RIDING A DRIVERLESS TRAIN

Have I gone mad? A train without a driver? And it’s not some sort of thrilling Showground ride?

The driverless train I’m talking about is Tokyo’s Yurikamome line – a computer operated automated transit system linking central Tokyo with Obaida Island with 16 stations along the way.

Bird’s eye view from the train of Tokyo bay

To be clear, this is not a monorail. The Yurikamome runs on rubber tyre wheels on elevated tracks, guided by side walls. And it is a treat in itself, offering wonderful panoramic views en route. For me, I was well and truely in the futuristic world I’d dreamed of in my baby boomer youth.

I originally wrote about the Yurikamome briefly in a feature on my blog last year about the Toyota Megaweb – a Toyota showcase on Obaida Island. The Megaweb has closed, so I’ve diced that blog story. But Obaida Island is still a wonderful place for an easy and very pleasant day trip from central Tokyo, with plenty of interesting attractions including museums, fabulous shopping malls and bay side parks for walking, jogging or even casting a fishing line.

The Island, by the way, was man made back in the mid 1800’s as part of Tokyo’s fortifications prepared in the face of a threatened attack by the American navy. Yes, I did say the 1800’s!

I’ve written more about Obaida Island in my July 23, 2021 article – Tokyo’s Obaida Island (obviously couldn’t think of a good headline for that one!) https://travellingtherese.com/2021/07/23/tokyos-odaiba-island

A clear view of the oncoming Yurikomome train from my seat

The Yurikamome was named after the black headed gull, found commonly in Tokyo Bay and known in Japan as the Yurikamome gull. Its logo reflects this. The bird has been designated an official Tokyo Metropolitan bird – a mascot. Naming the train after the gull is rather appropriate as most of its tracks are high up, overlooking the ground below – flying through the air and giving you a bird’s eye view!

It’s not a long journey, and there are plenty of stops en route to hop on/hop off. The very best seats are the front seats – where the driver would usually sit on a train! So aim for them if possible. The trains run every five minutes on weekdays and every four minutes on weekends, so it’s worthwhile to wait for the next one to try to secure a front seat. I advise a weekday ride when there are less crowds. The main Yurikamome terminus is above ground across a small forecourt just outside the east side of the JR Shimbashi Station. There are plenty of direction signs in English, so it’s all fairly easy to locate.

The Yurikamome service links its main Shimbasi Station with Toyosu Station via Obaida Island. It covers close to 15 kilometres, and takes you across Tokyo’s famous Rainbow Bridge with stops at stations on the Island. Be prepared for an amazing view of both central Tokyo and the Island as it winds its way up from the ground to the Bridge!

Our Tokyo accommodation was close to Tokyo Station, so we took a quick ride on the circular JR Yamanote line to reach Shimbasi Station. I suggest you enjoy a leisurely breakfast and go after peak time.

The Yurikamome is not covered by the JR Pass, but it’s not expensive to ride. You will need to buy a ticket, but no worries as it’s all very easy. The ticket machines at the Yurimomome Shimbashi Station have an English button. Generally the Yurimomome stations are automated and not manned. But at Shimbashi, I’ve noted staff on hand to assist foreigners.

I advise buying a one day ticket for 820 yen – under $9 Australian. This allows you to ride the train all day getting on and off at the various stations along the way to see attractions.

While the pandemic has been on, the service has been updating its carriages. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries delivered forty eight new series carriages to replace the 7200 series late in 2020. They offer improved interior convenience and comfort with newly designed semi high back seats. They also are electric power-driven to realise a better decarbonised and energy efficient economy – or so the train buffs tell me! Importantly, they also feature double screens above each door providing information about the route.

2019 sign aboard the train – improved since with the new series of carriages introduced in 2020

You can access up to date information on the Yurikamome on their english website at:

http://www.yurikamome.co.jp/en/

Part 2 of my latest Road Trip story coming up before the end of this month

For more of my photos check out my instagram account at

https://www.instagram.com/aussieboomer1/

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