Hinaga junction

Hinaga is a strategic junction where the Hachioji Line and Utsube Line branches.
By Oliver Mayer, June 2001.

Narrow Gauge Electrics in Japan

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?

Nishi-Kuwana terminus adjacent to he JR Kansai Line's Kuwana yard

The Hokusei Line starts from a small terminus at Nishi-Kuwana station located adjacent to the JR Kansai Line's Kuwana yard.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

Another view of Nhishi-Kuwana terminus

Another view of Nhishi-Kuwana terminus.
By Oliver Mayer, June 2001.

The Hokusei Line is operated by 3-car electric multiple units built by Kinki-Sharyo in 1977.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

A train pulling into Kita-Oyashiro station

A train pulling into Kita-Oyashiro station. Passenger loadings up to this station are quite healthy.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

The interior of a Hokusei Line train

The interior of a Hokusei Line train. You may understand tight seating in a narrow gauge train.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

At Kita-Oyashiro

At Kita-Oyashiro.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

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 know.

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

1982 Kinki-Sharyo built electric multiple unit looks very smart in its orange and marron livery.
By Oliver Mayer, June 2001.

Utsube terminus

At Utsube terminus where the line's depot is alocated.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

At Hinaga junction

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.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

A train is rolling into an intermediate station sweeping a gentle curve

A train is rolling into an intermediate station sweeping a gentle curve.
By Keith Barnes, September 2001.

2-car train

Off-peak, the trains just run as 2-car sets. Here, on such set is seen leaving Hinaga on a steep gradient.
By Oliver Mayer, June 2001.

Interior of a Utsube/Hachioji Line train

Seating in the Utsube/Hachioji Line trains is combination of longitudinal and one by one seating.
By Oliver Mayer, June 2001.

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.

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