the beautiful sea and sky of western Japan. There are also white lines on the sides of the train that represent the long distances it will travel and the hope that this train will have a long future!
The train’s interior has been thoroughly refurbished with different seating and sleeping options to suit different budgetary needs, and there are several free areas which passengers can use just as they please. Let’s take a closer look with a tour of the cars.
Car 1 has reserved Green car (1st class) seating. This car has seating for 16 passengers during daytime services or 8 passengers when running a sleeper service. Box seats are arranged in pairs with a large table and table lamp. Each box can seat two people during daytime journeys, or one passenger for overnight trips when the table can be folded away and the box seating can be converted into a single bed.
Car 1 also has a lounge space stocked with literature related to the journey.
Car 2 is a standard car reserved for female passengers only and has a mixture of reclining seats and couchette style sleeping areas.
Couchette sleeping berths are fitted with individual lighting and storage space for your luggage.
Car 3 has both standard compartment seating and “family cabins”.
The family cabin has bench style seating that can be folded out into a sleeping space and can hold 3-4 people.
Car 3 also has a free space area which passengers can use when they want to get up and stretch their legs.
Car 4 is a multi-purpose recreational space.
Four of the tables in this car have inlaid board games such as chess and backgammon, and this car will also be used for events.
Car 5 is a standard car with couchette style sleeping areas.
These sleeping areas have so called “nobi-nobi” seats on which you can lie flat and sleep.
Car 6 has premium green car private cabins with bench style seating that can be converted into beds. There are four private cabins for multiple passengers and one cabin for single travelers. During daytime travel the cabin for multiple passengers can hold 3 people and for overnight trips just 2.
Car 6 also has a free space area where passengers can sit and watch the scenery flow by.
The West Express Ginga will initially run two round trips a week as an overnight limited express train linking Kyoto and Osaka in the Kansai region with Izumo city in Shimane Prefecture. From October to March of 2021 it is scheduled to run as a daytime limited express service and run between Osaka and Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture. As this is a limited express train there is a limited express surcharge on top of your reserved seat fare as well as any Green car or non-standard seating fees. However, this train is covered by the Japan Rail Pass.
The West Express Ginga was originally scheduled to operate from May 8th 2020, but unfortunately its debut was postponed due to the COVID-19 state of emergency in Japan. As a safety measure this train and other long-distance trains such as the “Twilight Express Mizukaze”, the “Thunderbird”, and the “Haruka” are now being fitted with air purification systems to reduce the risk of infection. Though we do not yet know when the West Express Ginga will finally make its debut, looking at the pictures above we can still enjoy dreaming of the many happy journeys to come.
Article by Michael Lambe. Images courtesy of JR West. All rights reserved.