Narita Express N’EX E259 Series

Express Train Design for East Japan Railway Company (2009)

On May 8, 2009, the East Japan Railway Company announced a new train model in the N’EX E259 Series; it was put into operation in the autumn of 2009. Following the success of its predecessor, the N’EX 253, GK Industrial Design was commissioned to design the new nodel.

Access to International Aiport
N’EX (Narita Express) is a special express train connecting Narita Airport and the city centers in the Greater Tokyo area. From it’s debut in 1991, the initial train type of the N’EX 253 series was highly regarded for its quality of design and convenience. It soon became the synonym for express trains connecting Narita Airport and Tokyo.
However after 18 years of service, signs of wear began to appear on the surface of the bodies. And it also came to light that the Keisei Electric Railway Co., Ltd. was planning to develop a new body for it’s competing Skyliner Airport Express, its own direct express to Narita- launched in 1990.

Train Body Structure
East Japan Railway Company changed its train body policy with the 209 series developed in 1990 for the Keihin Tohoku commuter line. The company reviewed the train body structure, and decided to use recyclable materials as much as possible in order to halve the conventional life of the body of 30 years, and offer new models more frequently. As the first generation N’EX 253 model bodies were made of steel, rust began to appear. It affected the paint, and to cover the parts where paint had fallen away, polyester putty or thick painting was applied, making the deteriorated parts that much more conspicuous. As of 2009, the majority of newly manufactured commuter train bodies have a stainless steel double skin structure, and Express train bodies have an aluminum double skin structure (extruded aluminum). Since the new N’EX E259 series trains have an aluminum double skin structure, the corrosion resistance and smoothness of the body surface are enhanced.

 

Frontal design
The exterior of the initial N’EX 253 series was characterized by its coloring and frontal configuration that gives off a speedy and stable impression as the roof of the front car leans forward. In fact, the frontal configuration is determined by the height of the driving room and other elements of the internal structure of the front car. It is especially difficult to design what is called the penetrating type coupling that joins the front cars. As a selling point of the N’EX service is its multiple terminals, coupling and separating front cars, this remained a requirement.
For the new N’EX E259 series, in addition, passengers would be allowed to go back and forth between the connected cars. Because of these conditions, the height of the driving room was set at the same height as that of the former Japan National Railways Special Express trains. The simple and modern image of the first N’EX 253 series was further polished to make the new N’EX E259 series edgy and attractive.

More sophisticated N’EX brand
The total design concept for the initial N’EX 253 series was “a valuable mobile space.” For the new N’EX E259 series, this concept was further elaborated upon in the seats covered with leather for the first-class cars, the first case among the special express trains of East Japan Railway Company, and the application of fine details. To express the uniqueness of Japan in the interior in a way that would be appropriate for an entrance to Japan, the traditional checked pattern was applied using advanced methods. In order to enhance punctuality as the greatest advantage, the new N’EX E259 series trains were equipped with a backup operating system in case of mechanical trouble. The addition of the latest IT technologies and crime prevention technologies perfected the N’EX E259 series  as an airport express train. The brand image of Narita Express will be reinforced with these new developments in body structure(s) and new technological methods.

Concept Examination
The basic concept of the original N’EX 253 series – to extend hospitality to passengers- is highly regarded. This would be carried over to the new type in a more contemporary manner.
The first N’EX 253 series was one of the primary train bodies of Japan Railways after the privatization of the Japan National Railways, even though the train structure was conventional. There were luxurious furnishings such as a single row of seats along the window sides in first-class cars, and hat-rack style luggage racks like those in an aircraft. But GK found that the requirements of today were different. Realistic needs for large-size toilets for wheelchair users and multipurpose rooms, and the requirement of higher passenger capacity had to be met.
N’EX connects Narita Airport and major terminal stations in and around Tokyo such as Shinjuku, Ikebukuro, Hachioji, Yokohama and Omiya allowing passengers to board it from the stations nearest to their homes instead of Tokyo Station. As the traveling time in N’EX trains is longer than the competitor’s lines, GK wanted to make the time spent in the train to be higher in quality. The design concept of the interior space was thus determined to help passengers feel like “taking an N’EX, and spending a relaxing time there.”

Toward Future Railway Design
Since the privatization of the former Japan National Railways in 1987, train car designs and services have been diverse, resulting in the creation of a new railway culture. Railways are part of an important infrastructure onto which the needs of contemporary society must be reflected. In the future, more environmental consideration will be required of train cars. For example, the application of fuel cells can and will be considered. As trains in Japan have been electrically operated for some time now, it is generally considered to be easier to apply fuel cells to them than to automobiles. When this is realized, a more beautiful landscape without power lines and overhead wires alongside railways can be realized. With the further advancement of IT, the relationship between the public and the private may go through changes. Railway service itself may change.
It has been said that even if the crowded Chuo Line trains were better designed, the number of passengers would not change, this is true. Even so, we consider it all the more important to design towards a better infrastructure as we use in our everyday life.

Kosuke Wakao, GK Industrial Design

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