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Chichibu Railway – September 2010

An apology: I'd traveled here last year whilst in Japan and had completely forgotten to write up the experience. Hopefully I haven't mis-recollected too much of the following information :)

I'd seen the freight operations in Chichibu online in multiple places, but wanted to go and check out the 'rolling museum' for myself; it was one of the many private railways that I had intended to visit and one that I had the freight timetables for.

The Chichibu Railway

The Chichibu Railway (Official site, Japanese only) is a private railway in Japan which runs west from Hanyu Station to Mitsumineguchi Station via Kumagaya. The railway operates both passenger and freight (limestone) services. It's rolling stock consists of many handed-down locomotives and multiple units.

Getting to Chichibu from Osaka

Since I'd been visiting friends in Osaka, I wasn't in the best location to be getting to Chichibu early enough for some of the freight operations. Fortunately, Japan still has quite a few overnight services and one of these, the Kitaguni, would get me to Nagaoka in time to transfer to the Shinkansen to Kumagaya.

The Kitaguni departs Osaka Station just before 11:30pm each day and arrives at Niigata just before 7:00am the next morning. The service is operated by dedicated 583 Series EMUs and has multiple types of sleeping accommodation. I chose the cheapest bed, but I don't recommend this. See the photo below; I was in the top bunk and you get only a single peep-hole for a view.

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Nagaoka to Chichibu

We stopped at Naoetsu Station briefly on the way through to Niigata. I grabbed a few photos before we continued on to Nagaoka.

Kitaguni at Naoetsu

Naoetsu early in the morning

At Nagaoka Station I transferred to the next southbound service to Kumagaya. I had breakfast at the station and then found the Chichibu platforms downstairs. Tickets were purchased from a vending machine and I chose to travel to Takekawa. This station is west of the branch that runs to the Taiheiyo Cement Factory and is the first place to see traffic heading east-bound.

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Upon arriving at Takekawa I found several of the electric freight locos stored in the yard. This was to be an ominous sign, as it seemed most of the services I wanted to see that morning weren't running.

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I walked a lap around the yard and the station and checked out the surroundings. Takekawa is a very quiet little suburb, but the locals seem to be used to railfans hanging around. I greeted one or two people who didn't seem too upset with me loitering and taking photos of the infrastructure. I was also greeted by around 30-odd small children on a school excursion crossing the pedestrian bridge.

After walking about 3/4 of my lap the 'express' EMU passed and I got a shot of it from the level crossing east of the station.

Chichibu Express heading towards Kumagaya

I looked again at my timetable and realised that there was to be another freight coming in and so positioned myself on the station island platform. I watched as one of the staff inspected (and tightened) the handbrakes on a rake of limestone hoppers (WAKIs).

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The level crossing west of the station then sounded. The previous east-bound passenger train had already passed and so I realised I was finally going to see a freight movement.

504 on limestone service arrives at Takekawa

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504 Kumagaya-bound

In came locomotive 504 with a small rake of limestone hoppers. It stopped on the road closest to the platform and another engineer jumped on the front. They then left the hoppers and trundled down the rails towards the factory.

That then ended my brief tour of the Chichibu. I returned to Kumagaya on the next passenger service and took the Shinkansen into Tokyo. The rest of the afternoon was then spent with friends in Akihabara.

As per usual, with any freight railway in any country, any timetables available must be taken with a level of doubt. The paths set for trains are only really useful when there is a train to be moved. I had a feeling that there were too many stored locos in the yard and this turned out to be true; as out of the 5 movements to be seen in the timeframe I was there, only one ran.

Either way, I was more than content with seeing preserved locomotives still operating and was also impressed with the other hand-me-down rolling stock on the Chichibu.

Oh! That's right, I was also there to see the Paleo Express, which was meant to run on that day.
...It didn't...

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