Saturday, 7 January 2012

EF63: Sherpa of Mountain Pass

Electric locomotive JNR EF63 1, top number unit of type EF63, Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park

When I visited Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (see my December 31st, 2011 blog), my primary purpose was to reunite with "Sherpa of Mountain Pass".

Sherpa of Mountain Pass, officially called EF63 (see the photos) is an electric locomotive, which was specially manufactured to support trains to get over Usui Pass. After the abolishment of a rack-and-pinion railway system in 1963, a non-rac-and-pinion operation was introduced in this heavy traffic. Since then, EF 63 had been operating as a Sherpa of Mountain Pass.

The real job of the EF63 was to push and pull trains in the section between Yokokawa and Karuizawa stations (11.2km). When the train approached from Yokokawa to Karuizawa, it had to climb nearly 600m to the pass within a 9km horizontal distance. It was very hard work indeed. So, the EF63 was a dependable sherpa for railway passengers.

When the train arrived at Yokokawa, it took several minutes to fit the coupling of the train with the EF63. It was a good time to buy an Ekiben (meal box) for passengers. In childhood I used to love "Kamameshi", a local Ekiben, which was served in a rice cooker-shaped bowl. Placing plenty of local foods, Kamameshi's layout was colorful and sophisticated.

Today, Nagano Shinkansen trains breeze through Usui Pass with a maximum speed of 210km per hour. Since the Shinkansen train does not need electric locomotive support, the EF 63 operation was abolished in 1997. Only several units were preserved in the heritage park in token of their glorious triumph.

Time waits for no-one.

Electric locomotive JNR EF63 12 at Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park in Gunma Prefecture

More information about Usui Pass Railway Heritage Park (in Japanese):