Fukui Tetsudo Moha 300 series train at Shiyakusho-mae (City Government Office). This train is equipped for ground-level loading, a very rare practice among Japanese interurbans, because of street running in the downtown area of Fukui city.
Visits to Fukui Interurban and Takaoka Tram
By Keith Barnes
During the JRS rail tour in March/April 2000 I heard that there was a rumour that the tram system in Takaoka was going to close by the end of 2000. Having a day left on my Japan Rail Pass I decided on a day trip from Tokyo to Maibara with a connection to Fukui (as it looked close to Takaoka on the map and has an interurban!) onto Takaoka and then back to Tokyo using the Hokuetsu Express and Joetsu Shinkansen from Echigo Yuzawa. As Oliver Mayer pointed out in a recent article in Bullet-In, the journey on the Hokuetsu Express requires a supplementary ticket but the conductor on the train gave up on me when I only spoke to him in English and somehow I melted into the crowds leaving the Hokuetsu Express platforms at Echigo Yuzawa.........
My schedule gave me about 3 hours each in Fukui and Takaoka which I
soon realised was not long enough to do justice to both systems. When I
later mentioned to Kenji that I planned a return visit in November 2000
he suggested that we make a weekend trip of it. So that's what we did!!
The trip was scheduled for the weekend of November 11-13. Leaving Tokyo
soon after 7.00am the most convenient train was Hikari 203 at 7.31am
but, whilst I could get a seat from Tokyo, Kenji could not get one from
Shin Yokohama. We therefore decided on Hikari 113 leaving Tokyo at
7.06am stopping at Shin Yokohama at 7.23am. We would change trains at
Nagoya and take Kodama 401 at 9.06am to Maibara and then a Shirasagi to
Fukui so as to arrive by lunch time.
The morning of November 11 started well. I took the Shin Keio from
Hatagaya to Shinjuku arriving in plenty of time to catch the Chuo-sen
from Shinjuku to Tokyo. On the Chuo-sen platform something seemed
strange - there were few passengers and some difficult-to-hear
announcement was coming over the loudspeakers. Anyway, a few minutes
late the train arrived and set off for Tokyo - all seemed ok. We made
it to Yoyogi but after leaving Yoyogi we crawled to Ochanomizu when
what was happening finally dawned on me. Some incident earlier that
morning had occurred out in the depths of Chiba which was still
delaying all trains on the Sobu/Chuo-sen. We sat outside Ochanomizu for
ten minutes (with the conductor constantly apologising for the delay
and imploring passengers not to climb down onto the tracks) and finally
arrived at Tokyo at 7.04am. This left me 2 minutes to get from the
upper-level Chuo-sen platforms, down to the basement level, across the
station and up to the Shinkansen platforms. It took me 3 minutes and
all I saw was the rear light of Hikari 113 disappearing into the
distance. Don't ask me why but I thought something like this would
happen so I had seat reservations on both the disappearing Hikari 111
and Hikari 203 at 7.31am (something you can do with a Japan Rail
Pass!!!) and after getting my breath back, contacting Kenji and buying
a Starbucks Frappucino, I was soon relaxing in my seat on Hikari 203.
Kenji was waiting at Maibara and we decided to walk down to the JR High
Speed Research Facility, a short distance from the station, where two
prototype Shinkansen cars have been plinthed - photography being
possible through the railings. Whilst we were doing this there was a
constant procession of Shinkansen zipping westwards at very short
intervals - how very different to what was going on at home on the GNER.
Upon arrival at Fukui we had lunch, dropped our bags at the hotel and headed for the Fukui Tetsudo (Railway) otherwise known as the Fukutetsu. As noted in "Electric Railways of Japan - Vol. 3) the Fukutetsu is one of Japan's more interesting interurbans, distinguished by it's varied car fleet. All cars are equipped for ground-level loading, a very rare practice among Japanese interurbans. In addition, some cars cross seats, other cars have longitudinal seating with all cars being painted in a flashy livery or all-over advertising.
The line runs from Tawaramachi to Takefu with a branch in-between to
Fukui Ekimae (JR Fukui station). This involves some complicated
reversing and changing ends at Shiyakusho-mae (City Government Office)
to get to and from the Fukui Ekimae branch. We rode from Shiyakusho-mae
to Takefu, the first section to Fukui-shin (New Fukui) being on street
trackage after which the line is on reserved-track to Takefu. Another
interesting feature is a number of short "tunnels" over points at
crossing loops which Kenji correctly surmised as being snowsheds.
At Takefu we found quite a lot of stabled empty stock including a
tramcar - Gifu 562 (originally Kanazawa 2202) which, we were told, is
still used for special-event service on the Fukui street track. A short
walk from Takefu is Nishi Takefu and it's fantastic old wooden station
building. A short walk beside the track are the workshops - again a
complex of old wooden buildings outside which were some electric
locomotives now used on works trains and snow removal.
After riding back to Shiyakusho-mae we walked towards to Tawaramachi so
as to get some roadside shots - and what did we find at Tawaramachi -
another interurban line. After I got back to the UK and having
consulted my copy of "Electric Railways of Japan - Vol. 3" it became
apparent that this was part of the Keifuku Electric Railway, Fukui
Division. Trains are not that frequent, and apart from seeing a couple
of single-unit railcars, we were unable to explore this line. The moral
behind this story - read your copy of "Electric Railways of Japan"
before making a trip and not after it!!!
Moha 300 series rolling into Shiyakusho-mae (City Government Office) stop. Double track rails branching to the left lead to JR Fukui station. Trains from JR Fukui station take complicated but interesting reversing operation to change ends towards Takefu at this junction on the street.
At Takefu terminus. On the right is lately introduced Moha 610 series, ex-Nagoya Municipal Subway 1200 series, with Moha 80 series, ex-Nankai in Osaka, on the left.
Ex-Gifu tram 562, originally Kanazawa tram 2202, at Takefu. This tram car is still used for special-event service on the Fukui street track.
Moha 140 series at Takefu with the author in front. This is Fukui Tetsudo's original stock and used to work for express service between Fukui and Takefu.
Fantastic old wooden station building of Nishi Takefu reached from Takefu by a short walk.
Street trackage ends here to reach Tawaramachi, the eastern terminus. The train is Moha 80 series purchased secondhand from Nankai.
The following morning we took JR from Fukui to Takaoka, home of the Kaetsuno Tetsudo (Railway), which runs from Takaoka-ekimae (JR Takaoka station) to Koshinokata, a length of 12.8kms. Unlike the Fukutetsu, two-day ichi-nichi-ken (one-day pass) are available on Kaetsuno Tetsudo so, armed with our tickets we boarded the next tram to arrive at Takaoka-ekimae bound for Koshinokata.
Service is provided by a small fleet of trams built in the 1960's by
Nippon Sharyo. Most of these are in fleet livery but some are in
advertising livery - one with a big cat face painted on the front which
somebody referred to as the "Pussy Tram". The first part of the line to
Hirokoji is single track with passing loops - something unusual for a
town tramway. This makes operation of frequent service difficult and
trams maintain essentially a 15 minute headway throughout the day. In
the morning peak however, just like rack railways in Switzerland, two
cars are used on the early busiest morning runs one following the other
down the single track sections. The line is then double track street
trackage to the depot at Yonejima-guchi after which the line is
single-line reserved track with passing loops to the terminus at
Koshinokata. En-route is a 416-metre bridge across the Sho River which
provides some interesting photo opportunities.
At Koshinokata a small ferry operates across what looks like a river
mouth to Shinko-higashi-guchi, the service being free-of-charge
provided by the local government so, needless to say, we took a ride!
Later, reference to "Electric Railways of Japan" told us that
originally the tramway ran from Takaoka to Toyama but in 1965 the line
was severed when a plan to turn Bojozu Lagoon into a new harbour
involved the construction of a new harbour entrance - where the ferry
now operates. There did not seem to be much shipping or other activity
evident so this would appear to be a classic "pork barrel" project.
On the way back to Takaoka we stopped at the Sho River to take some
pictures of trams crossing the river and at the depot where we were
invited to look around. At the back of the depot were a couple of trams
undergoing maintenance whilst at the front was 5022 formerly used in
light-interurban and tram service and now fitted with snowploughs.
Slowly rotting away in the yard was what looked like one of 5022's
Back at Takaoka-ekimae we met with Shima-san, a local business-man and
a leading light in the "Keep Takaoka Tram Campaign", who had spotted me
videoing the trams during my first visit to Takaoka. Shima-san advised
us that talks about the tramway's future are still ongoing and could
result in some form of third-sector operation. One of the main
stumbling blocks at the moment seems to be on agreeing on a price for
the depot and surrounding land. Shima-san joined us for a late lunch at
the Takaoka McDonald's and was given a Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch
calender before we left for Uozu and the local onsen (hot-spring).
De 7072 pulling into Takaoaka-ekimae (JR Takaoka Sataion). Tramcars depart this terminus every 15 minutes to Naka-Shinminato or Koshinokata during day time.
At Koshinokata, the line end, a small ferry operates across what looks like a river mouth to Shinko-higashi-guchi, the service being free-of-charge provided by the local government.
A tramcar crossing the Sho River. The bridge is unusually long, 416.5 m, as one for a tramway.
De 7053 at the depot near the Sho River. The Takaoka tram fleet consists of De 7000, De 7060 and De 7070 series, but all look the same by appearance. They were all built in the 1960s by Nippon Sharyo.
The first part of the tramway to Hirokoji is single track with passing loops - something unusual for a town tramway. In the morning peak however, just like rack railways in Switzerland, two cars are used on the early busiest morning runs one following the other down the single track sections.
Most of the Takaoka tramcars are in fleet livery but some are in advertising livery - one with a big cat face painted on the front which somebody referred to as the "Pussy Tram".
Local trains were used within Hokuriku giving us some good photographic opportunities - including a couple of my favourites - the long-bonnet Class 485 limited express emu and the converted sleeper Class 583 variant now used on local "Town Liner" service. From Takaoka we travelled to Uozu via Toyama, passing some construction work for the Hokuriku Shinkansen.
After relaxing overnight at the onsen (hot spring spa) we travelled
from Uozu to Naoetsu on a converted Class 583 sleeper and then changed
to a semi-refurbished Class 485 emu for the local service to Nagano. At
Nagano we hired a car and Kenji drove to a restaurant on the outskirts
of Nagano which had an ex-Tokyu 5000 series emu in the corner of the
car park. Adjacent to the restaurant was a large HO gauge model railway
and a fantastic collection of railway models. It being a Monday the
restaurant was closing early but we were allowed in and given our own
viewing of the model railway which was professionally built by Katsumi.
After leaving the model railway Kenji drove, at my request, to the
Harley Davidson Nagano Dealer to get a t-shirt to add to my collection
of other H-D t-shirts recently bought in Kyoto, Nagasaki, Nagoya and
Hiroshima. Rather naively I assumed that the H-D Nagano Dealer was in
Nagano but this was not to be the case. After an hour's driving and
having passed Matsumoto en-route we arrived at the H-D dealership
located at Shiojiri (but in Nagano Prefecture!!) and I snapped up the
one and only XL H-D Nagano t-shirt left in the shop. Then it was back
to Nagano and the Nagano Shinkansen back to Tokyo for me and Yokohama
The weekend was a perfect finish to my stay in Japan and I must thank
Kenji for taking the time to join me for the weekend and for arranging
the hotel and onsen and getting us on and off the local trains. Sitting
in the rain in the rotemburo (open air bath) wearing a bamboo hat
gently humming raindrops keep falling on my head is something that you
can only do in Japan....... It even beats the train.
Hokuriku, meaning the North Land in Japanese, is a regional name for the areas stretching along the Sea of Japan coast across Toyama, Ishikawa and Fukui prefectures.
All photos were taken by the author.