After the wild winds and torrential rain from Typhoon Phongvong the previous day, I awoke to a fine day in Kokura. I walked to the station in the warm sun to visit the trams of Kitakyushu. The “Chikuho Electric Railroad Line” is more a light railway than a tramway, running between Kurosaki and Nogata in northern Kyushu. All track is reserved off street running, and where the line crosses roads, there are level crossings with lights, bells and boom gates. Although the rail vehicles look like trams, the line is actually classed as a railway and operates with railway style block signalling. The line is standard gauge (1435mm) and 16 km long.
I caught a Sonic Limited Express from Kokura to Kurosaki and then followed the signs to a basement level of an adjacent shopping and office complex. There was a small articulated tram sitting at a platform. I purchased a ticket from the machine on the platform and boarded. We were soon rattling through the the medium density suburban sprawl of Kitatyushu.
I caught the little tram to Torirtani station, where alighted and found myself in a suburban shopping strip. I walked alongside the line in hope of finding a good spot for photos, but the it was obscured by fences and soon, the road turned away from the line. I entered an area of low density housing amongst steep low hills and I followed the line as closely as the steep, narrow winding streets allowed me. Elderly residents smiled at me as I passed, worked in what appeared to be community gardens in front of neatly kept residences. After walking for about 15 minutes, I walked down a narrow footpath which suddenly opened out into a public area around a large koi pond, beside the pond ran the Chikuho Electric Railroad Line. I spent an enjoyable 45 minutes watching the fish as trams rumbled by, before it was time to move on. I boarded a tram at the nearby Nishiyama station and travelled back to Kurosaki.
I caught another Limited Express Sonic from Kurosaki to Oita. Interestingly, services which run through Kokura (as mine did) reverse direction there; a mass of regular passengers turned their seats as the train pulled up at the platform. Just under 90 minutes later we arrived in the north eastern Kyushu town of Oita, where I just had time for lunch before boarding my next train; the Yufuin no Mori. The Yufuin no Mori is a tourist train whose name translates to “The Forest of Yufuin”. It is a tourist train which runs from Beppu in the north east of Kyushu to Hakata in the west via the forested region of Yufuin. It operated by 70, 71 and 72 series DMUs, which are rebuilt 58 and 65 series DMUs.
The large green 4 car DMU was waiting on the platform; not quite double deck, but certainly higher than a single deck train. A smiling attendant wearing a special Yufuin no Mori badge on her uniform checked my ticket, and I climbed up the steps into the first car. The inside of the train was amazing; polished hardwood floors, wood panelling and brass fittings adorned the car. Green velour seats matched the curtains and subtle brass trimmed lights were mounted on the ceiling. All of the vestibule areas were wood panelled with curtains at the carriage entrances.
At the front of my car was a glass bulkhead wall, which gave views out through the expansive front windscreen to the track beyond. Etched into the bulkhead wall in frosted glass was the Yufuin no Mori emblem. Up close, looking through the bulkhead, it was possible to look down into the Drivers’ cab, which was at a lower level to the saloon area. Although it was a national holiday, the train was surprisingly lightly loaded, with about 90% of the seats empty (presumably due to the previous day’s typhoon).
We departed Oita station and made our way into the forested mountains of Oita prefecture. We ran across trestle bridges and through tunnels as we threaded our way through the mountains. The smiling attendant who had checked my ticket when boarding came around with a basket full of hats and a posters. She indicated that I should put on a Driver’s cap from the box and hold up the stiff cardboard poster; on the poster was a picture of the train and the date. The attendant took my camera and indicated for me to pose, this was repeated for all of the passengers in the carriage.
I went for a walk through the train, and found that the next carriage was half a lounge car at a lower level, and half kiosk, selling pre-packaged food, drinks and souvenirs. I purchased a badge in the shape of the train, and went back to my seat. A short time later, we approached a station; the carriage attendant came up to me and pointed out through the windscreen and said “sis-a-ta train”. I looked in the direction she was pointing, and in the opposite platform sat another Yufuin no Mori service (our train’s “sister train”).
At the town of Yufuin, most passengers left the train, and were replaced by a similar number of new passengers. It was an idylic mountain resort town with steep roads and small buildings nestled amongst the trees. After leaving Yufuin, we travelled on for several more hours and close to dusk, we left the mountains and entered more built up areas. At Kurme I left the train and boarded a Shinkansen for Hakata (my Kyushu pass was valid for Shinkansen services between Kagoshima-Chuo and Hakata). At Hakata, I changed to a very crowded Limited Express Sonic back to Kokura.