Thursday, 28 March 2013

Railway Heritage on the ex-Shinetsu Line

 Railway Heritage, "Tunnel 6 (546m in length)" near Usui Pass on the ex-Shinetsu Line

Usui Pass (960m) is well-known as one of the hardest parts for traffic in the Tokyo metropolitan area. It is about 100km north of downtown Tokyo. If you approach from Gunma Prefecture, you have to climb nearly 600m on foot to the pass within a 9km horizontal distance.

In 1893, the railway, Shinetsu Line was opened crossing this steep area. Since then, the 11.2km section between Yokokawa Station on the Gunma side and Karuizawa Station on the Nagano side had been operated using a rack-and-pinion railway system. It had been used until 1963, when a non-rack operation was introduced. Today, Nagano Shinkansen trains breeze through Usui Pass with a maximum speed of 210 km/hour at inclines of up to 30 per mill on the newly constructed track.

Currently, the old rack-and-pinion track has been changed to a railway heritage walkway. Being surrounded by a deep forest, it is a very beautiful walking track, where you can forget the noise and clamor of the city. This walkway also has several attractions, such as an old glasses bridge (see my blog on February 10th, 2012), serpentine tunnels (see the top photo) and a forgotten signal station (see the following picture).

I especially like the tunnels, whose inner walls are paved with bricks. They are quite nostalgic for me. The largest one, Tunnel 6 is 546m in length. It is dark and thrilling to walk.

I breathed in lots of fresh air and truly enjoyed my weekend on the ex-Shinetsu Line.
Ex-Kumanotaira Signal Station near Usui Pass on the ex-Shinetsu Line