Hinaga is a strategic junction where the Hachioji Line and Utsube Line branches.
The Kintetsu Hokusei, Utsube and Hachioji Lines
By Keith Barnes
For a number of years I had seen pictures of what appeared to be
narrow gauge electric multiple units somewhere in Japan but never
really bothered to find out much about them. Talking with Okada-san
over dinner one evening he provided some basic information which proved
that a visit was feasible. Okada-san later provided me with details of
the rolling stock currently in use.
For those who do not know much about these lines, they are situated
a short train ride from Nagoya, along the coast of Ise Bay. There are
three 762 mm electrified lines, the Hokusei line running from
Nishi-Kuwana to Ageki and the Utsube and Hachioji lines running from
Kintetsu-Yokkaichi to Utsube and Nishi-Hino respectively. All lines are
operated by the Kinki Nippon Railway (better known as Kintetsu) and
are electrified at 750 V dc.
Click here to see a rail map of the area southwest of Nagoya.The Hokusei line was opened as a 762 mm steam railway in 1914 initially between Nishi-Kuwana and Sohara being extended to Ageki-Higashi in 1916. The line was completed to Ageki and electrified at 600 V dc in 1931 finally being merged into the Kintetsu Railway in 1965. The line is 20.4 km long and operates a basic 30-minute service from Nishi-Kuwana to Kita-Oyashiro with every other train continuing to Ageki although this section is currently under threat of closure. The line is rural in nature and in parts gives you an idea of what the Welshpool and Llanfair would look like had it been electrified! Passenger loadings up to Kita-Oyashiro were quite healthy but thinned out as the train neared Ageki. The track on the upper section looked quite rough in places and a number of speed restrictions were in force. The line seemed overstaffed (trains were shown to be one-man but all trains travelled on had a driver and at least one guard/conductor - and at Ageki a ticket collector emerged from a box at the end of the platform and then disappeared after collecting the tickets). In addition, and something unusual for Japan, the staff were not particularly helpful or friendly when approached - maybe a contributory factor in the threatened closure of the line?
The Hokusei Line starts from a small terminus at Nishi-Kuwana station located adjacent to the JR Kansai Line's Kuwana yard.
Another view of Nhishi-Kuwana terminus.
The Hokusei Line is operated by 3-car electric multiple units built by Kinki-Sharyo in 1977.
A train pulling into Kita-Oyashiro station. Passenger loadings up to this station are quite healthy.
The interior of a Hokusei Line train. You may understand tight seating in a narrow gauge train.
Further along the Ise Bay coast is the town of Yokkaichi from where
the Utsube and Hachioji lines radiate, both lines sharing the track to
the junction station of Hinaga. The terminal station is located under
the Kintetsu main line which is elevated at this point. The first
section of the Hachioji line was opened as a steam tramway by the Mie
Tramway in 1912 (operating between Hinaga and Muroyama one stop west of
Yokkaichi which was subsequently abandoned) whilst the Utsube line from
Hinaga was built in 1922. The Utsube line, 5.7 km long, saw gasoline
railcars used in the 1920s and 1930s before being electrified in 1943
at 600 V dc with the Hachioji line, 3.1 km long, following in 1948.
Both lines were merged into the Kintetsu Railway in 1965. Currently
each line operates a basic 30-minute service which gives a 15 minute
service over the Yokkaichi to Hinaga section. All trains observed were
well loaded. Inbound and outbound trains pass at Hinaga - something
that offers good photographic opportunities. In contrast to the Hokusei
line, the staff on the Utsube and Hachioji lines were most friendly and
helpful. When advised of my intention to travel on both lines and stop
to take photographs at Hinaga and the terminal stations of Nishi-Hino
and Utsube, the station master at Yokkaichi provided written details of
the trains to catch and all necessary tickets for the individual
journeys. Upon my return to Yokkaichi station the station master was
even waiting for me at the ticket barrier to hand me some English
language brochures on the Kinki Nippon Railway. That is the Japan I
Most of the trains on all three lines are operated by 3-car electric
multiple units painted in a very smart orange and maroon livery. One
4-car units works on the Hokusei line whilst a 2-car unit operates on
the Utsube and/or Hachioji lines but these units were not seen at the
time of my visit. Most of the stock on both lines was built by Kinki
Sharyo - that on the Hokusei line being introduced in 1977 followed by
that on the on the Utsube and Hachioji lines in 1982. Some trailer cars
on both lines date back to earlier times including some that have been
rebuilt in the railway works. To give an idea of the size, motor cars
on the Hokusei line are 15.60 metres long, 2.13 metres wide and 3.20
metres high. Seating in the trains is a combination of longitudinal and
one-by-one seating but, because of the straight-sided design of the
coaches, it can appear quite claustrophobic when the trains are
crowded. None of the trains were air-conditioned but were equipped with
fans or pressure ventilation.
As mentioned above, Hinaga station on the Utsube/Hachioji line is,
in my opinion, the best place to watch some action and get some decent
video or still pictures. Most of the day the station comes to life
every fifteen minutes when a down train from Yokkaichi passes an up
train from Utsube or Nishi-Hino or vice versa. The warning bells of a
level crossing located just outside the station limits announce the
impending arrival of one of the trains. Hinaga station has three
platforms. Platform 1 handles down trains from Yokkaichi to Utsube,
Platform 2 handles up trains from Utsube to Yokkaichi whilst Platform 3
handles both up and down trains between Yokkaichi and Nishi-Hino.
Platforms 1 and 2 are staggered with a ground-level passenger crossing
(controlled by automatic barriers) between them to give access from the
Booking Office to Platforms 2 and 3. Platform 3 branches off at a
tangent from Platform 2. Not that many passengers were seen boarding,
leaving or changing trains at Hinaga but during the morning rush hour
up trains to Yokkaichi were filled to standing. No station staff were
seen on the platforms with train door opening and closing controlled by
the train drivers. It all seemed very efficient (in contrast to
operations on the Hokusei line which seemed overstaffed by comparison).
1982 Kinki-Sharyo built electric multiple unit looks very smart in its orange and marron livery.
At Utsube terminus where the line's depot is alocated.
Trains of the Utsube and Hachioji Lines greet each other every
15 minutes at Hinaga junction. This is the best place to watch some
action and get some decent video and still pictures.
A train is rolling into an intermediate station sweeping a gentle curve.
Off-peak, the trains just run as 2-car sets. Here, on such set is seen leaving Hinaga on a steep gradient.
Seating in the Utsube/Hachioji Line trains is combination of longitudinal and one by one seating.
As these lines are the last surviving 762 mm electrified passenger
lines in Japan a visit is highly recommended. Regular local trains run
on both JR Tokai and Kintetsu from Nagoya to Kuwana and onto Yokkaichi
(although the JR Tokai station at Yokkaichi is a good 15 minute walk
from the Kintetsu stations). Given an early morning start from Tokyo a
day trip is a possibility and, if a visitor to Japan and in possession
of a Japan Rail Pass, a good day out! Better still would be to
overnight near Nagoya - I stayed at an excellent business hotel near
Kintetsu-Yokkaichi. The following day time can be
spent observing the frequent freight trains running on JR and the Sangi
Tetsudo or heading back Nagoya for the delights of the Meitetsu.
Sources: Electric Railways of Japan Volume 2 - Central Japan, by Demery, DeGroote & Higgins.