Railway Scenery

By Minoru Shinozaki
What is attractive about the railway is that, although it is a human artifact, it constitutes a part of the landscape Triumphs of civil engineering such as large scale embankments, deep cuttings, andmagnificent viaducts, make up stunning spectacles. Of course, railfans like to see trains with them. In this small article I'd like to introduce two of my favourite locations.

I believe many readers will agree that the viaduct is the most prominent feature of railway scenery. Among Japan's high bridges I like the Amarube Viaduct (45km northeast of Tottori on the San'in mainline) best. Although Japan's highest is the Takachiho Viaduct on the Takachiho Railway(the former JNR Hinokage line, which branches from the Nippo mainline at Nobeoka, 80km north of Miyazaki) and boasts a height of 105m, the 41m high Amarube Viaduct, 310m long with its 24 spans supported by steel trestles, bridging two hills separated by the estuary of the River Hase, far exceeds it in magnificence. The bridge was completed in 1912 after 28 months of construction. During the construction, the steel and lumber for the trestles was manufactured by American Bridge Company was shipped by way of Moji to the sea area offshore Amarube as there was no overland approach. Some readers might remember the tragedy in which an ozasiki-train (with traditional Japanese interior) fell down from bridge onto a canning factory (the area is famous for crab meat) owing to a fierce winter gale in December 1986. Now a pagod consecrated to the victims stands on the site. It is not so easy to get there as there is only a sparse train service between Hamasaka and Tottori, and only stopping trains call at Amarube. Still, the bridge is worth visiting.

The Takachiho Viaduct

The Takachiho Viaduct, Japan's highest railway bridge, on the Takachiho Railway on 20 March 1997.

The Amarube Viaduct

A ki ha 65 formation in service for limited express 'Edel Kitakinki' crossing the Amarube Viaduct on 13 February 1997.

Another attractive railway feature is a spiral or loop line. The loops between Yubiso and Doai on the Joetsu mainline (60km northeast of Takasaki), Shinhikita and Tsuruga on the Hokuriku mainline (135km northeast of Osaka) and Wakai and Kaina on the Tosa Kuroshio Railway (which run from Kubokawa, 70km west of Kochi on the Dosan line) are famous. But the Okoba loop (70km south of Kumamoto) on the Hisatsu line, of a radius of 300m and combined with a dual switchback, is by far the best both in scale and scenery. With the opening of the part between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu in November 1910 what is now the Hisatsu line (Yatsushiro-Hayato) was completed as a part of the Kagoshima mainline, which meant the completion of the route between Moji and Kagoshima. As the part between Hitoyoshi and Yoshimatsu is mountainous with the 739m high Yatake mountain, it was disadvantageous, so its status as the trunk route together with the name of the Kagoshima mainline was taken over by the coastal route opened in October 1927 and the line was renamed the Hisatsu line. But the old route is more attractive for railfans as there is a loop at Okoba (the next stop to Hitoyoshi) and a switchback at Masaki (two stops from Okoba). Especially Okoba loop, combined with a dual switchback, is famous and was a very popular shooting spot among railfans especially in the days of steam when mixed trains hauled by heavy-duty D51s coupled with banking engines were seen. A train from Hitoyoshi after stopping at Okoba set back into the second switchback, where it reversed again to climb the loop making a left-hand curve and going into Yokohira Tunnel. The loop is of a 300m radius and after the train came out of the tunnel you could see Okoba station on the left-hand side. There is a small hill looking down on the switchback and a good part of the loop near the station. And you could enjoy the view from the windows of special trains 'Isaburo' (down) and 'Shinpei' (up) both named after the statesmen who were responsible for opening the line. But the problem is, as with the Amarube Viaduct, that there is only a sparse train service, 5 trains each way. Though, the loop is beautiful with plum blossoms lining the track in early spring.

The Okoba Loop

867D coming uphill from Hitoyoshi (Kiha 31, the silver car) meets 5614D express 'Ebino' No. 4 ( the blue Kiha 65 formation) coming from Yatake at Okoba loop on 21 March 1997. There is no meeting of trains at Okoba any more.

All photos were taken by the author.

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