The Fukui Railway
Amazing old trams in Hokuriku

By Oliver Mayer

While travelling through Japan in autumn 1994, I decided to stop in Fukui for a few hours. At that time I was mainly trying to get a few photos from every tram system in Japan, and while I had been to Kanazawa, Takaoka and Toyama in 1990 for sightseeing, I had never bothered to go to Fukui. Fukui is the capital of Fukui prefecture, but it lacks any major sightseeing attraction (as I saw it at that time), so I had never been there.

But then, strongly influenced by the famous first JRS tour in October 1994, I decided to concentrate on visiting and photographing Japanese tramways. After that JRS tour had finished, I stayed with friends in Yokohama, and then had to go to Hokkaido for a conference. Using a one-week Railpass, I went to Hokkaido, attended the conference, and then decided to go back to Yokohama along the Sea of Japan via the Ou, Uetsu, Shinetsu and Hokuriku Lines (Aomori - Akita - Niigata - Toyama - Fukui - Maibara), from where it was back by Shinkansen. This route along the Sea of Japan is very scenic, but time consuming. Aomori to Maibara takes about 13 hours, and you have to change trains at least three times. Also on some sections, trains run only as often as four times a day.

That all could of course not prevent me from going along there, and my main aims were the tram systems in Toyama, Takaoka and Fukui. However, as my Railpass was running out, I did not have as much time for that area as I wanted. After seeing Toyama and Takaoka (and staying there overnight), I arrived at Fukui around noon on the 1st November 1994 (date noted on my slides). As that was the last day of my Railpass, I just had about two hours there, and I had to return to Yokohama on the same day.

Leaving Fukui station, I soon found the tramway stop. It is in a rather narrow street, and was in shadow then, so no good opportunities for photos. I walked along the track and came to the junction at Shiyakusho-mae (City Hall), and then spent some time between Honmachi-dori and Koen-guchi stations for the photos on this page. The road is quite wide there, and it was a good point to shoot some photos, as there were not too many cars and the trams were going slowly.

I had already been to many Japanese tram systems and I knew that many of them were like "living museums", partly using pre-war rolling stock. So seeing the trams in Fukui was not really a big surprise for me, although the trams there are special as most of them are articulated. And they look much older than they actually are! Some data about the cars on this page:

car 81

car 81: built by Nippon Sharyo in 1960 for the Nankai Railway, came later to Fukui. Rebuilt and equipped with airconditioning in 1992. Still running. But looks much older!

car 143

car 143: consisting of former Nagano Railway moha 42 (built in 1929 by Kato) and former Meitetsu mo 907 (built in 1931 by Nippon Sharyo). Withdrawn in the late 1990s.

another car 143

Another shot of car 143

car 161

car 161: built in 1933 by Nippon Sharyo for the Fukui Railway. Smaller than the other trains, as it can only load 150 passengers (200 for all other trains). Looks as old as it is! Withdrawn in the late 1990s.

car 202

car 202: built in 1960 by Nippon Sharyo for the Fukui Railway

car 302

car 302: built in 1967 by the Shizuoka Railway, and came later from there to Fukui.

When I took these photos, only articulated (or coupled) trains were used. In the late 1990s, some cars came in from the Nagoya Subway, and today there are a few services with these cars, especially off-peak and on weekends. Today, the fleet of the Fukui Tetsudo consists of 14 trains:

There are also three locomotives: The Fukui Railway is 21 km long, of which 3 km are classified as tramway and 18 km as railway. While the tram section is all double-track on street, the single-track on reservation (with a small part near the tram section with double track). The Fukui Railway has two northern termini, at Tawaramachi (connection to the Keifuku) and at Fukui (JR). The southern terminal is called Takefu-shin and is close to Takefu station (JR). The name Takefu-shin is a bit strange, as normally the "shin" (which means new) is written first (like Shin-Osaka, Shin-Nagoya or Shin-Yokohama), but the Fukui Railway uses it the other way round. I think it is the only railway in Japan to do it like that.

To travel along the whole line, it takes about 45 minutes and costs 390 Yen. There are three or four trains per hour. Express trains run in the morning and evening peak.

The Fukui Railway (then with a different name) was opened between 1924 and 1933, and the section to Kawaramachi in 1950. Two branch lines from Takefu existed, but were closed in the 1960s and 70s.

Information was taken from:
Japan Tramway Society: Tramways of Japan 2001
LRTA: Electric Railways of Japan, vol. 3

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