JR Hokkaido is operating the steam locomotive (SL) towed sightseeing train “SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go”, which will celebrate its 23rd year this season, between Kushiro and Shibecha on the Semmo Line from January to March 2023.
Over 20 years in operation with a local aspiration
The SL “C11 Type No. 171” manufactured in 1940 was assigned to the Shumarinai engine branch of the Shimmei Line in Hokkaido, and was then operated on the Setana and Shibetsu Lines. While the SL disappeared nationwide due to the modernization of power, this locomotive was also retired in 1975, and it was popular for a long time in the form of static preservation at the children’s park in Shibecha Town.
The turning point came in 1999 when NHK’s serial TV drama “Suzuran” was aired, which depicts the railroads in Hokkaido. The SL was restored at the JR Hokkaido Naebo Factory and revived as the “SL Suzuran-go” on the Rumoi Line.
After that, in response to a request from the locals, operation as “SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go” began in January 2000, realizing a comeback to Shibecha Town. Enjoying the spectacular views of the Kushiro River and the Kushiro Marsh in the freezing winter while listening to the powerful running sounds is the real pleasure of this train.
More than 20 years have passed since the start of operation, and the aging of the passenger coaches has progressed, so from 2021, JR Hokkaido invested about 400 million yen, including general inspections of the SL, and started renovation work inside the coaches. The “Tancho Car” (cars 1 and 5), which debuted in 2022, has counter seats on the Kushiro River side and box seats on raised floors on the mountain side. It is designed so that you can enjoy the majestic scenery and the red-crowned cranes (‘Tancho’ in Japanese) from any seat (See the chart below for details such as the timetable of the “SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go”).
Mobile charging and Wi-Fi available
The car No. 2 “Cafe Car” and the cars No. 3 / 4 “Stove Car” have been renewed this year. The 14 series coaches “Stove Car” have a local feeling interior, such as a luggage rack with a motif of Yezo deer horns and a table using ash wood produced in Hokkaido. The seat fabric, walls and curtains have also been refreshed, improving comfort. The “Cafe Car”, which uses the 44 series vintage coach, has a nostalgic atmosphere, and there is also an in-car sales counter for original goods and cafe menus.
In addition, the “potbelled stoves” will continue to be installed in the passenger rooms of cars No. 2 to 4, and you can freely relax around them, such as enjoying roasting “surume” (dried squid) that can be purchased on board.
In addition, the toilets in cars No. 1, 3 and 5 has been westernized, and a large luggage storage area has been newly established. The cars No. 1 / 5 have dedicated mobile device charging corners, and free Wi-Fi is available in each car.
After full renewal, the “SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go” started operating on January 21, 2023 (Sat), and will operate once a day for a total of 32 days until March 21 (Tue). At the Kushiro Station platform on the first day of operation, the departure ceremony, which has been canceled due to the influence of the COVID-19, was held for the first time in three years.
In addition, the special local product sales events will be held at Shibecha Station on the day of SL operation. The “Yumeguri & Gourmet-go” bus, which makes a round trip to restaurants and hot springs in Shibecha Town, is also operated according to the time when the SL stops at Shibecha Station.
If you want to go further, you can also use the reservation-only “East Hokkaido Express Bus,” which operates only in winter. Two of the eight lines are scheduled to connect according to the operation day of the “SL Fuyu no Shitsugen-go”, and operate between Shibecha Station and the hotels of Kawayu Onsen and Shiretoko Utoro Onsen. So that you can enjoy sightseeing using only public transportation, there are sightseeing times to get off at “Mt. Iou” in Kawayu and “Oshinkoshin Falls” in Shiretoko along the way, so those who are worried about driving a rental car on snowy roads can rest assured. Advance reservations are required to board the buses, and passengers have to stay at affiliated accommodations in Kawayu and Shiretoko.