Japan's Train Buffs Yell For Dr. Yellow

The USA may have the Silver Bullet, and that's fine if you're thirsting for a cold one. Japan's devoted trainspotters, on the other hand, have a Yellow Bullet to cheer them up - the rarely spied shinkansen bullet train, Dr. Yellow.

The "doctor" in the name comes from the train's purpose in diagnosing any problems with the rails or overhead wiring that serves the 1,174 km (729.5 mile) long Tokaido Shinkansen Line  running from Tokyo to Japan's southern port city of Fukuoka.

The bright yellow trains have been operated by JR West for decades but are rarely seen, as they usually conduct their work at night when scheduled passenger trains aren't running. The Dr. Yellow train shown below is an early version dating from the mid to late 1960s. As Japan's shinkansen fleet gets updated, so does Dr. Yellow.

Besides their bright and distinctive paint jobs, Dr. Yellow trains differ in other ways from their bullet train brothers.

Most windows are blacked out and the trains only have 7 coaches, each with a specific purpose. The second car, for example, carries a device designed to measure the wear on the overhead power cable.

Dr. Yellow trains do not have a formal timetable, a fact that makes them even more appealing to the nation's legions of trainspotters.

Buffs quickly learn to browse dedicated websites to find times and places where they might glimpse the train either in motion or at a station stop. Models of Dr. Yellow (right) are popular with trainspotters of all ages.

Besides the thrill train hobbyists get just seeing Dr. Yellow, legend has it that anyone who sees the train will receive happiness and good luck - assuming they're not standing on the tracks when they see it. 

The Dr. Yellow test train operates, often at full speed, about every 10 days. "Based on data provided by Dr. Yellow, maintenance workers on the scene fine-tune electric wires and the rails," explained Nobumasa Naruchi of West Japan Railway Co.'s shinkansen management headquarters. "That's a rewarding job for us." (via The Japan Times, and Ishiguro)