Moha 71 rolling through the rugged track, showing the ambience of an old Interurban at the front of the train.
By Hiroshi Naito
There is a short regional railway off the beaten track about 200
km north of Tokyo in a rural area in Niigata Prefecture. This is the
Kambara Railway that is going to close its service in the near future.
In spite of its short service, only 4.2 km trackage, it retains a
variety of old EMUs, reminiscent of old good Interurban railcars.
On a fine day in May 1999, I got off a train at Gosen on the
Banetsu-west line, three stops on the Shinestu Main Line from Niitsu, a
junction near the Sea of Japan coast. I found the terminal of Kambara
Railway located adjacent to the JR track just on the south side. In
contrast to the JR's modernized station facility, the Kambara Railway's
Gosen terminal is a reminder of railway stations of yesteryear, with a
low platform and antiquated wooden architecture on it. Remarkably, it
was apparently in the original condition as the railway first commenced
service 76 years ago (1923). However, the modern pedestrian viaduct
which crosses over the platform badly spoils the ambience. At the far
end of the platform was a wooden toilet, with which conjures up
of old-fashioned structures common at a station in rural areas. The
station's two home tracks stretch further east beyond the platform
across a crossover to sidings and finally peter out.
After waiting for about 30 minutes, a single unit train rolled
in. Thank goodness, it was Moha-71, the oldest car on the Railway. Its
livery was two-tone bright yellow and dark brown, which was the Seibu
Railway's old paint scheme. It strongly retains the feeling of an old
Interurban car, especially with a connecting door at both ends. Inside
the car was also an atmosphere of an old commuter train more than four
decades ago, with longitudinal passenger seats on the wooden floor
surrounded by the wooden interior. However, it was quite clean and
neat. The cab is a compartment type on the left-hand side in the end
section partitioned with steel pipes off the passenger cabin. Inside
the cab is a combination of a controller and an automatic brake handle,
with a pair of air brake pressure gauges in front, which were a common
cab arrangement for the multiple unit in those days. The passengers
aboard were only a few women and children, well representing the
current declined state of the line's business. As a matter of course,
the train is in one-man operation.
Taking a look at the background of the Kambara Railway. The
Kambara Railway now runs between Gosen and Muramatsu, an administrative
town, over only about 4.2 km trackage. This small regional electrified
railway once operated 21.9 km as far as Kamo on the Shinetsu Main Line.
Muramatsu was an economic and business center in Naka-Kambara
(mid-Kambara) County, Niigata prefecture. However, the town turned out
to be off the rail routes when two railways (Hokuetsu Railway --the
current Shinetsu Main Line -- and Ganetsu Railway -- the current
Banetsu-west Line--) were opened around the turn of the century. Thus,
it was natural that a movement to bring a railway to this town was
started by local people. Also the existence of a major army base in the
town boosted this movement because of the requirements transporting
military supplies. The Kambara Railway Company was established in 1922,
followed by the commencement of the first segment between Gosen and
Muramatsu in 1923. In 1930, its trackage finally reached Kamo,
completing a shortcut between the Banetsu-west Line and the Shinetsu
Main Line. Its heyday was after the war in the 50s and 60s, serving the
rural area in the county with EMU operations. Meanwhile, it had to
suffer from serious natural disasters twice in the 60s, heavy snowfalls
in 1963 and a washout caused by a flood in 1969. Nevertheless,
overcoming these crises, it managed to continue rail business with both
passenger and freight transportation. After the dawn of the 70s, the
ridership started to fall as motorization pervaded. In the 80s, the
situation worsened and worsened. In 1985, the company finally took a
strategy to cut back its rail business, discontinuing the Muramatsu to
Kamo segment, on which decline was prominent. Since then, the company
has been operating the two-tone color trains on the 4.2 km short
trackage. Nowadays, the line's patrons are mostly high-school students
who commute to schools located at both Gosen and Muramatsu, and further
to Niitsu. In the morning, two-car trains busily carry students, but
for the remaining time, a single-unit shuttles along the short rural
The train started to roll for a five minutes journey to the
other end of the line. It soon took a sharp curve to the south. The
remaining 4 km route is almost straight all the way to Muramatsu. The
train proceeded trembling along the rugged track, with noisy, but dear
motor sounds, which were produced by the nose-suspended motors. The
train soon stopped at the only intermediate station. No passenger got
off, but one elderly woman came in. The train resumed operation with
the line speed up to 55 km/h. On the right of the track is a busy
national road, which parallels it all the way to Muramatsu. On the left
are rice paddies filled with water to grow newly planted rice.
Mountains rise at the edge of the Kambara Plains far away in the
distance. Ahead of the train are many level crossings. The warning
period for them is remarkably short. A car is still crossing the track
although the train is in proximity.
The train soon entered the town of Muramatsu, with an increase
of houses and firms alongside of the track. Taking a slight curve to
the left, the train pulled into Muramatsu terminus, passing by the
line's depot. Like Gosen terminus, the terminus had a magnificent
feeling of good old railway days with an assortment of wooden railway
facilities. On the sidings in the depot were some antique multiple
units in the same livery as that of the Moha 71. In front of the wooden
shed was a vintage electric locomotive ED 1, which also looked very
old. The situation may be very suitable for a model railway layout.
Sadly, this impressive railway feature is vanishing soon. As of
June 1999, the railway is still running, but the discontinuance of the
service has been already determined. As negotiation with the community
is reached, the Kambara Railway will end its 76 years history.
Moha 71 rolling into Gosen terminal. This car was built in 1927 by Nippon Sharyo. Equipped with two 63.4 km traction motors. It came from Seibu Railway in 1965.
Gosen terminus in the original condition as the railway first commenced service 76 years ago (1923), with a low platform and antiquated wooden architecture on it.
At the far end of the platform was a wooden toilet, which conjures up structures in the old day common at a station in rural areas.
Inside the car was a clean and neat atmosphere of an old commuter train more than four decades ago, with longitudinal passenger seats on the wooden floor surrounded by the wooden interior.
Inside the cab is a combination of a controller and an automatic brake handle, with a pair of air brake pressure gauges in front, which was a common cab arrangement for the multiple units in those days.
Muramatsu terminus was also pervaded with a magnificent feeling of the good old railways days, being surrounded with wooden station structures
On the sidings in the depot were some antique cars in the same livery as that of the Moha 71, along with a vintage electric locomotive ED 1. The situation may be very suitable for a model railway layout.
Moha 61 taking a rest in a siding. This train was built in 1940. Came from Seibu Railway in 1958. Traction power is two sets of 56 kw motors.
This Westinghouse-style vintage locomotive was built in 1930 by Nippon Sharyo. This has been used since the railway commenced its full service between Gosen and Kamo.
A close up of the side of Moha 71. The riveted body takes us back in time to pre-war days.
Muramatsu depot with Moha 41 (left) and Moha 61 (right)
resting in a snowfall. This lonely sight will never be seen from next