Japan Travel: Kumagawa Railroad, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyushu
Kumagawa Railroad Yunomae Line くま川鉄道湯前線
For those who enjoy traveling by rail rather than just getting from A to B as fast as possible, then Kyushu has many lines operating unusual trains, and in fact it is possible to crisscross the island without spending too much time on regular trains and feel transported back to an era when train journeys were exciting and somewhat luxurious.
The Kumagawa Railroad is a small private railroad in Kumamoto Prefecture that operates just one line, the Yunomae Line, connecting Yunomae, an onsen resort town, with Hitoyoshionsen Station in Hitoyoshi.
The 25 kilometer line follows the Kumagawa River and has 14 stations. Other than the usual diesel trains the company operates 2 special, 2-car trains designed by Eiji Motooka, the designer responsible for many of Kyushu's special train designs, such as the Sonic, Yufuin no Mori, the luxury excursion train Seven Stars in Kyushu, the Umisachi Yamasachi in Miyazaki, the Hayato no Kaze and the 800 Series Shinkansen running on the Kyushu Shinkansen.
The train is also unusual in that it is staffed with a conductor. There is no special charge for the train and the cost from Hitoyoshi to Yunomae is only 680 yen. The older fleet of trains is being replaced with new trains also designed by Motooka.
The line was bought from JR in 1989 and has yet to make a profit. At Hitoyoshi the line connects with the JR Hisatsu Line which runs from Yatsushiro along the lower Kumagawa to Hitoyoshi and then over the mountains on a spectacular section to Yoshimatsu below the Kirishima Mountains in Miyazaki.
The SL Hitoyoshi, one of the few remaining steam locomotives in operation in Japan, runs seasonally between Yatsushiro and Hitoyoshi.
From Hitoyoshi to Yoshimatsu the Trans Kyushu Express runs as well as another tourist train the Isaburo Shinpei, which uses two sets of switchbacks and a spiral loop of track.
Kumagawa Railway Video
Kumagawa Railroad Yunomae Line, Kyushu