to restore a ‘plinthed’ steam loco!
C62-2 4-6-4 Swallow class locomotive at Kyoto.
Photo Henry Tang
(Click on photo to read Henry Tang’s report of a trip to visit the railways of Osaka.)
Japanese railway enthusiasts take their subject no less seriously than enthusiasts in Britain or Poland and the demand for steam-hauled excursions are such that East Japan Railway Co. has decided to restore two ‘plinthed’ steam locomotives to working order.
The railway company has set up an inspection team to check if several ‘plinthed’ locomotives are fit to be restored to running order. If all goes well, the locomotives could be running again from early 2010.
JR East currently has two active steam locomotives, the D51-498, known as the Degoichi, and the the C57-180, nicknamed Kifujin, or Fair Lady.
The D51, which belongs to JR East’s depot in Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture, is used for special trains. The locomotive has been too busy to handle all the requests it receives from event organizers.
The C57, which has been in service since 1999, is used for steam-hauled seasonal services operated on weekends and national holidays between April and November on the Ban-etsu-West Line between Niigata and Fukushima prefectures. Some 52,000 passengers rode the train last year. It is so hard to get a ticket for the train that railway fans have been lobbying the company to improve the situation.
Steam in Japan peaked in 1946 when Japanese National Railways, had 5,958 steam locomotives. Under JNR’s modernization project, most of the engines were scrapped, although some were donated to local authorities. Many of these are now seen on display in parks and other public areas.
The team will collect information on the whereabouts of existing steam locomotives and inspect them to see if they could be restored to working order. Candidates for restoration include a D51-96 on display at the Usui-Toge Railway Culture Center in Annaka, Gunma Prefecture, as well as a C62 Swallow class locomotive, owned by the Hokkaido Railway Co. The 3ft 6in gauge C62s were used on the Tokyo – Osaka service, and one member of the class holds the Japanese steam speed record of 80 mph (129 k/h).
It will take about a year to restore one locomotive and cost roughly 300 million yen (£2¼ million), including the construction of maintenance and storage facilities. Annual maintenance has been estimated at over 50 million yen (£380,000) per locomotive.
Steam hauled specials are also operated by three other JR companies: the Hokkaido Railway, the West Japan Railway and the Kyushu Railway, as well as private train companies including the Mooka Railway, the Chichibu Railway, and the Oigawa Railway.