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With the privatization of JNR, on the 1st of April 1987, the whole 213 Series fleet was inherited by JR West. The Great Seto Bridge, and with it, the Seto-Ooashi Line, was opened on the 11th of April 1988, with 213 Series set finally commencing the Marine Liner rapid services between Takamatsu and Okayama they were intended for.
To increase the capacity of these trains (and to overall increase the attractiveness of the service), JR West decided to introduce unique panoramic, reserved seating cab cars, classified as the KuRo 212 series. Five units of these were manufactured by Kinki Sharyo in 1988, each one fitted a different livery: a common base of candid white and dark blue small lines, with the main band being either pink, acqua green, green, orange or yellow.
Around the same time, a general re-formation of the 213 Series fleet was implemented, mixing togheter the original JNR-built sets, the KuRo 212 cab cars and a variety of individual newly-made cars to “even out the consists”. After the reorganization, JR West ended up with 12 213 Series 3-car sets, with five of them being fitted with the KuRo 212 panoramic cab car at their “Takamatsu end”. In normal operation, Marine Liner sets were formed of two or three coupled 213 Series 3-car sets for a total of six or nine cars (always with the KuRo 212 at the Takamatsu end). However, due to the immense popularity of the Marine Liner services, their capacity always remained a bit stretched, as demand for commuter services between Okayama and Sakaide station was, and still is partly to this day, very high.
However, after 15 years in service shuttling people between Honshu and Shikoku, 213 Series trains started to suffer from saltwater corrosion damage to the underframe equipment. Furthemore, as all sets were owned by JR West, JR Shikoku had to pay a fee for the usage of these trains. As such, in early 2003, a replacement for the 213 Series was introduced: JR Shikoku’s 5000 Series, wich was a direct derivative of JR West’s 223 Series (and was to be used in multiple-unit working formation with the latter’s -5000 Subseries).
Capable of a 130Km/h top speed (compared to the 110Km/h of the 213 Series) and fitted with a double-deck cab car, the new 5000 Series sets began operation on Marine Liner services with the fall timetable change, on the 1st of October 2003, instantly replacing the 213 Series sets that had been in service until then.
After their retirement from Marine Liner services, JR West decided to transfer 213 Series to local service workings in the Okayama area. With the transfer, the KuRo 212 cab cars were removed from all consists and stored, before being all eventually scrapped in 2008.
With the removal of the five cab cars, there were now five 213 Series sets without a cab on one end – to solve this problem, JR West decided to retrofit cabs to the five intermediate cars that the “cab-less” sets had. The conversion works were carried out by JR West’s Suita workshops and consisted in the cutting away 1.9m of the trailer cars’ bodyshell and replacing it with a “pre-made” conventional steel cab portion of equal lenght (with the front design made to be as similar to the original 213 Series’ front one), wich was later welded in place. The results was a bit crude, but effective nonetheless.
Another important modification was fitting the newly converted cab cars (re-classified as KuHa 213-100 Series) with a large universal accessible toilet.
After yet another re-organization, in 2004 JR West ended up still with twelve 213 Series sets (numbered C1 to C12), however in different formations: sets C1 to C3 were former 3-car sets that had their intermediate trailer removed, leaving only the two “original” cab cars, sets C4 to C6 and C12 were nearly-unchanged 3-car sets, while sets C7 to C11 were the five 2-car sets that had the KuHa 213-100 cab car.
Out of these, all the two car sets (C1 to C3 and C7 to C11) plus the 3-car C12 set had also been converted for one-man operation, while the C4 to C6 sets kept their conductors.
213 Series sets were re-deployed on various local services running out of Okayama, primarily on the Uno Line (all the way to Uno Station) but also on the Hakubi Line (as far as Niimi Station) and the Ako Line as far as Banshu-Ako station. Sometimes the 213 Series sets are also used as local trains on the JR West section of the Seto-Ooashi Line, between Kojima station and Okayama.
However, the transfer to local duties hasn’t meant the end of Seto Bridge crossing services for the 213 Series, as occasionally, when a JR Shikoku 5000 Series isn’t avaible, one or two 213 Series sets (usually picked from sets C4 to C6) is put in service in it’s place. Such was the case between February and mid-April 2007 (a 5000 Series set had suffered a crash with a truck at a level crossing and was undergoing repairs) and between the 11th and the 12th of June 2009 (here instead a 5000 Series window had been smashed by debris).
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Great Seto Bridge, on the 10th of April 2008, a “Marine Liner Revival” service was operated between Okayama and Takamatsu with two coupled 213 Series 3-car sets with all seats reseved.
As of today, all of JR West 213 Series sets (altough not in their original “state”) are in service, being a common sight along the Uno, Ako and Hakubi Lines. Some of them were also recently refurbished (and one 2-car set was also trasformed into the “La Malle du Bois” tourist train operating on the Uno Line), and with no replacement planned yet, 213 Series trains will continue to run around Okayama for the forseeable future.
Due to the due to the immense popularity of the Marine Liner services in the early days of the Great Seto Bridge, seats reservation for the panoramic KuRo 212 cab cars were fully sold out days before the scheduled service, and overall, the Marine Liner services were so crowded that often JR West and JR Shikoku had to run additional services with whatever stock they had avaible (including KiHa 181 Series Turbine DMUs and 111, 115, 117 and 167 Series EMUs).
Model Trivia #1
With all due probability, it took me more time to make the base KuRo 212 panoramic cab car model (the pink one in this case) than to make all the other 213 Series cars combined.
Said KuRo 212 is in fact now the current recold holder for the “most complex base shape i’ve ever made in a 3D modelling program”.