A series 3000 set crossing a bridge over a stream

Crossing a bridge over a stream is a series 3000 set introduced from the Keio Inogashira Line last year. "Highland Rail" marked on the side of the train must be the line's catch phrase representing "Kamikochi".

Matsumoto Electric Railway Kamikochi Line

By Hiroshi Naito

There is an 80-year old small private railway in Shinshu Matsumoto in Nagano prefecture about 230 km northwest of Tokyo. Shinshu is a regional term given the area of Nagano prefecture. One can associate Shinshu with beautiful scenery sorrounded with high mountains with snow on top and clean air in rustic circumstances. The entire area of Shinshu is mountainous, and sitting in a basin in the central part of it is Matsumoto, a medium-sized city. Following Nagano city, the prefectural capital, Matsumoto flourishes as the next biggest regional center in Shinshu for business and industries. With the peaks of mountains of the Japanese Northern Alps just west of the city, Matsumoto is situated at an entrance to the Northern Alps which are popular for mountaineering and Kamikochi, one of the most popular mountainous sightseeing spots located at the foot of the Northern Alps.

The private railway is the Matsumoto Electric Railway's Kamikochi Line running from JR Matsumoto station westwards up to New-Shimajima. As represented by the line's name, it mainly functions as an access route to Kamikochi, with a line length of 14.4 km. The trackage is on single track of 1,067 mm gauge electrified all the way at 1,500 V DC. The line goes through the flat land of a basin in a rustic landscape surrounded with mountains including the Northern Alps to the west.

The origin of the Matsumoto Electric Railway is the Chikuma Electric Railway opened in 1921 connecting Matsumoto and Shimajima and targeting sightseeing passengers and mountaineers traveling to Kamikochi and further to climb the Northern Alps. The service route shrunk by 1.3 km when the western-most section between Shimajima and New-Shimajima was abandoned in 1983 because of a landslide caused by a typhoon which hit in 1982. Now, New-Shimajima serves as the terminus where bus connections to Kamikochi are well provided.

The service is pretty quiet with a frequency of fourty minutes, although during the morning peak on weekdays the headway is increased up to 20 minutes. For service, the line operates a sole fleet of the series 3000 introduced from the Keio Electric Railway's Inogashira Line in Tokyo in August 2000. Between 1986 and 2000, the line's fleet used to use the ex-Tokyu 5000 series, which was epoch-making stock on private railways after the World War II in terms of high-performance with various modern technologies.

Matsumoto can be reached in two hours and thirty to fifty minutes from Shinjuku/Tokyo by JR limited express along the Chuo Main Line. There is nothing particularly special on the Kamikochi Line as to railway features with its simple service structure, but you may be impressed with the pure, peaceful scenery along the line with farmland stretching as far as the surrounding mountains in the distance.

The following pictures were taken in April 2000 by the author.

The Kamikochi Line originates from a short platform adjacent to JR Matsumoto station.

The Kamikochi Line is solely served by two-car sets of series 3000.

Pausing at Shin-Shimajima for return work to Matsumoto is a series 3000 set.

Series 3000 stock runs in typical Shinshu scenery passing by a wood in farmland.

A view of Niimura station with the signal box that controls the line's entire traffic through a CTC system.

An already withdrawn Ex-Tokyu 5000 series set sits in the depot in Niimura station. Now the serving fleet is all replaced with series 3000.

Surrounding mountains look very close in a telescopic view.

Niimura station inherits the original wooden structure built in 1921 by the old Chikuma Electric Railway. The historic company logo remains above the entrance door.

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