Ed421 on display

The symbol of the Usui Pass, ED421 from the period of rack operation, on display in the rolling stock exhibition facility. Built by HITACHI in 1934. It worked its banking duties in a three-engine unit at the lower end of the train along with another same type helper at the other end.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito

Usui Pass Revisited

By Naoaki Okada

On 13th June 1998, seventeen JRS members currently in Japan enjoyed a one-day trip to the new railway museum at Yokokawa near Takasaki. It is known as the 'Usui Pass Railway Cultural Village'. As is well known, the steeply graded (6.67%) Shinetsu Line, covered in 'Bullet-In 25', was abandoned with the inauguration of the Nagano (Hokuriku) Shinkansen in 1997. This resulted in a decline in the fortunes of the Yokokawa area and a decision to build a railway museum here, both in memory of the line's technology and to revitalize the local economy. It opened on a site of about eleven acres on 18th April 1998.

We took the 'Rapid' train from Ueno to Takasaki and then transferred to the truncated local line to Yokokawa. Despite being 'the rainy season' in Japan, it was quite fine if a little damp. At Yokokawa we found the famous streamlined EF55 1 (1936) stabled after having hauled a holiday train assisted by white EF60 19. Also at the station, we found the famous 'kamameshi' (pillaff) lunchbox, a feature remaining here from still recent days when limited expresses stopped and vendors had a brief chance to sell this popular item.

Dominating the museum are locomotives and carriages preserved in the open air. They are not only the EF62 and EF63 types used on the route but also locomotives of various classes. From the oldest, EF59 1 (converted from 1932 built EF53 8 in 1963), they represent the cream of JNR's 'good old days' but are unfortunately only preserved as static exhibits. However, approximately 300 metres of track has been preserved for operation with EF63 24 and EF63 25. On the day of our visit, they were in the hands of experienced drivers. Shortly after, the opportunity for enthusiasts to drive these locomotives following specified training was due to be offered at 8000 yen.

An attractive feature is the operation of a narrow-gauge (two feet) steam train on a circuit around the museum. The engine, somewhat reminiscent of the late Lynton and Barnstaple Railway, weighs 13 tons and is named 'Green Breeze'. It hauls three 8.8 metre carriages. Although each has a capacity of 44 passengers, there was still a long queue for the train on the day of our visit. As well as 'Green Breeze', there is a 5 inch gauge locomotive (29602) with passenger carrying train.

In addition, four locomotives formerly operated over the pass are displayed in the former locomotive shed building, including ED42 1 (1933) from the period of rack operation. A former administrative building has been converted to a visitors' centre, including photo gallery, driving simulator, N- and HO- gauge layouts and video display.

What a superb trip it was! After returning to Ueno, members discussed future plans at a nearby beer hall in typical Japanese fashion.

Information about the museum, which has also asumed the name 'Poppo Town' can be found on their website HERE (Japanese Text).

Note from Anthony Robins: Encouraged to greater fitness by John Raby, who hiked down to meet us at Yokokawa, I walked up the line for about twenty minutes towards the disused substation. Near this point, a complete 'Asama' (type 189) and two EF63s rest on the line.

A view of the rolling stock exhibition facility

The rolling stock exhibition facility utilizes the former actual workshop building that used to maintain the EF 63 banking engines.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

Inside the rolling stock exhibition facility

Exhibited inside the former workshop are three EF63s. Visitors can see, feel and touch the actual engines in the real locomotive workshop circumstance.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

EF6325 on demonstration running

EF6325 on demonstration running along the operation track in the Village. The opportunity of driving an EF63 on this 300 m long track is available for enthusiasts after receiving specified training.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

EF532, type EF53

EF532, type EF53, an earlier type of the domestically produced electric locomotives. Built in 1932 by Kisha/Shibaura and used to work on the Tokaido Main Line before the war.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

EF15165, type EF165

This is EF15165, type EF15, the most popular freight engine produced after the war. 202 EF15s were built and worked for freight operations all over the DC electrified territory. The EF15165 was built in 1958 by HITACHI.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

EF3020. type EF30

This is a dual voltage engine (1.5 kv DC and 20 kv AC) developed for dedicated use for the Kanmon (between Shimonoseki in the Main Island and Moji in Kyushu) undersea tunnel. The body is made of stainless steel to avoid sea water corrosion.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

AC locomotive EF701001, type EF70

AC locomotive EF701001, type EF70. This equipment was dedicatedly used for the Hokuriku Main Line. Numbered in the 1000s represents high-speed hauling of limited express passenger trains. The EF701001 was built in 1964 by HITACHI.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

Bagguage, mail and passenger car Ohayuni 61107, type Ohayuni 61

Ohayuni 61107, type Ohayuni 61, baggage, mail and passenger car. This type was a derivative of the Oha 61 coaches reproduced from old wooden passenger cars in mass production to relieve the shortage of third-class coaches after the war.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

The interior of Ohayuni 61107

The interior of the Ohayuni 61107. The hard seat with wooden back-rest without cushion was not very comfortable, but this was the common riding circumstance on less-traveled lines in rural areas after the war.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

5-inch gauge mini steam train

The 5-inch gauge mini steam train attracts family visitors. The steam engine features type 9600, 2-8-0.
Photo by Minoru Shinozaki

A side view of the 29601, type 9600

A side view of the 29601, type 9600. This ia a real coal-burning engine.
Photo by Minoru Shinozaki.

A distant view of the 2-feet steam train

A 2-feet gauge steam engine, dubbed 'Green Breeze', operates on a circuit around the Village, hauling three 8.8 metre carriages. Three JRS members yearningly take a distant view of this steam train.
Photo by Hiroshi Naito.

Photo captions by Hiroshi Naito.

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