The International Steam Pages

Preserved Steam in Japan, 2015
The Oigawa Railway

This one of a number of reports about Japan. See also:

James Waite writes of his first experience of steam in Japan. Apart from the Oigawa Railway described below, there are two other railways which regularly operate steam services at weekends within easy travelling distance of Tokyo. The Chichibu Railway to the northwest of the city (, has a C58 class 2-6-2 and, like the Oigawa line, is electrified. The Mooka Railway to the northeast (, has the distinct advantage of not being electrified. Like the Oigawa line it has a C11 and a C12, both of which are usually in working order.

James adds:

"I really enjoyed this visit. Japan has a large enthusiast community. There were several photographers out on the Oigawa line and literally hundreds following the D51 train, causing gridlock on some of the country roads which run close to the line. I didn't meet any other westerners on the railway but the local enthusiasts I met was very friendly and hospitable, some of the photographers going to the length of bagging a place in advance for me in the photo line to make sure I could get the best possible photo. Really kind people.

I've shied away in the past from visiting Japan in the belief that it was an expensive country. This may once have been true but the yen has fallen in value sharply in the past few years. I stayed in a very good hotel at Shimada which cost me only about £38 for the night and the luxury hotel in Koriyama cost little more. Things like eating out and petrol were also cheaper than here. A place well worth discovering!"

The last steam-hauled passenger train on the Japanese National Railways ran on 14th December 1975. More than 2,000 passengers squeezed into its eight coaches and many more were left behind. It was estimated that more than 25,000 people turned out to watch it go past. A few months later steam made a return, this time on the private Oigawa Railway (大井川鐵道 in Japanese), about 200km west of Tokyo which was built between 1927 and 1954 and which had rescued an old Dubs-built 0-6-2T from scrapping on a neighbouring private railway in 1970.

Early in 1976 it bought 2-6-4T no C11 227 (Nippon Sharyo 1108/1942) from the JNR and used it, along with ex-JNR coaches, for a heritage operation which began on 9th July that year, the first in the country to use old main line stock. Steam trains now run nearly every day. In recent years the railway has lost most of its local traffic following road improvements and the heritage trains now form its main business. It holds Japanís Thomas the Tank Engine franchise; Thomas is very big business there! However it comes to an end in two years time and there are concerns that without the income from Thomas the railway may no longer be viable.

The railway was built between 1927 and 1954 and its busiest section was electrified in 1949. The steam trains run over the 37km stretch between Shinkanaya (新金谷), the railwayís operating HQ near the main line junction at Kanaya (金谷) and Senzu (千頭). North of Senzu it was originally a 2ft 6in gauge forestry railway and still has a very restricted loading gauge. At one point its route was flooded by reservoir construction and an avoiding line, using an Abt rack section, was built twenty five years ago. The railway is very scenic and runs alongside the River Oi, one of the largest rivers in Japan, passing tea plantations along much of the route. The railway's website is at Like most railway websites in the country it's in Japanese only but is intelligible via Google Translate. 

There are currently five locomotives in stock, three of which are 2-6-4T's. The oldest is no C10 8 (Kawasaki 1363/1930), the only survivor of the twenty three C10ís which were the state railwayís first new tank locomotives for 21 years. They were built to replace some of the old imported locomotives on suburban and branch line work. When I visited 2-6-4T no C11 227 was running; its sister no C11 190 (Kawasaki 2361/1940) stood in the locomotive shed. The C11ís were a development of the C10ís and 381 were built for the state railway between 1932 and 1947 along with another 18 for private railways. Many have been preserved throughout Japan.

Languishing at the back of the shed was 2-6-0 no C56 44 (Mitsubishi 179/1936), one of 165 members of this class of lightweight 2-6-0ís built from 1934 and one of 90 which were sent to work on the Thailand-Burma railway and converted to metre gauge during the Second World War. It became no 735 on the Thai railways and stayed in service until 1975. It returned to Japan in 1979 and was restored to working order as a 3ft 6in gauge locomotive. Itís being modified to appear as James the Red Engine this summer. Four C56ís are preserved in Japan, two of them in working order. Nine more are preserved in Thailand and one in Burma.

Finally thereís 2-6-2T no C12 164 (Nippon Sharyo 464/1937). The C12ís were a tank engine version of the C56 and 293 were built for the state railway between 1932 and 1948. Many also went overseas, mostly to China, during the Second World War. Their survivors ended up in Vietnam and Java though no C12 164 never left Japan. The locomotive belongs to Japanís equivalent of the National Trust and is on long-term loan. Itís currently awaiting major boiler work and was on display on the turntable at Shinkanaya.

2-6-4T C10 8, built in 1930, is the sole surviving example of this class of 23 locomotives which were forerunners of the C11's.

This is C11 227 on the turntable at Senzu:

The locomotive on the turntable in the night shots is 2-6-2T C12 164.

C11 227 heading northbound.

C11 227 leaves an intermediate station northbound.

C11 227 with the Oi River running past a tea plantation.

Inside the cab of C11 227 at Senzu.

C11 227 ready to head south

Crossiing the Oi River southbound

Rob Dickinson