Japanese trains are renowned for their punctuality, comfort and overall reliability. But part of what makes them so reliable is an “unseen” workforce of overnight trains. These trains will be unfamiliar to the everyday rider because they only show themselves after regular service has ended for the day. Working through the wee hours of night and early morning, they perform maintenance work on tracks and electrical wires that ensures a smooth and uninterrupted ride during the day.


the “Electric Inspection Carriage” has a pantograph mounted on the roof just like other trains. But this one inspects the height, voltage and conditions of overhead electric lines.

In a series of stunningly realistic illustrations, 74-year old artist Masami Onishi has recreated these trains in accurate detail. And if these illustrations seem nostalgic of familiar in any way, it’s probably because you’ve come across Japanese toy maker Tamiya’s vintage toy boxes.

At the age of 21, Onishi began working for Japanese toy-maker Tamiya and became the company’s first in-house illustrator. For over 10 years he was responsible for creating all the illustrations of the toys on their boxes before becoming a freelance artist in 1978.

The illustrations of trains seen here are part of Project Toei, an initiative from the The Tokyo Metropolitan Bureau of Transportation to highlight various aspects of the city’s incredible infrastructure.

Trains cause abrasions to the rail that result in increased noise and vibrations. The “Rail Grinding Carriage” detects and smooths out these abrasions at the micrometer level

And does all this maintenance actually work? Well, if you look at the data published by the Japan Transport Safety Board, Japan’s railways have a remarkably low rate of derailments. In 2018 there were just 2 derailments across the entire country. The average over the past 20 years is a bit higher (roughly 10 per year) but have been in a downward trend.

And while it’s not a fair comparison, just for reference the U.S. (according to data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics) had 1376 derailments in 2018. While also in a downward trend, the U.S. has over 1000 derailments each year.

the “Electric Locomotive E5000 Model” tows different train lines into the inspection unit for maintenance. Because certain train lines operate differently, they’re unable to drive themselves into the inspection unit.