Train fans crowd Fukui Prefecture station to watch engine switch over

by Masafumi Sugita


A quiet train station in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, has become a mecca for train spotters, known as “tet-chan” in Japanese.

Whenever a dark-green train called the Twilight Express sleeper service pulls in at Tsuruga Station on the Hokuriku Line, many passengers hop off to take photos of the locomotive being switched for another engine.

Because it is a long-distance train, the locomotive added at Tsuruga replaces the one used from the departure point, which is taken in for maintenance.

With the Osaka-Sapporo service set to be discontinued next spring and the aging sleeper train to be retired, there’s not much time left to catch the spectacle.

The Twilight Express, which came into service in July 1987, runs along the coast of the Sea of Japan for 1,500 km, the longest sleeper train route in the country. The journey takes 22 hours.

The luxury service is so popular that it quickly books up for the holiday season. It usually runs from Osaka to Sapporo on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, going in the opposite direction on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Changes of locomotive also take place at Goryokaku Station in Hakodate and Aomori Station in Aomori, but passengers are not allowed to disembark to watch.

Tsuruga Station officials welcome the attention but warn passengers to be safety-conscious when they take pictures. They say they also get as many as 150 other people visiting the station on weekends and holidays to watch the event.

The switch-over at Tsuruga Station can only be viewed on the journey from Sapporo to Osaka, and takes place between the arrival of the train at 10:36 a.m. and its departure at 10:52 a.m.

“We were thrilled by the powerful changing work,” said a 45-year-old man who recently rode the train with his wife and three children. “We were so happy to see it at the station, our children really enjoyed it.”

West Japan Railway Co. has three Twilight Express trains and will stop operating them next March as they are over 40 years old. In the run-up to the trains’ retirement, JR West plans to increase the number of services to meet growing demand.

A 28-year-old man who drove all the way to Tsuruga Station from Osaka by car to watch the locomotives being swapped, said, “I want the Twilight Express to remain in service for much longer.”

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