West Express Ginga: JR’s Newest Way to Ride the Rails in Style
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JR West refurbished a retired commuter train to create its newest long-distance liner.
From Commuter to Luxury Liner
West Japan Railway Company (JR West) recently rolled out the West Express Ginga, a new long-distance liner that takes a fresh look at luxury. Built from a retired commuter, the train offers passengers traveling between Izumo in Shimane Prefecture and Osaka a relaxing environment at a moderate price.
The West Express boasts an eye-catching wooden interior throughout its six carriages, including artistic trapezoid motifs in the train’s many lounge areas. Passengers can choose among standard reserved seating, business-class, couchette berths, and private compartments, with car 2 dedicated exclusively to female riders.
Unlike traditional luxury liners that put a premium on privacy, the train has open areas in three carriages for passengers to mingle and for special events. JR West decked the train out with abundant lounge space to bring travelers together in a relaxed atmosphere, allowing for new and diverse experiences on every journey.
A Look Inside
Zai Takehiro, who heads JR West’s sales division, says designers gave careful consideration to the private compartments of car 6 so as to give them a sense of openness while maintaining the privacy passengers expect from their higher-priced tickets. “We want customers to enjoy a space all their own, but without feeling closed in,” explains Zai.
Zai says that the West Express Ginga harkens back to an earlier, more leisurely age of train travel: “Since the arrival of the shinkansen, speed has become king. The West Express pushes back against this, changing the focus from getting to a destination quickly to relaxing and enjoying the ride.”
Japan has retired many of the long-distance liners that once crisscrossed the country. But Zai hopes the train will attract domestic and international tourists who have time to sit back and watch the countryside roll by.
A New Idea in Travel
The West Express Ginga is cast in a similar mold as luxury liners like the Twilight Express Mizukaze—a high-end western Japan sleeper service launched in 2017, taking its name from the legendary Twilight Express overnight train connecting Osaka and Sapporo. These so-called cruise trains are built solely with luxury in mind, boasting amenities like lounge areas, gourmet dining, and private sleeping spaces.
However, Zai says that the West Express differs in that it is not a package tour. “We leave it up to passengers to plan their trip. Our main goal is to get them to their destinations in comfort and style.”
The West Express also diverges from the standard model of luxury liners by catering to a broader range of customer, including young families, a group largely ignored by cruise trains. “Instead of offering high-priced amenities, we want everyone who comes aboard to savor the distinct atmosphere and enjoy the unique pleasure of traveling by train.”
Price and Destinations
The liner will run between Izumo and Osaka twice weekly, with stops at all major stations along the route, including Kyoto, Kobe, and Matsue. Service is scheduled to be extended to Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture later in 2020. The fare for a one-way trip from Kyoto to Izumo will start from ¥10,640. Tickets can be purchased at travel agencies, major train stations, and the JR West website.
(Originally published in Japanese on The Page on January 25, 2020. Translated and edited by Nippon.com.)