National

Nagasaki train fans launch crowdfunding drive to send experts to Thailand to help maintain aged Japanese locomotives

Kyodo

In a bid to provide guidance on the operation of two aged Japanese locomotives purchased by a Thai railway construction company in 2018, train enthusiasts in Japan — in cooperation with a railway history museum — have launched a crowdfunding project to send experts to the Southeast Asian nation.

Nagasaki Kisha Kurabu (Nagasaki Locomotive Club), which launched the campaign on Aug. 11, aims to raise ¥1.5 million ($14,000) by Oct. 31. The project will only proceed if the targeted amount can be raised by the deadline.

Backers can make pledges starting from ¥5,000 up to as much as ¥100,000, with rewards ranging from having their names displayed inside the locomotives to attending a photo session in Nong Pladuk Junction, southwest Thailand, where the trains are currently stationed.

The two DD51-class diesel locomotives were formerly used to haul limited express sleeper trains. They were built in 1975 when the now-defunct state-owned enterprise Japanese National Railways operated the country’s railway network.

The locomotives were used by JNR and then by Hokkaido Railway Co. after the state-run entity’s breakup and privatization in 1987.

Their engines provided power for trains including the limited express sleeper train Hokutosei, which ran between Ueno Station in Tokyo and Sapporo Station until they were taken out of service in 2015.

The bodies of the locomotives were painted blue — the same color as those of the sleeper train named after the Big Dipper constellation.

After they were retired in Japan, the locomotives were purchased by a Thai company, A.S. Associated Engineering Co., in 2018, for double-track railroad construction work after a plan to export them to Myanmar fell through.

However, because the trains’ operation manuals were in Japanese, local Thai staff struggled to safely operate the trains.

After receiving some guidance from Myanmarese engineers, who had worked with imported Japanese trains running on Myanmar’s national rail network, they managed to get them up and running.

But a Japanese engineer who used to work on the trains warned, after seeing a video sent by the Thai staff, that the locomotives were not being started or stopped correctly, according to the Nagasaki group.

The crowdfunding project aims to raise funds to dispatch engineers and other professionals recommended by Kyushu Railway History Museum in Kitakyushu and provide on-site guidance in Thailand.

The team of experts will also donate the necessary tools and parts for maintenance and repairs, as well as blueprints and manuals.

“By providing assistance to ensure the popular locomotives are operated safely and have a long life, we hope to make them a symbol of the friendship between Japan and Thailand,” said Motoyuki Yoshimura, a representative of Nagasaki Kisha Kurabu.

As of Saturday, ¥455,000, or 30 percent of the goal, had been pledged for the project.