BANGKOK — West Japan Railway Co.’s long-distance sleeper Blue Trains, the last of which were retired in March due to lack of passengers, are back on track in Thailand.
State Railway of Thailand, plagued by financial difficulties, has been receiving Blue Train and other cars from JR West free of charge and adapting them to the country’s narrower gauge.
According to the national railway, Blue Train cars are only in use on the Trang-Bangkok route, and on special trains during the tourist season.
One one recent 17-car express from Trang in southern Thailand, two Blue Train sleepers were attached before the early evening departure for Bangkok, an 800 km, 15-hour journey.
The train was also made up of Thai- and South Korean-built cars. Many passengers do not know the blue cars are Japanese-built.
At the national railway’s maintenance facility near Makkasan Station in central Bangkok, there are Blue Train cars bearing the Asakaze badge, denoting an express that ran between Tokyo and Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, until 2005.
The Blue Train cars have been equipped with shorter axles to accommodate Thailand’s 1-meter gauge tracks — Japan’s conventional main lines are 6.7 cm wider — and generators were installed under the floors to power air conditioners.
The cars remain blue but a yellow stripe has been added. Remodeling and maintenance on the 32 cars brought to Thailand last year will be finished by June.
In Japan, Blue Trains included a generator car to provide electricity, air conditioning and heat to the passenger cars. “As a (generator) car cannot be used in Thailand, each car must be equipped with a generator. The work requires great care,” said Supachai Intachet, a maintenance engineer.
JR West started supplying cars to the Thai national railway 12 years ago as part of an international contribution. Thus far, 126 cars and locomotives, including sleepers, have been shipped to the national railway, which has run a severe deficit since 1975.
“Of course, we would like to buy new things with no maintenance needed if we had money,” Supachai said.
But, he said, “If the number of Blue Train cars in operation increases, Japanese railway enthusiasts may increasingly use our trains, hoping to see their ‘brave figures.’ “
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