There are three ways for freight to be delivered into Osaka by rail. The first is into Ajikawaguchi located to the west of the city near Universal Studios, The second is into Umeda Freight Terminal, right in the heart next to Osaka Station, and the third is to take the Osaka Higashi Line to the east and arrive at Hirano Station. The latter service is the one we'll be investigating today.
The freight line itself runs south out of Suita Terminal, over the Yodogawa (Yodo River) and then wraps around the city, clockwise from Shigino to Hirano. This used to be freight only, or for movements to dead-head electric stock, but it currently being upgraded to a passenger line. The line was originally to be called the 'Osaka Outer Loop Line', but is now to be known as the Osaka Higashi Line. At Suita, the freight approaches from Suita in the east, whereas the passenger services will approach from Shin-Osaka in the west. Likewise, at the end of the line the passenger services will take the triangle to the west and arrive at Shinkami/Kyuhoji, whereas the freight ventures west to Hirano Freight Yard.
Currently there is no passenger service between Shigino and Shin-Osaka, but this is expected to start by 2018. There seems to have been an illegal site occupation on the former alignment near the triangle at Suita.
Seen to the left is the map of the line from both Google and Yahoo respectively. As you can see, the blue line highlights the path which crosses the river and then heads around lower Osaka.
There are no yards in between Suita and Hirano, so the freight will proceed as quickly as possible south, slotting in to the passenger traffic at the junction north of Shigino.
Once at Hirano, the freight is transferred to road vehicles for the rest of the journey.
I believe that both electic and diesel locomotives work over this line, but I've only currently seen DD51s pulling the freight services. Then again, if you look at the an EF66 here on Street View and an EF81. That latter EF81 looks like the locomotive I photographed in Umeda Yard years ago.
Thanks to the latest JR Freight Timetable for 2015, I can provide the following timings for the freight services in and out of Hirano. Please do take note of the comments column and ensure that you're ready for disappointment. Not all services run on this line, regardless of the slots available.
|▲65||Tokyo||0542||0547||0623||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(▲1077) ~ ▲1079||Niiza||0948||1145||1222||▲ = 新座(夕)-横浜羽沢間 稲沢-百済(夕)間 日曜日運休
(Not Sundays between Niiza[Evenings]-Yokohama and Inazawwa-Hirano[Evenings])
|▲1092||Nabeshima||1311||1350||1422||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲4070||Niigata||0625||0637||0719||▲ = 南長岡-百済(夕)間 休日運休
(Not Holidays between South Nagaoka-Hirano[Evenings])
|(▲4077) ~ ▲4076||Hachinohe||1647||1713||1748||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|(82) ~ (▲3082) ~ ▲5087||Asahikawa||1420||1422||1453||▲ = 青森(信)-百済(夕)間 月曜日運休
(Not Mondays between Aomori[Junction]-Hirano[Evenings])
|¤7085||Tokyo||0411||0420||0457||¤ = Runs on unknown dates, not regularly.|
|▲64||2129||2201||2232||Tokyo||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲1074 ~ (1076)||1945||2018||2044||Niiza||▲ = 百済(夕)-稲沢間 日曜日運休
(Not Sundays between Inazawwa[Evenings]-Hirano)
|▲1093||1929||2002||2043||Fukuoka||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲4071||1303||1335||1427||Niigata||▲ = 休日運休 (Not Holidays)|
|▲4075 ~ (▲4074)||1959||2030||2123||Aomori||▲ = 日曜日運休 (Not Sundays)|
|▲5086 ~ (▲3083) ~ (83)||2231||2304||2312||Sapporo||▲ = 百済(夕)-青森(信)間 日曜日運休
(Not Mondays between Hirano[Evenings]-Aomori[Junction])
|¤7082||2150||2222||2240||Tokyo||¤ = Runs on unknown dates, not regularly.|
|1392||1425||1459||1501||Osaka||配給 = Light Engine Movement|
I've translated the comments from the timetable to the best of my ability. From this I've even learnt of new freight yards that I had no idea about. For the comments that also suggest places, I'm a little confused... Should there be a need to state the to/from, when you could just say that the service doesn't run? Or is it part of a greater service where some legs aren't always operating? Does this mean that the consists will be shorter?
I'll find out in a few weeks when I go stalk this service for a morning or two!