The Red List of Trains in Japan

JNR 381 series

Limited Express Yakumo

Data (as of 6 Jul 2024)

Status:  Critically Endangered 
 (JR West)
 Extinct 
 (JR Central)
Constructed in: 1973-82
Number built: 277
Registered: 21

History

The 381 series is the first tilting train in Japan for regular passenger service. Due to topographical reasons (steep gradients and tight curves), intercity trains in Japan were far slower than those in other developed countries. Hence, Japanese National Railways has decided to develop a new tilting train that can run faster even in mountains.

The series looks like other limited express EMUs such as 183 series and 485 series, but the body of the 381 series is mainly made of aluminium while others are made of steel. Outdoor units of air conditioning were installed below floor to keep the train stable, making the roof empty except pantographs.

JNR introduced the 381 series to Limited Express Shinano (Nagano - Nagoya), Kuroshio (Tennoji - Shingu) and Yakumo (Okayama - Izumoshi). The tilting system contributed to making journey times shorter but it also made the train uncomfortable, and passengers gave the trains nicknames using words like "exhaustion" and "vomit".

In 1987, JR Central and JR West succeeded the series. Those owned by JR Central were replaced with 383 series in 1996, but a few of them remained for twelve more years and used for extra services during peak seasons. JR West used them until 2015 for not only Kuroshio but also other limited express trains in Kyoto, Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures including Hashidate (Kyoto - Amanohashidate) and Konotori (Shin-Osaka - Kinosakionsen).

Since 2021, the 381 series had been the last JNR electric train type that is used for regular limited express services and thus highly popular among railway enthusiasts. The series was withdrawn from regular Yakumo services in 2024, superseded by 273 series.


Current Operations & Future Prospects

There has been no regular service of the 381 series since June 2024, but according to newspapers, 10 carriages remain for a while and will be used for Yakumo (Okayama - Izumoshi) during high seasons. It is not clear at the moment when they really retire, but possibly in early-2025.


Photos

JNR Limited Express Livery, to which the 381 series was originally painted.



When the 381 series were running in the middle of Osaka as Kuroshio.



"Panorama Green Car", the refurbished first class carriage. It is also available on Yakumo.



Super Yakumo livery was seen in 1994-2011 and restored in 2023.



Green Yakumo was adopted in 1997 but was changed to the current livery (white and red with light green bands) by 2011. A four-car unit was restored to green in 2023.




(Updated: 6 Jul 2024)



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