Monday, 24 September 2007

Tokyo - Nagoya

Oigawa Steam Railway

Another busy day, up at 6.00 a.m., early breakfast, check out of the Imperial, with regret - I was very comfortable there. Travelling light, for a change, because I sent my big case ahead yesterday, as recommended by 'Inside Japan', who made all the bookings. Walked to Ginza subway station and travelled one stop to Tokyo Main Station. This time, I found my way to the Shinkansen platforms without much trouble but it was more through instinct than because of the signage. My tickets worked in the gate and I found my reserved seat without difficulty. We left on time. I was on train KODAMA 535. Because I was going to one of the non-major destinations, I was on a stopping bullet train. These stop at more stations and, whilst at the station, are passed by one or more through trains. In between these stops, they go like the clappers. Going South from Tokyo, its all quite built up, although you can often see wooded hills and mountains in the distance. No, we didnt see Mount Fuji. I gather that this is usually the case at this time of year.

At 10.39 am we arrived at Kakegawa, apparently a large, modern town. Now, the directions I'd been given were rather ambiguous but, by assuming that my onward ticket was correct and with a lot of faith, it worked out. The Shinkansen new station is next to the old Japan Railways Tokaido Line station so it was an easy job to transfer. Then I had to work out which direction to go but I chose correctly. A 3-car electric multiple unit came in at 10.59, two stops and I detrained at Kanaya. This is, at best, a small town. Immediately outside the station, I found a number of people entering what looked rather like a run down shop, but I spotted a faded picture of a steam train so, yes, I was at the Oigawa Steam Railroad! My ticket admitted me to a short bay platform now fenced off from the main station and a rather elderly 2-car electric railcar was waiting. A few passengers got on but, as most people were hanging back and there was no sign of a steam locomotive, I remained on the platform as the railcar disappeared, hoping I'd done the right thing. A little later I was sure I heard a steam locomotive and soon a 7-coach train appeared with an old BoBo overhead electric leading. The pall of smoke suggested a steam locomotive at the other end, but four coaches overhung the platform so it was hard to tell. My ticket gave no suggestion of a seat reservation so I found a seat in the fairly-empty train until the guard came with a computer printout and decided I had a seat reserved at the other end of the train. Although the seat coverings were in fair condition, the coaches were in a fairly poor state of preservation and the impression was not improved by the muddy brown paint scheme. But each window can be lifted up - guillotine style - so at least you can see out.

About 11.48 we set of with the steam locomotive leading but it was obvious that the electric at the rear was doing a lot of work. I don't know whether the top-and-tail working was because of the holiday and the 7-coach load but the electric stayed with us. After a few minutes we stopped at a fair-sized station and the train filled up. I presume there's a car park there for people coming by road. We set off again, with the electric still doing more than his fair share, judging by the commutator whine from the traction motors. The line runs up the valley of the Oigawa River, occasionally crossing over and it's certainly pretty. There are colour light signals and the line has overhead d.c. electrification throughout. Most of the masts are wooden. The line is 3 foot 6 inch gauge, like most Japanese lines - although the Shinkansen Lines appear to be Standard Gauge. We stopped at a number of stations with passing loops, frequently crossing an electric railcar coming the other way. The terminus is up in the hills at Senzu and we arrived about right time at 13.12. Everybody wanted their photograph taken on the footplate or standing on the front framing of the steam locomotive, so it was very difficult to get technical shots for about 20 minutes. The train had come right up to the buffer stops so the engine release crossover was blocked. The fireman had put in a water hose to replenish the side tanks. The electric dropped off the back and came and stood next to the steamer. Eventually, a shunter called on the steam locomotive to set back the stock and the driver let the fireman do this. The shunter unhooked the train - a single air brake pipe to detach and the knuckle coupling can be released by operating a handle accessible from either side. The fireman dropped the engine forward and, when the points were reversed, the engine disappeared to the other end of the train. The shunter then brought the electric through the crossover and set him back onto the train so that the electric would be Tail End Charlie again on the way back.

Yesterday, the Imperial had telephoned the railway for me to see if there was a English-speaker I could talk to but the railway said "Sorry, we have no English speakers". That seemed to be the case. Although on Japan Rail staff tend to have at least limited English, the steam railway seemed to speak Japanese only. I didn't spot another foreign traveller on the train, either. I'd sort of expected it might be a mecca for foreign railway enthusiasts. There were certainly plenty of Japanese both on the train and trackside with serious cameras clicking away.

The kindest thing to say about the 2-6-4 tank which had brought us up was that it's a hard working engine - it was a bit beat-up and reminiscent of locos in Ukraine and India. I'm afraid the whole railway wears a rather run-down appearance. There was an interesting railway museum of memorabilia, artefacts and models but this, too, had a rather forgotten appearance. The line continues beyond Senzu into the mountains and it uses an Abt rack on the steeper parts. This section wasn't running but I saw the rather diminuitive red coaches they use. There was no sign of the diesel locomotives which haul these trains. I had a wander round soaking up the laid-back atmosphere of the place and looking at the river then I had an ice cream cornet before joining the train for the return journey.

We had a pleasant and uneventful journey back to Kanaya. Video clip leaving an intermediate station . The rain which had threatened did not materialise and the sun came out. Everybody seemed in good spirits. On arrival, I made my way across to the Japan Rail station to await the 16.56 local which returned me to Kakegawa. I had a little wait for the Shinkansen I was booked on - KODAMA 549. It arrived on time as it was getting dark and after a few stops we arrived at Nagoya. The underground circulating areas at this large station are about as confusing as those at Tokyo but my hotel - the Nagoya Marriott Associa - has an underground entrance directly off the station so I located it without problem. The hotel itself is in a tower block - I'm on the 36th floor. The hotel business centre I'm using to write this closes at 10.00pm so I will stop there.

Incidentally, the computer I'm using has moved all the punctuation keys so this report was initially issued without some punctuation. I'm also trying to upload photographs, but that won't be complete when I get thrown out! Ah well, tomorrow is another day.

Pictures of Japan's modern railways
Pictures of the Oigawa River.
Pictures of the Oigawa Steam Railway