From right to left: 719-0 Series in the standard, “Akita” and “Akabe” livery and the 719-5000 Series.
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By the late 1980s, right after the privatization of JNR, the rolling stock situation for local trains in the Sendai area (and in the Tohoku region in general) was quite dire: the vast majority of services was operated with a mixture of 451, 453, 455 and 457 Series trains, wich had been designed for express services and had been relegated to local workings after they became surplus due to the opening of the Tohoku Shinkansen. These serieses were completely inadequate for local and suburban services, due to their single doors and all-cross seating services, and since the minimal formation was a 3-car sets, they often were oversized for off-peak needs as well. Furthemore, the earliest batches of 451 and 453 Series trains, wich dated from the early 1960s, were severely aging. While there were also some “good enough” trains avaible in the Sendai area, namely the 417 and 717 Serieses (the latter of wich re-used technical components from withdrawn 451, 453, 455 and 457 Series trains), these however came in a number too small (a total of 15 3-car formations split between the two serieses) to effectively replace all the older express-type trains.
Therefore, to adress this issue, the 719 Series was designed. Based on the very successful 211 Series, the new trains were to be 20Kv 50Hz AC-only electric multiple units formed in 2-car sets. The bodyshell and general appearance was directly derived from the 211 Series’ one, with only a slight change in the passenger windows’ arrangment. The new 719 Series also incorporated several design fetaures derived from JR Central’s 211-5000 Series, wich was being built at around the same time, primarily the lowered assistant driver’s side front window. Finally, to cope with low platforms still present at various stations on rural lines in the Tohoku Area, the doors of the 719 Series were lowered, and a little step was added.
To contain construction costs, the 719 Series was to re-use bogeys and pantographs coming from surplus withdrawn 485 Series express trains. The traction control on these trains was to be a fancy thyristor-controlled continuos phase type, something that worked more or less like a chopper, but without the cost and complexity of it. The traction and braking performance was managed by a 16-bit computer.
Built by Tokyu Car Co., the first three 719 Series sets arrived to Sendai Depot on christmas day of 1989, followed by the other sets at regular intervals until the last of the 42 2-car ordered sets was delivered on the 31st of August 1991. The 719 Series were assigned to local and rapid services on the Tohoku Main Line (including the Rifu branch line), the Senzan Line, the Ban’etsu West Line and the rural section of the Joban Line. All 42 sets were assigned to Sendai Depot and were given the fleet numbers H1 to H42.
Shortly after the completion of the 719 Series’ deliveries, a new batch was ordered by JR East for the Ou Main Line, wich was being regauged to standard gauge in preparation for the commencment of Yamagata “Mini-Shinkansen” services. Classified 719-5000 Series (as opposed to the narrow gauge 719-0 Series), the new trains were JR East’s first standard gauge non-shinkansen trains.
Built by Nippon Sharyo (instead of Tokyu Car Co. like the -0 Subseries), the 12 2-car sets of the 719-5000 Series were delivered between early September and late October 1991, with the whole fleet being assigned to the Yamagata Depot (today the Yamagata Shinkansen Centre, wich as the name say, nowdays is dedicated only to Shinkansen trains) and given the fleet numbers Y1 to Y12.
The 719-5000 Series was very similar to the narrow gauge -0 Subseries, however there were a few differences, besides obviously different bogeys for standard gague tracks: as all the platforms had been rebuilt to match the standard height, on the trains the internal step behind the doors was removed and the livery was changed a little, with the top side band being changed from red to an orange color.
Otherwise, the two subseries shared evrything, including the same traction ststem and the same exact identical bodyshell.
Starting from 2004, the five 719-0 Series sets assigned to Ban’etsu West Line services (H10 to H15) were repainted in an unique “Akabe” livery, inspired by “Akabeko”, a traditional red cow from the Aizu region, wich had been made the regional mascot at around the same time. The new livery fetaured black and red lines, with numerous prints of Akabeko attached to the sides and the front of the cars.
In March of 2017, two of the “Akabe” sets (H10 and H13) were transferred to the Akita area to supplement 701 Series trains. With their transfer, their livery was also changed, with the side band on top being eliminated (like the Akabeko prints on the sides and the front) and the lower band was changed from red and black to the same magenta tonality as found in the 701 Series operating in the Akita area. The front bands however remained black like the ones on the Akabe livery.
However, while their stailess bodyshells granted them protection from corrosion and rust, and their contiuous phase traction control gave them performances comparable to inverter-controlled trains, the presence of an internal step proved to be a fatal thing for the 719-0 Series.
No longer compliant with universal accessibility laws, starting from 2016 the 719-0 Series began to be replaced by the E721-1000 Series, JR East’s new standard AC-only regional train. The replacement was swift and was finalized with the timetable change of spring 2020, with all 719-0 Series being withdrawn on the 14th of March, except for a lone set (formerly H27) wich has been converted into the “FruiTea” tourist train (official classification: 719-700 Series) for sightseeing services on the Ban’Etsu West Line.
On the other hand, while all 42 of the 719-0 Series sets have been retired, all 12 719-5000 Series sets are still in operation, thanks to their higher “specialization” (being standard gauge trains) and the absence of an internal step. 719-5000 Series are still an important asset in JR East fleets, and in more recent times, they have begun to be repaired using components salvaged from scrapped narrow-gauge sets.
As of today only the 12 719-5000 Series sets are in service (plus the sole “FruiTea” set on the Ban’etsu West Line), running local trains between Yamagata and Shinjo, used interchangeably with 701-5500 Series trains. As one of the only three serieses of standard gauge “regular trains” in JR East service (the third one being the 701-5000 Series for Akita Shinkansen services), there aren’t plans to replace them yet. On the other hand, reportedly only one 719-0 Series set has been preserved, no. H40, wich is now stored inside Sendai Depot and is used as a “training set”. All the other 719-0 Series sets are assumed to have been scrapped.