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Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park – May 2019

The Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (Poppo Town!) is located at the end of a valley in the south-west of Gunma Prefecture. The location is significant as it's the start of the Usui Pass, a now-closed (operated between 1883 and 1997) difficult mountain pass between Yokokawa Station, Gunma and Karuizawa Station, Nagano. The pass was no longer needed once tunnels (and then Shinkansen) were built.

If you look at the article on wikipedia, you can see that the site used to be a much simpler open-air park. Fortunately, some investment has seen it turn into a fully-featured tourist attraction! You can even drive an EF63!

Getting there...

It's an easy day-trip from Tokyo, but not so much from Osaka. Fortunately, after mastering the ordering of Sunrise Seto/Izumo tickets, I'd worked out that catching the midnight Sunrise to Tokyo would work perfectly. Arriving (as long as we kept to schedule) at 0708 in the morning would allow for an easy transfer to a Nagano-bound Shinkansen.


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The sunrise arrived perfectly on-time to Osaka and I made it into my Solo apartment. Unlike the previous 'Single' apartment, the Solos are a much more cramped experience.

Well, it's really only the entry that's cramped. As you can see, if you don't duck, you'll smack straight into the wooden frame up top. That wooden area is actually the footwell of the apartment above. The apartments are really efficiently built together into the railway carriage!

Due to already knowing that there was no buffet car, no time was spent searching. It was already midnight, so I just passed out and proceeded on a very uneventful trip to Tokyo.


A quick bit of shopping and tranfering from the standard lines to the Shinkansen lines (make sure you enter the Tohoku gates and not the Tokaido gates!) allowed a smooth transition to this beauty...


I remember when the E7 Series was just released. The E7 series was built in conjuction with the W7 Series, which was built for the Hokuriku Shinkansen. It was exciting to know that the new Shinkansen line via Nagano and Toyama was getting closer to Osaka. But back to the actual vehicle, the style and colour are just fantastic. It's amazing how many of them are in operation now and how they're just seen as run-of-the-mill. Taking things for granted is such a painful human tendency.

Anwyay, where were we? The next transfer was at Takasaki Station. If you were actually wanting to go through the pass, stay on the train... you'll bolt through the tunnel and pop out at Karuizawa Station... Maybe you're searching for the Terrace House Set? But that's no good for us... we want to stay on this side and switch to the Zairaisen (在来線, conventional lines). Takasaki Station doesn't disappoint when it comes to a variety of EMUs!


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Yessss! A Super Hitachi! Wait... Akagi? They've been relegated off the old service since the new E657 series EMU came in. This is one of my favourite designs.


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Anyway... that boring EMU in front was ours... we were going on the now-underused commuter local line up to Yokokawa. Previously, this line used to use beautiful express EMUs that received banking locos before the pass, but that's all a thing of the past now!

Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

From the station, it's a quick walk to the park. Turn left out of the station and walk through the carpark towards the red brick wall and beautiful mountain valley. For some reason I didn't take a photo of the front gate! I need to remember to properly survey sites when I'm on holidays! So here's a shot from inside the park with a beautiful 485 Series.


And from here, I'm just going to dump photos of everything I saw (and touched! Finally my ultra-ultra-favourite EF58 was in reach!) But first, here's a map of the site. From the map, there's a 'torokko' railway line that forms the perimeter. Inside, up the back of the town, is a smaller 9" ride-on railway. Both were still warming up when I was there, so I didn't check them out.


From here, it's just a matter of wandering through and checking everything out...


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Right up the back was this very tired-looking Asama. I believe this was actually part of the previous EMU fleet that ran through the pass. I'm sure it'll be next on the list for refurbishment. There was quite a lot of work already being undertaken.

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I really really wish there was functional EF58 running tours. I can't believe they've all been stuffed-and-mounted.


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Model Railway Diorama

Once you've conquered the outside area, it's time to head inside and check out the displays. You'll find two floors of information on everything from track-laying to signalling. Unfortunately, very little English is available. I didn't check if there was an English audio guide.


That's the building to enter. Inside you'll find the following...


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Those electro-mechanical displays above are fantastic. They'll show you the power routing through an electric locomotive.


There was also a cute infrastructure evaluation vehicle mounted out the front. Maybe from the Shinkansen depot?

Drive your own train!

The park offers guests a full course to learn to drive an EF63 locomotive. To do this, there's a one-off day course valued at 30,000 yen. You then pay 5,000 yen per drive.
You'll find more information on their site.


You'll find the driving experience on the northern side of the park. The line runs up into the valley, as it's actually the original Usui Pass line! I think you get to travel all the way to the tunnel entrance? That loco above was actually being driven by a guest when I was there.

Back to Takasaki

What was next? A freight yard! But before that, a 'quick' 'walk' (aka spirited jog) across Takasaki City in the blistering heat to:


Hahaha... Many treasures found. And then... another 'quick' 'walk' to the freight yards. You'll find these to the south-east of Takasaki Station. For fellow otakus, there's a road that passes through the middle of the depot, providing some fantastic vantage points.

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From here, it was a slow crawl back to the station. It's a fair 30-minute walk... which gets exponentially longer in the summer heat. Make sure you bounce from the shade to the nearest convenience store along the way!


There's actually a great shaded path under the Shinkansen tracks!

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