Category Archives: Japanese Railways

Japanese Narrow Gauge -762mm Lines – Part 2 – The Kiso Railway – Part A

[NB: I have sought, where-ever possible to attribute all sources and have no intention of contravening copyright. Should there be an issue with any of the images below, if you are the copyright holder, please contact me. Please accept my apologies in advance if this has occurred.]

Railways for the transport of timber from Japanese State and Crown forest locations were first used at around the beginning of the 20th Century. As a result, dependence on rivers and streams lessened and this facilitated the construction of hydro electric dams. [11] In Kiso, as in the other forests, the branch or temporary railway lines were narrow (30-inch gauge), built with maximum grade of 10 percent and curves with minimum radius of 16 feet. The main lines, however, were well-built, well ballasted lines, with many tunnels, with maximum grades of 5 percent and with 42-inch gauge, the standard gauge for Japan and Formosa. This means that logs could not be shipped to their destination without reloading. [4]

The Kiso Forest is centred around the valley of the Kiso River and is famous for the quality of its lumber. Approximately 90% of the Kiso Valley is covered in forest. [6]

The Kiso River (Kiso-gawa) is roughly 229 km long, flowing through the prefectures of Nagano, Gifu, Aichi, and Mie before emptying into Ise Bay a short distance from the city of Nagoya. It is the principal river of the area (along with Ibi and Nagara rivers) and forms a major part of the Nōbi Plain. The valley around the upper portion of the river forms the Kiso Valley. [15]

The Kiso Valley (Kiso-dani) is a geographical area that centres on the valley of the upper portions of the Kiso River in the southwestern part of Nagano Prefecture in Japan. It is a v-shaped valley with length of approximately 60 km (36 mi) that follows the river as it flows from north by northwest to south by southwest into Gifu Prefecture. [16] It is the upper part of the river valley in Gifu and Nagano prefectures that is the most visited. Known as the Kiso Valley (Kisoji) – a district famous for its hiking trails and picturesque towns and villages which were once on the historic Edo Period Nakasendo highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). [17]

High peaks in the Kiso Valley include Mt. Ontake (3,063m) and Mt. Komagatake (2,956m).

During the Edo period, the ruling samurai class put so much value on the wood from the Kiso Forest that common people were prohibited from cutting the five trees of the Kiso river valley. …. Governments made large revenues by establishing monopolies on harvesting and selling the forests’ products. [3]The Kiso River and Region at a time when Nagoya had not already begun to sprawl out into its hinterland. The urban sprawl now extends north across the line of the Kisoro River. [5]

The five varieties trees which were particularly valued in the Kiso valley were the native evergreens of sawara, asuhi, koya maki, nezuko and hinoki (Japanese cypress). The forest also had scatterings of cherry (sakura), pine (matsu) and zelkova (keyaki, a relative of the elm but native to Japan) mixed in. All were prized for use in the construction industry because of their beautiful grain, durability, and ease of working. [3]

In the Kiso forest both heavy American and light Japanese skidders proved unsatisfactory, but. a 60,HP gasoline slack-line outfit was giving good service (in 1928). The logs were loaded by hand onto light cars of about 2000 board feet capacity; and these were run, by gravity or by light gasoline locomotives, to landings on the main forest railways. There the logs were shifted to larger cars (about 3000 bd.ft.), which were hauled in 15-car trains by 10 to 11-ton steam locomotives to a junction with the main-line government railway (at Nojiri and Agematsu). At these points they were unloaded and placed in storage yards until they could be taken over that railway to Nagoya, 80 miles distant. Logs were loaded, unloaded, or piled, all by hand, eight times between the stump and the mill. Obviously, the costs were high, even with cheap labour. [4]

At first, the Kiso Forest Railway focussed solely on the transport of timber and the labourers who were winning that timber from the forest. But the dedicated rail network, penetrating deep into mountainous areas, was soon recognized for its potential to carry human passengers as well. Eventually residents were permitted occupy any vacant seats, also accepting a logistical responsibility. Certificates were issued to the local residents, allowing them to ride for free, although they also became the default baggage handlers. Additionally, in exchange for paying no fare, travelers on the railway also waived any rights to state compensation in the case of an accident. In spite of this, the Forest Railway became a popular and indispensable feature of life in Kiso. [11]

The Kiso Forest Railway was actually a network of well over 400 km of 762 mm (2 ft 6 in) narrow gauge light (keiben) railway lines that operated in the Kiso Valley in Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Some authorities estimate the the network length to be over 500km. [11] The railway was extensively rebuilt in 1920, with steel bridges and 24 tunnels. [2]The Kiso Forest, Ogawa Line [10]

The railway was used to support the logging of evergreen forests in the region as outlined above. The Kiso Forest had historically been the possession of a local lord, but at the time of the Meiji Restoration had become the property of the Imperial family. [1]

Steam Locomotives:

In 1901, a railway was laid into the forests and was initially worked by hand or animals. The first 0-4-2T locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works were introduced in 1907. The Ogawa Line opened formally in 1916. [11] Steam locomotives from makers all over the world were analyzed for their application as haulage locomotives. Among them, locomotives from the American company Baldwin earned the strongest reputation and ten of these locomotives were imported, becoming the backbone of the Kiso Forest Railway. [11]One of the Baldwin 0-4-2T locos. [8]

Further locomotives were obtained from Baldwin, as well as a Shay Locomotive that was transferred to the Alishan Forest Railway in Taiwan when that line opened.

The advent of the Second World War brought turmoil to the Forest Railway. Resources in the country were depleted by the war effort. Faced with insufficient supplies of coal to power the locomotives, officials turned to scraps of wood and branches from trees felled in the mountains to keep the engines running. However, unlike coal that burned rapidly in the locomotive’s firebox, the new fuel caused still burning sparks to be ejected from the chimney, presenting a fire hazard wherever the trains traveled. After several years of trial and error a greatly enlarged chimney was designed that no longer ejected sparks, and an extended bunker was incorporated to carry the new, bulkier, fuel. In this way, the steam locomotives of the Kiso Forest Railway took on their own distinctive style. The locos in the images in this blog were adapted in this way. [11]

The War depleted resources further and as the condition of locos deteriorated they were first set aside and then broken up after being requisitioned for the war effort. Of the 10 original Baldwin locomotives, only 3 remained after the War. [11]

The three remaining Baldwin locomotives were retired in 1960. The network had been gradually transitioning from steam to diesel traction. Two of the three locos returned to the United Stated, via Nagoya Port, and are now preserved at the California State Railroad Museum. [11]
The last remaining locomotive was that first locomotive introduced to the Kiso Valley at the opening of the Ogawa Line and it can be seen in the photographs in this blog. [11]The bridge featured in these three images is on the Kiso Forest Railway, Ogawa Line. [9]

Kiso Forest railway No. 1 (0-4-2T) is shown in the four images immediately above.

Kiso Forest Railway No.6 (0-4-2T) was also built by Baldwin in 1929. It has 28″ drivers and 8-1/2″ x 12″ cylinders, and it weighs 28,000 lbs. It was built to burn wood and to run on 30″ gauge track, but it was converted to oil and 36″ gauge when it returned to the United States in 1960. This interesting little locomotive is on display at the California State Railroad Museum, Sacramento, California.

Kiso Forest Railway No.7 (0-4-2T) was also built by Baldwin but in 1927 (Works No. 60069). For many years after its return to the USA it was stored in a shed at the rear of Moss Motors in Goleta, California. The loco had been donated to the San Luis Obispo RR Museum by owner Philip Goldman. [12] The pictures immediately below were taken in May 1998 just before the locomotive was removed from storage.The third of the three saved locomotives from the Kiso Forest Railway was No. 7 which was transported back to the USA in 1960. In 1998 it was donated by thee Goleta & Shoreline RR for its new home at the San Luis Obispo RR Museum. The video below records that move.  [12]

The three remaining Baldwin Locos in 1960. [11]

Diesel Locomotives:

Soon after the Second World War it was obvious that the remaining three Baldwin locomotives were inadequate for the needs of the railway and a process of dieselisation took place. A series of different locomotives were bought for the railways in the forest. The numbers of these logos and small railcars were significant and there is only opportunity to show a representative range of diesel traction as part of this post.

An interesting development at the closure of these railways was the way in which many of these diesel vehicles found a long-term place in the local communities that they had served, becoming static displays at various places in the Kiso Forest. Some of these are shown below.

Diesel No. 118.[18]

Diesel Motor Car No. 4, was initially assigned to the Yabohara Forestry Station and transferred to the Ohtaki Forestry Department around 1972. Although the timing is unknown, the body was replaced by the machinery section of the Uematsu Transportation Forestry Authority. In the later years, it saw service on the Ugi river line. Like No 132, it was transferred to Otaki Village and exhibited and stored in Matsubara Sports Park. [13]

Diesel Locomotive No. 132. This locomotive worked on thethe branc of the Ogawa line of Uematsu, etc., and transferred to Ohtaki Municipal Office in 1964. Later it was active mainly on the Miura Hoya Line. After closure of the Otaki main line in 1975 it was moved to Suwagawa River line. For a time it sat in the car park at Tajima Station for a while, before it was transferred to Otaki Village and exhibited and stored in Matsubara Sports Park[13] 





Motor Car at Tajima Station. [18]Kiso Forest Railway Locomotive No. 128 with a Type C passenger coach and 2 small cargo wagons on static display. The picture is taken of this preserved loco at the campsite near the Amagi Pass. The loco workd on the Amagi Yu Yu line in Izu-shi. The picture was taken in 2010. [22] This diesel locomotive was the main locomotive type on the Kiso Forest Railway. It is a C4 type manufactured by the Sakai Craft Centre. The type was designated DBT 10 by the Kiso Forest Railway. It was a 10 tonne loco. [18]Kiso Forest Railway No. 95 with a Type B Passenger Car and Transport Truck, all on display in the car-park close to Naraichi Station in September 2014. The locomotive is a 5 tonne loco, made at the Sakai Works.  [21]Two Forest Railway Motor Cars at Tajima station in 1972. [21]Kiso Forest Railway No. 139 on display at Yunomori campsite (about 8 km from Central Chuo station, Sakashita station) Kiso Forest Motor Car No. 20in 1977 [14]

The adjacent picture shows a diesel Hauled passenger train on the tourist railway in the Kiso Forest – the Akasawa Forest Railway. The tourist line provides a short journey in the forest – a 2.2 kilometre round trip.[11]

No. 136 is an articulated diesel locomotive and it is in the workshop at Uematsu. [18]Kiso Forest Motor Car No. 20, preserved at the entrance to the Woodworking Culture Centre at Koga Village Regional Museum about 5 minutes on foot from Yabihara Station. in 2008. [19]Kiso Forest Railway Locomotive No. 119 stored in Yukigoshi, picture taken in 2012. [20]Diesel Locomotives at the Akasawa Forest Railway. [11]


Type DBT 10 Loco in charge of a logging train in the Kiso Forest. Note the diminutive guards van at the back of the train. [13]

The adjacent map shows the Kiso Valley area with the various parts of the Kiso Forest Railway shown in red and black dots and with the JNR Chuo Line running along the Kiso River on the East side of the map. These different routes will be considered in later posts. Among them, the Owataki Forest Railway was the representative presence of Kiso Forest Railroad, which has the longest route mileage and the heaviest usage. [13] There are a number of YouTube clips showing one or two of the diesel locos in action these include:

And there are a number of Japanese made models which seek to give a good flavour of the line:


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    Division of forest economics, Forest service, U.S. Dept. of agriculture, 1945; p14-15; sourced from, accessed on 8th February 2019.
  5. Adapted from Tokoro Mitsuo; Kinsei ringyoshi no kenkyu; Yoshikawa kobunkand, Tokyo, 1980, p2, in Conrad D. Totman; The Lumber Industry in Early Modern Japan; University of Hawaii Press, 1995, p56; sourced from, accessed on 8th February 2019.
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Japanese Narrow Gauge -762mm Lines – Part 1 – The Kurobe Gorge Railway

I hope this will be the first of a short series of posts looking at some of the 762mm lines in Japan. …….

1. The Kurobe Gorge Railway

The Kurobe Gorge Railway (Kurobe Kyōkoku Tetsudō Kabushiki Kaisha), or Kurotetsu  for short, is a private, 762 mm (2 ft 6 innarrow gauge railway company operating the Kurobe Gorge Main Line along the Kurobe River in the Kurobe gorge area of Toyama Prefecture, Japan. The adjacent maps show the  location on the Gorge. It is marked with the red flags which actually pin-point Unazuki Station.To fulfil domestic electricity demand, the Japanese government began surveying the Kurobe River in 1909 for the Kurobe HEP Plant Project. In 1923, the Japanese government began building a 762mm narrow-gauged railway in Unazuki to transport equipment and personnel to the site. Later on by 1926, the 11.8km long “Kurobe Gorge Railway” reached Nekomata. It was extended to develop the HEP plant. Finally in 1937, the railway reached a length of over 20km and reached Keyakidaira. The line to Nekomata operated on a 600V DC supply. The full route from Unazuki to Keyakidaira is shown in the two map excerpts below. [5]

The present railway was used for the construction of the Kurobe dam for the Kansai Electric Power Company, which was completed in 1963; Kurotetsu was spun off from the power company in June 1971, but remains a wholly owned subsidiary. At its remote terminus, the Main Line links to Kurobe Senyō Railway, which is not open to the general public. [6]

In 1951, the Kansai Electric Power Company was formed to provide electric power for the Kansai region of Japan. Shortly after their formation, the area suffered from drought which caused power rationing. The drought, along with the rapid growth of post–World War II Japan, pushed the company to increase their generating capacity. After a series of geological and hydrological studies of the Kurobe River and Gorge, it was announced in late 1955 that the Kurobe Dam would be constructed. [2][4] Construction began in July 1956 but problems quickly arose while transporting material to the construction site as only one small railway existed through the narrow gorge. [3][4]

Although the railway was built to transport construction materials and personnel, it passed through amazing scenery and a passenger service started in 1953 primarily as a tourism venture. Initially, the journey was considered to be dangerous and various warnings were printed on passenger tickets. [5] As we have already noted, in 1971 a new company was formed by Kansi Electric Power Co., Inc which it named as the “Kurobe Railway Co., Ltd.” This new subsidiary invested, gradually, in better passenger rolling stock. In 2008, the company operated 27 locomotives, 138 passenger carriages and 322 freight wagons. [6]

En-route from Unazuki to Keyakidiara trains first cross a large red steel truss arch bridge which is shown in the adjacent picture. [1] The Shin-Yamabiko (Mountain Echo Tree Spirit) Bridge. The name (yamabiko) was earned by the fact that the sound of the train passing by echoes in the town. Immediately after crossing the bridge the railway enters a short tunnel before  following down the eastern side of the Gorge towards Unazuki Dam.

The Dam is the most recent to be built in the Gorge. It was complete in 2001. Before reaching the location of the Dam, trains plunge once again into a tunnel.

Trains do not emerge from that tunnel until well south of the Dam alongside Lake Unazuki and close to one of the power stations in the Gorge – Shin-Yanagawara Power Plant. This hydroelectric power station resembles an ancient European castle and is located on the shores of Lake Unazuki. [1]Yanagibashi Station alongside Lake Unazuki. [7]

Travelling South down the East side of the Gorge, trains pass through Yanagibashi Station before turning East and passing through Moriishi Station. A train heads east out of the tunnel into Moriishi Station, (c) Ryota23. [8]

Travelling East from Moriisi, the line drifts away form the River Kurobe. The next station is at Kuronagi and is on the Northside of and above one of the tributaries of the Kurobe, the River Kuronagi. Here there is a footpath which leads east along that River to some hot springs. Trains leave Kuronagi Station and immediately cross the River Kuronagi over the Atobiki Bridge.Kuronagi Station [9] and the Atobiki Bridge beyond. [10]At a height of 60 meters and a length of 64 meters, this bridge spans the steepest and deepest valley along the rail line. The name is derived from the belief that previously mountain climbers would inch backwards away (atobiki) when they came face-to-face with such a seemingly bottomless valley. [1]

After crossing the River Kuronagi, trains head back towards the East side of the Kurobe Gorge, for a short while traveling southwestwards in tunnel and then reverting to a south-easterly course alongside the Gorge of the Kurobe River. At the point where the railway turns south-eastwards it passes through Sasadaira Station.A train at Sasadaira Station. [11]

The south-easterly course of the Gorge and the railway continues as far as the next Dam at Dashidaira with a station of the same name a little beyond the Dam alongside the lake formed by the Dam.Dashidaira Dam. [12]Dashidaira Station. [13]

The next significant location on the route is that of the Kurobegawa Daini Power Station. This can be seen below on the West side of the River Kuobe.The Kurobegawa Daini Power Station, the railway can be seen under a protective snow roof  on the right side of this picture. [14]

Immediately after the power station is passed the railway enters Nekomata Station which was at one time the terminus of the railway.Nekomata Railway Station. [15]

South of Nekomata, the railway continued down the East side of the Gorge. It passed in tunnel under  Higashikanetsuriyama and then crossed to the West side of the Gorge. It then passed along the North flank of Nishikanetsuriyama into Kanetsuri Station which is shown in the adjacent picture.

The line continues South on the West side of the Gorge passed the Kanetsuri Hot Springs, through a series of tunnels, and over a series of bridges before reaching the next station at Koyadaira close to the Dam of the same name.Koyadaira Dam and Railway Station.Koyadaira Dam and Railway Station, (c) Laxic Hsiao . [17]

Tunnels and bridges follow, a Power Station is passed and trains eventually arrive at Keyakidaira Station, beyond which lies the Kurobegawa Daisan Power Station, the Shinkurobegawa Daisan Power Station and the Kurobe Senyō Railway which is in private hands. [18] Both of the branches of the private railway provide access to power stations further along the Gorge.

Close to the railway station lies the Keyakidaira Visitor Centre and walks up the valley of the River Babadani are possible across two significant pedestrian bridges.

The first of these is the Okukane Bridge , a vermillion-lacquered bridge spanning the main course of the Kurobe River. The view enjoyed from this 34-meter-high bridge is breathtaking. The second is the Meiken Bridge.



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