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Japan launches one more hybrid

Hybrid Train E200 Hybrid Train E200.

The brightly coloured Hybrid Train E200 pulled quietly out of the lush, pine-carpeted mountains of rural Japan carrying its first passengers.

Mikihiro Kobayashi, a 27-year-old engineer who took the day off work to see the E200`s debut, said: "I love trains and wanted to check this one out for myself. I hope Japan exports it because the environment is becoming a big issue around the world."

Looking like a slightly sleeker version of the mechanical warhorses that ferry millions of Japanese to work and school every day, the train might pass unnoticed by the keenest trainspotter. But inside it is quieter than a conventional train, thanks to a battery-powered motor that powers it at low speeds.

Designed and run by the transport giant Japan Rail (JR), each 180-million-yen train is powered by a super fuel-efficient diesel engine and lithium-ion batteries that recharge every time the brakes are applied, a system that cuts power, noise and emissions by up to 60 per cent.

Kenji Motate, of JR East, said: "We`re very proud of it. This is a very beautiful area so it is fitting that a train so kind to the environment is debuting here."

The clean-energy prototype will hum its way between picturesque Yamanashi and Nagano Prefectures in central Japan, a hikers` paradise where the revolutionary engine can be tested on all the hills.

Japan is a world leader in the development of hybrid cars and low-emission buses and plans are already well advanced to run a hybrid tram in Tokyo. But a JR spokesman said it was "too early" to contemplate selling the E200 on the open market. "We`re still trying to modify and improve its performance," he said. JR said that it wanted to make the E200 10 per cent more fuel efficient than conventional trains, but admitted that compared to standard diesel trains, its current prototype was expensive.

"We think it is inevitable that we will have to spend money if we are going to save the environment," the spokesman said.

Dennis Berkley




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