The Red List of Trains in Japan

JR East E501 series

Data (as of 6 Jul 2024)

Status:  Endangered 
Constructed in: 1995-97
Number built: 60
Registered: 60


The E501 series is a type of dual-voltage commuter train, initially developed for Joban Line (Rapid). Unlike other commuter and suburban rail lines in Greater Tokyo Area, Joban Line beyond Toride station is electrified with AC 20 kV AC (50 Hz), meaning that ordinary commuter trains compatible only with DC 1.5 kV cannot run beyond the station. However, 415 series, the suburban trains on the Line had only three sets of doors per carriage and some of them had transverse seating, resulting in severe congestion. Therefore, JR East introduced the commuter train with four sets of doors and longitudinal seating to make services less crowded.

The E501 series looks like 209 series, but JR East initially installed Simens inverters for traction, making it one of only three trains in Japan that produced melodies when departing (the other two were Keikyu 1000 and 2100 series). Unlike the Keikyu trains, the E501 series produced melodies when stopping as well. However, the traction was replaced with domestic products in 2007-12.

The E501 series trains were initially used on Joban Line mainly between Ueno and Tsuchiura, and always formed of 15 coaches. JR East planned to introduce more units to replace old trains but the company changed its mind later due to financial reasons. The E501 series trains were superseded by E531 series in 2007 and reallocated to Ibaraki and Fukushima Prefectures. They were also used on Mito Line but the company found that switching between AC 20 kV and DC 1.5 kV often caused serious technical troubles so that the series were taken out of the Line in 2018.

In 2023, a five-car unit was converted to E501 SAKIGAKE, an excursion train with tables serving sake and snacks. It has been decorated with pink and ivory patterns and runs in Mito area mainly on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

Current Operations & Future Prospects

The E501 series units are used for stopping services on Joban Line between Tsuchiura and Iwaki (but mostly Mito and Iwaki) in accordance with fixed timetables, and they are no longer consisted of 15 coaches. JR East has implemented driver-only operation in the area since 2023 but the E501 series trains still require a conductor. Thus, their work has been cut dramatically and remaining units run only at peak times.

According to the trade union, the series would retire when a refurbishment programme of the E531 series is completed, which might be in the mid-2020s. It is also unlikely that E501 SAKIGAKE will be active for many more years.

(Updated: 6 Jul 2024)

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