JR East commuter trains to have old-style windows

You know, ones that can actually open.

Calling it a “renovation of unprecedented scale,” East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) has decided to switch from its slick, wide-view windows, which cannot be opened, to good old-fashioned retractable windows that allow natural ventilation.


The 209 series was touted as a “next-generation commuter train” when it debuted in 1993 and was the first train developed by JR East following privatization of JNR in 1987.

The windows were considered especially cutting-edge. Special heat-absorbing glass makes curtains unnecessary, while the window itself provides an excellent view, twice as wide as the traditional style. Automatic air conditioners control ventilation, and two small windows at the end of the carriages can be opened about 60 centimeters for natural ventilation.

The fixed windows lower the noise level inside the trains, and because of their simpler structure, they even cost about 100,000 yen less than the retractable type.

As a JR official said, the windows were supposedly “a two-birds-with-one-stone tech- nology that made both passengers and JR happy.”

Then it all came crashing down.

In March 2005, a 209-series train carrying about 1,000 passengers was hit with an electrical problem and stalled between Omori and Kamata stations on the Keihin Tohoku Line. The air conditioning cut out. Over the course of the next two and a half hours, the motionless train became a steaming sauna.

Sixteen passengers had to be taken away in ambulances.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport states that train windows “must allow for necessary ventilation.” So JR East decided to renovate.

It’s too bad they can’t figure out some way to open those wide windows. The view is rather nice.