Sayonara, Doctor Yellow: Shinkansen Test Train Headed for Retirement

Sayonara, Doctor Yellow: Shinkansen Test Train Headed for Retirement

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Doctor Yellow and Mt. Fuji
Picture: Hokuto / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
It's said that "seeing it brings happiness." But no more: Japan's famous "Doctor Yellow" diagnostic Shinkansen train is entering retirement.

It’s been a staple of train fans in Japan for years. However, its time has come to head off towards the sunset (at very high speed). Here’s why Doctor Yellow, the famous Shinkansen test train, is no longer needed.

“Seeing it brings happiness”

Doctor Yellow
Picture: Nozomi / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

A famously recognizable site in Japan, Doctor Yellow is the test train used on the Tokaido and Sanyo Shinkansen lines by both Japan Railways Tokai and Japan Railways West. The train bears equipment that ensures there’s no warping in the tracks and no deficiencies on the routes used by the company’s high-speed “bullet train” cars.

Doctor Yellow runs about once every 10 days. Additionally, its run schedule isn’t officially posted, which makes a sighting rare. Train enthusiasts and Shinkansen users often post sightings of the car to social media. Because seeing it is such a rarity, it’s said that “seeing Doctor Yellow brings happiness” (見ると幸せが訪れる; miru to shiawase ga otozureru).

However, the seven-car train, modeled after the retired Shinkansen 700 series, is showing its age. As a result, both JR companies say it’s time to put the car out of service. JR Tokai says it’ll stop running Doctor Yellow on its lines in January 2025. Meanwhile, JR West says it’ll phase out its use by 2027.

What will replace it? Regular Shinkansen cars. The companies say they’re outfitting the N700S, the model used for the Nozomi and other Shinkansen lines, with similar equipment used in Doctor Yellow.

Doctor Yellow’s important work

Created by JR Tokai, Doctor Yellow first ran in 1964. The company replaced it in 1974 with a faster model based on the Shinkansen 0 series that could travel up to 210 kilometers/hour. The current model, the fifth version, travels 1,100 kilometers in a two-day round-trip at a speed of 285 km/hr (177mph).

On any given day, Shinkansen cars make 400 trips across Japan. With a single car weighing 40 tons, the amount of force exerted on the track is immense and can result in warping and other wear. Doctor Yellow contains a multitude of sensors that check for warping, shocks, and warbling in the cars. If it detects an abnormality, it sends a message to the control room, which dispatches a repair unit that same evening.

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JR Tokai runs a similar train to Doctor Yellow on its non-Shinkansen tracks. Dubbed “Doctor Tokai,” the slower train (it runs at about 120 km/hr) is a three-car diesel train that runs in the same fashion as Doctor Yellow.

Fans mourn Doctor Yellow’s predicted passing

Train fans and even regular people took to social media to share their memories of Doctor Yellow. Popular illustrator Rushiko re-shared a two-page illustration she’d done in which her son goes to the Lego Store and the clerk calls his shoes “cool.” So he takes them off to reveal he’s also wearing Doctor Yellow socks.

Other commenters called the train’s planned obsolescence “the end of an era.” Still other lamented that they’ve never had any Doctor Yellow in their lives – and now, might never get the chance.

“It’s said seeing it brings happiness,” one X user said. “But I’ve never seen it even once…”

What to read next

Sources

「ドクターイエロー」引退へ 2027年めど JR東海とJR西日本発表. NHK News Web

What’s Doctor Yellow? Nihonkikaihosen Co. Ltd.

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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