Chichibu Railway

Its attraction is nostalgic steam and busy freight work.
Page 2
Along the Line

Paleo Express, at Kumagaya Coaches at Nagatoro
Paleo Express stationed at Kumagaya, just below the viaduct of the Joetsu Shinkansen. Suhafu-44 coach at Nagatoro. The design of this type, with conductor cabin located outside the rear vestibule and straight car ends, is a common feature of the last version of old JNR coaches.
By Hiroshi Naito

Let's look at a typical trip on a steam train from Kumagaya. The Chichibu Railway Kumagaya station is located adjacent to JR Kumagaya station, just below the viaduct of the Joetsu Shinkansen with an island platform. The steam train comes in towed by a Deki-108 electric locomotive in backward operation. The train consists of four old ex-JNR coaches: two Oha-47s sandwiched between two Suhafu-44s. These cars are the last version of the pre-modernized JNR coaches produced in the early 50s, but well retain the feeling of trains back in the good old days. The design of the Suhafu-44, with its conductor cabin outside the rear vestibule and straight car ends, is a common feature of this old type of JNR coach.

Type 2000 in Hanyu-through service
Type 2000 in Hanyu-through service.
Yorii station
Inside Yorii station. On the left is a train from Tobu Tojo line.
After leaving Kumagaya, the line runs parallel to the Joetsu Shinkansen on the viaduct for a while. Then, leaving the Shinkansen track behind, the train rolls through the Hirosekawara freight yard, past several electric locomotives in their blue livery resting on the right along with a number of hoppers. After passing two stations, the freight branch forming a link to the JR Kumagaya freight depot approaches from the right and converges at Takekawa. From here, busy freight operations share the main line as far as Kagemori, and you will often meet an oncoming freight train at an interlocking station.

Outside the window is rural scenery, with rice paddies and vegetable fields, along with a scattering of houses. In autumn, trees heavily laden with orange-colored fruit can be seen here and there in the yards of houses and fields. These are Kaki (persimmons), a common taste treat in Japan at this time of year.

Just before reaching Yorii, the JR Hachiko Line appears from the right, and the Tobu Tojo Line approaches from the left. Inside Yorii station are three island platforms serving the Hachiko, Chichibu and Tojo lines, respectively, with several sidings in between. After leaving Yorii, the Arakawa (Ara River) appears close by on the left, and the line starts running along the northern bank of the river. On the right now are steep mountain slopes, while on the left is a gorge stretching below covered with thick greenery, with forested mountain slopes beyond the opposite river bank. The train follows a succession of curves tracing the course of the river, and soon reaches Nagatoro, the center of this tourist area. About a third of passengers will likely get off here, and there will usually be a crowed of passengers on the platform observing the steam engine and waiting for a regular train.

Nagatoro Gorge
Nagatoro Gorge.
After leaving Nagatoro, the train soon crosses a high, 159-meter-long bridge to the southern bank of the river, giving a view of the riverbed dotted with large rocks. On the water you might see some rafting boats, one of the popular tourist attractions in the area. The terrain along the line becomes more gentle now, and the route runs straight ahead. After passing several small stations, the train rolls through the Bushu-Haraya freight depot, and on the right you will see a number of hoppers and blue locomotives on sidings. Beyond the yard is the cement complex of Onoda-Chichibu Cement Co.

Bushu-Haraya freight depot Link track to Seibu
The train rolls through Bushu-Haraya freight depot. Beyond the yard is a cement complex of Onoda-Chichibu Cement Co.. On the embankment is Seibu-Chichibu station.
The train next reaches Chichibu station, located in the center of Chichibu City. On the left here also are sidings for freight work. After a short run of a few hundred meters, you arrive at the next station, Ohanabatake, where the line is linked to the Seibu Railway. Up on the embankment adjacent to the track just ahead of the station is Seibu-Chichibu station, which is the terminus of Seibu Railway's Chichibu Line. The "Red Arrow" limited express connects this station to Ikebukuro in Tokyo in about one and a half hours. The link track was completed between Ohanabatake and Seibu-Chichibu in 1989, enabling through service between both railways. Now, on weekends, some through trains are operated as far as Yorii and Mitsumineguchi from Ikebukuro. The through train comes as a single unit up to Ohanabatake, then splits into two trains, which go to Yorii and Mitsumineguchi, respectively.

Continuing on, a sheer mountain soon comes into view on the left. This is Mt. Buko, 1295 m in height and the symbol of the Chichibu district. The train rolls on for a while with the scene of Mt. Buko on the left, and pulls into Kagemori, located at the foot of the mountain.

Mt. Buko Kagemori yard
Mt. Buko comes into view behind the Seibu Chichibu Line track. At Kagemori yard, with hopper trains and some Seibu Type 4000s taking a rest.
A short freight line used to branch off from Kagemori to the Buko freight depot, and the abandoned lead track can be seen on the left. On the sidings you might see a couple of hopper trains with blue locomotives at their ends, and perhaps some 4-car Seibu Type 4000s taking a rest before returning to Seibu-Ikebukuro in the mid-afternoon. From Kagemori, the train moves on twisting right and left as it follows the edge of the mountain slopes on the left, sometimes crossing short but fairly high bridges over the tributaries of the Arakawa.
From the window of the steam train A bridge over a branch of the Ara River.
The train rolles on twisting right and left along the mountain slopes. A bridge over a tributary of the Arakawa.
Finally you arrive in Mitsumineguchi, completing a steam trip that has lasted almost three hours. Beyond the station, the Chichibu mountain range rises before your eyes. Mt. Mitsumine is about a 20-minute bus ride from here. The station office is a wooden structure which retains the ambiance of an old local station in a rural area. There is a turntable at the station to turn the steam engine around for its return trip to Kumagaya. Resting on the sidings are some EMUs, Type 2000, 3000 and Seibu Type 4000.

Mitsumineguchi station Chichibu fleet aligned at Mitsumineguchi
Mitsumineguchi station well retains the ambiance of an old local station in a rural area. Chichibu fleet lined up at Mitsumineguchi, with Type 4000 from Seibu.
Interlocking panel of Yorii station C58-363 on the turntable at Mitsumineguchi
Interlocking panel of Yorii station. C58-363 on the turntable at Mitsumineguchi.

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