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Takachiho Amaterasu Railway – May, 2023

I must admit, visiting this railway was never really on my to-do list. Not only is it quite out-of-the-way, since the bridge that connected the railway to Nobeoka was destroyed, but the train they have operating on the isolated section of the line is really only a toy?

It wasn't until my friend said "we're going!" that I started actually researched the railway. He then also told me he'd booked me on the driving experience... and I may have freaked out. I love trains, but actually driving one? I don't know if I'd have the coordination. I'd considered it back at Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park, but the cost there was well over AU$300 and I would have had issues with translation.

Fortunately, Amaterasu was cheaper and Shuhei-san was going to help!

Getting there

It was a ~2.5 hour drive from Nichinan and, thanks to my international licence, I drove the whole way. It was a mix of highways and local streets and the scenery was stunning! We stopped through at Takachiho Gorge first, wandering around the area. The boats were booked out and the aquarium was slightly hilarous.

After that, a quick stop for lunch and then the main event. Actually, I shouldn't skip on the event that was lunch. The Takachiho area is famous for its beef, so we stopped in at a local restaurant named Takachiho Shokudo. The specialty was beef curry, but they also raved about the chicken namban. So, what to do?...

Have both on one plate! Delicious!

Takachiho Amaterasu Railway

This is the terminus of the railway that once connected Nobeoka to Takachiho. When a bridge collapsed during a typhoon in 2005, the decision was made to not rebuild, leaving this segment of the railway disused. Later on the current group was created and the tourist trains began.

When the 'toy' train isn't in the yard, you're allowed to wander around the station yard and check everything out. Down one the end of the line, in the sheds, are the two TR-series DMUs that one gets to drive in the driving experience. It all started to become real! Before this, we went for a ride on the 'toy' train.

All was pretty standard until the tunnels... hah...

The final stop on the main bridge is just awesome. The driver must pause before even entering the bridge to read the wind monitor to make sure we wouldn't fall off. Once we proceeded on though, we stopped in the middle and were allowed to stand up to get great photos.

The conductor became the driver and we returned back to the yard.

Let's Drive A Train!

This got very hard very quickly. The instructor went and grabbed the DMU and brought it onto the platform.

We then spent 10 minutes lost-in-translation whilst he was trying to teach me the controls. Shuhei, thanks for your help here! I would've sent the train off the cliff if you hadn't have translated the harder words.

The basic things to know were direction switch, accelerate, brake and the deadmans switch. There was also the point that the ATS (or was that ATC?) was still wired-in, but not disabled and so it'd ring REALLY LOUDLY in your left ear if you were in notch one. It's goal was to remind you that you were moving off without correctly enabling ATS and ... well ... that was wrong. But we could ignore it.

He gave me the green light and we were off. Brake released, accelerator nudging through notch one, buzzer screaming in my ear... but the thing was moving. I then proceeded to apply brakes, at the area I thought we should start stopping, and it really felt like the brake handle was doing nothing. There were no physical notches in the brake handle, so you just had to rotate it, hoping that something was being applied. Of course, you could read the gauge, which had two needles, but there wasn't really a tactile connection. About those needles... if they come inline with eachother then the emergency brake is applied... and, of course, I did this on the first stop. Both Shuhei and the Instructor went for a bit of a stumble.

For that issue, my mandatory JR-style re-training occurred and then we were off again. As that it's a single line, we had to swap ends and drive all the way back. The actual experience lets you drive back and forth four times!

Shuhei jumped out and took some pics of me going back and forth... I really started to get the hang of it towards the end.

Oh, and don't forget to don the drivers hat... even if your head is too big.

Jeez, you can see the stress on my face. I was shaking and traumatised afterwards, but it was so worth it!

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