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Tobu Railway SL Taiju - Hokkaido steam train crossed the ocean and now popular in Kinugawa!

東武鉄道SL大樹 川島信広撮影

The steam train used to operate in Hokkaido as “SL Niseko-Go”, etc., runs in Nikko and Kinugawa area in Tochigi Prefecture from 2017 summer as Tobu Railway’s “SL Taiju”. We miss the train a little bit as it is gone from Hokkaido, but on the other hand, we are happy that it revived as a tourist steam train which leaves atmosphere of past. I was very touched when I got on the train!


C11 type 207 machine leads Tobu Railway’s SL Taiju

SL Taiju is a tourist steam train which runs from Tobu Railway’s Shimoimaichi station to Kinugawa Onsen station. It operates for three round trips mainly on weekends. 

The train started operating as a part of steam train revival project by Tobu Railway. Nikko and Kinugawa area had steam trains operating until 1959, and Tobu Railway was trying to preserve and revive the railway industry cultural heritage. The project launched with cooperations of various railway companies all over Japan such as JR Hokkaido. 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲SL Taiju. The front car is steam train borrowed from JR Hokkaido. The cars after that are the conductor car previously owned by JR Freight, three passenger cars previously owned by JR Shikoku, and the last car is the diesel locomotive previously owned by JR East Japan. 

SL Taiju is led by C11 type 207 machine which led many tourist steam trains in JR Hokkaido such as “SL Niseko Go” and “SL Hakodate Onuma Go”. 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲C11 type 207 machine has two lights in front. The reason is that it used to operate in Hidaka Honsen Line, which was often foggy. 

The car is built in 1941 and ended its regular operation in 1974 after operating for Hidaka Honsen Line, etc., in Hokkaido. After that, it was used as a leading train for tourist steam trains in JR Hokkaido from 2000, but those trains such as “SL Niseko Go” ended the operation in 2014. C11 type 207 machine lost places to work. 

SLニセコ号 川島信広撮影▲SL Niseko Go waiting to leave from Otaru Station. People with cameras and smartphones gathered to see the train! It was undoubtedly a famous train. 

And at the right time, Tobu Railway offered an opportunity to use the train as their steam train revival project. In August 2017, the C11 type 207 machine started to run as the leading car of “SL Taiju”. The car which runs the foot of mountains in Niseko and along the lakeshore of Onuma found a new mission to run valleys of Kinugawa. 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL展示館▲Shimoimaichi station has a steam line museum, and people can learn about the mechanics of steam lines, history of steam trains in Tobu Railway, and stories of bringing different types of cars from all over Japan such as Hokkaido. 


The train has nostalgic atmosphere! You will surely be touched! 

Of course, when we get on tourist steam trains, we don’t get on the steam train itself; we get in passenger cars led by the steam train. Therefore, we tend to pay attention to steam trains, but passenger cars are significant to enjoy the train journey! 

The passenger cars used for SL Taiju is 14 series, etc., provided by JR Shikoku. This is the same series as Express Train “Hamanasu” which operated from Sapporo Station to Aomori Station until recently. 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲Those who used the night express train, don’t you feel nostalgic for its blue color and white lines? 

They did not make the passenger cars too fancy or put special decorations for tourist trains; instead, they tried to replicate the designs of old trains used to operate for JR Lines and Japan National Railways. This makes people who know the past trains nostalgic and surely be touched by being on the train! 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲The blue seat has simple reclining. As soon as I get into the train, I remembered the train journey it used to be in the past. 

The announcements in the cars mimic past express trains and make us feel nostalgic! 
Also, outside gets already dark in the evening during autumn and winter, so it is as if night express train journey that we don’t have anymore. The atmosphere at night is just fantastic! 


This is the place to see the steam train up close! 

Not only riding to enjoy the steam trains, but you can also see it up close at the platforms and along the railroad line. The most recommended place is the turning platform which steam train turns the direction! 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲Turning platform is a facility to change directions of steam trains, etc. 

Tobu Railway got two turning platforms from West Japan Railway Company as a part of steam train revival project and put them in Shimoimaichi Station and Kinugawa Onsen Station which are both starting and terminal stations.  

東武鉄道提供画像 下今市駅転車台広場▲The turning platform plaza inside Shimoimaichi station. There is a redbrick steam train storehouse in the back which you can see closely as well. 

鬼怒川温泉駅転車台広場 川島信広撮影▲The turning platform plaza in front of Kinugawa Station. Somehow, I felt a little sorrowful when I saw it turning the direction with steam whistles at night. 

The timetable of steam lines getting to the turning platforms can be found on the website of Tobu Railway. The turning platform is open to people who don’t have tickets to the steam trains, so check the timetable and visit the platform! 
* If you wish to visit turning platform in Shimoimaichi Station, you must have a ticket or entry ticket to Shimoimaichi Station. 

東武鉄道提供画像 SL大樹▲Train photography geeks should take pictures of the steam train along the railroad line! Tobu Railway explains the best photo spots for shooting the steam trains on their website. 

People in Hokkaido might feel a little lonely as the famous steam train left Hokkaido but if you see it still popular in Kinugawa, don’t you feel like your precious children became an adult? 
Those who have used tourist stem trains in Hokkaido such as SL Niseko Go, why don’t you visit Kinugawa to see the train again? You can have a different train journey from Hokkaido there. 

鬼怒川温泉駅 川島信広撮影▲The Kinugawa Onsen Station and turning platform at night. There are many onsen hotels around the station. Nikko is very close, so how about a little trip to Nikko and Kinugawa with steam trains? 


▲The video of the train! (I did not have a tripod, so the camera shakes a bit, I am sorry!) 


Related Website

Tobu Railway steam train revival project website
  • Tobu Railway SL Taiju - Hokkaido steam train crossed the ocean and now popular in Kinugawa!