By Mark Kavanagh
Most of my business trips to Japan involve
going to the small city of Nagaoka, in Niigata Prefecture. It has a busy
train station. The Joetsu Shinkansen stops here. Only 1 bullet train a day
bypasses this city. Down on street level are busy local and long distance
trains. Most of the trains head North-South following the coast. A few
services head east, but the Shinkansen handles most of that traffic. From Nagaoka
I have gone to Niigata, which is a moderate city on the Sea of Japan,
about 20 minutes by Bullet, 1 hour by local. I also took a Limited train
to Nagano, on the closing day of the Olympics in 1998; it was about a
2-hour ride. Other cities I have ventured to are Toyama and Takaoka, about
2 hours south by express, and one time Osaka/Kyoto, which I’ll leave for
another article. This time I will discuss my trip to Toyama/Takaoka.
Why did I pick those cities? They both
retain streetcar lines. I took an 8:20 am train to Toyama, arriving at
10:30 am. It took a little while to get my bearings. The Toyama double
track streetcar system is laid out like a horseshoe, with one leg of the
shoe having a single-track branch off of it. The train station is right in
of the “U” Toyama runs very frequent service. All trams terminate at
the eastern terminal. Alternate trams go to the far western terminal, the
others short turn near city hall. While I was there it look like they were
slowly replacing their 1950’s cars with modern sleek versions. I was
very surprised, but pleased to see that they allowed female operators. I
saw at least 2 different female operators, in their very tidy uniforms
operating the new cars.
The carbarn for this line is at the eastern
terminal. Here 2 much older single truck cars were out, but hard to
photograph. An Interurban line shares the tram station for transfers. The
Tram terminal is single track with a gate that opens to the carbarn leads.
A shelter and a ticket office
are here for the interurban and the trolley lines.
The western terminal is at the end of about
a 1-mile single-track stub end. This is why alternate trains turn back at
City Hall. The line ends in the middle of a street, by a baseball stadium.
To access the streetcar you must use an over-crossing for this very busy
road. The turn back area by City Hall is just a reverse switch in the
middle of the street near city hall and a small river lined with cherry
I had picked a great day to go, the cherry
blossoms had just bloomed, and everybody was out enjoying the weather on
this Sunday afternoon. However the car traffic coming into town was
horrendous. Taking the streetcar was a much better option!
it was getting late, I hoped on a local train for the short 15-minute trip
to Takaoka. Takaoka is a much smaller town then Toyama. The Streetcar line
here is more on an interurban as it connects the train station with a
ferry. This line is single track with sidings, and cars run only every 15
minutes. I did not get to ride the line to its end, but I have a Carson
Home Video of the line. From the train station terminal it runs through
town it runs in the middle of the street. It crosses over a river on its
own bridge. It then has mostly its own right-of-way with some street
running before the ferry terminal. Its cars are also from the 1950’s. It
has a similar appearance to the Toyama, but the doors and the interior are
Well it was getting late and I had to get
back to Nagaoka. I waited on the platform for my limited train to take me
back. While waiting I watched a newly married couple be sent off on their
honeymoon by their family which was fun people watching. But the most fun
pulled in. One of the special Blue trains, all decked out had pulled in
and stopped, but not for passengers. This train actually made my train 2
minutes late. I found out a little about this train. It is like a cruise
ship on rails. The train starts in Osaka and winds up in Hokkaido. The
idea is to take the train one way, and take a Plane back. Sounds like
great fun if I had the time or money. Well soon, my train pulled in and I
boarded. I was happy to board here instead of Toyama. I was able to get a
seat; it was SRO once arriving at Toyama!
I would recommend traction fans to come out
to experience trolleys in this less crowded areas of Japan!
If you like Japanese railroading consider joining the Japanese