Thursday, September 13, 2012

Copper Mine Train in the Watarase Valley


A battery-operated mine train passes through the mining tunnel in Ashio Copper Mine

After getting off the open-air train at Tsudo Station on the Watarase Valley Railway (see my last blog), I visited an ex-copper mine in the Ashio area.

Ashio Copper Mine was found by local people in 1550. It had attained about 40% of domestic copper production in its peak period, but closed in 1979 due to resource depletion. After closing the mine, it has been preserved as an industrial heritage site.

A copper mine train is one of the main attractions in this spot. The track gauge is 914mm. The trains are battery-operated. The total length of the route is less than 1km, but it is rich in variation. The track is divided into two sections divided by the intermediate station. The section in the entrance side is a steeply inclined track with a rack-and-pinion system. A special locomotive using a Riggenbach style pulls carriages. The other section is a standard track mostly covered by a mining tunnel. Battery operated carriages are operated alone, after releasing the special locomotive at the intermediate station.

I was surprised that this mine train looks like the real thing. Before visiting the mine, I imagined that it must be something like playground equipment. You know the saying, "Seeing is believing".

It was very cool in the mining tunnel even in summer... 11 degrees Celsius throughout the year. I enjoyed seeing the history of the mining and a cool breeze passing through the tunnel.

That's what's keeping me going as a rail fan.

A battery-operated rack-and-pinion locomotive (left) and a bettery-operated mine train (right)