Japanese train buffs seek to help Thailand

Japanese train buffs seek to help Thailand

Expert advice sought as locomotives shipped to Ratchaburi came with manuals in Japanese only

The Japanese DD51 class diesel locomotives, built in 1975, are now stationed at the Nong Pladuk junction in Ban Pong district of Ratchaburi.
The Japanese DD51 class diesel locomotives, built in 1975, are now stationed at the Nong Pladuk junction in Ban Pong district of Ratchaburi.

FUKOUKA, Japan: Train enthusiasts in Japan have launched a crowdfunding project to send experts to Thailand to advise on the maintenance and operation of two Japanese locomotives exported to the country last year — along with Japanese-only operating manuals.

Nagasaki Kisha Kurabu, which launched the campaign on Aug 11, aims to raise 1.5 million yen (US$14,100) 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 yen up to 100,000 yen, with rewards ranging from having their names displayed inside the locomotives, to attending a photo session in Nong Pladuk junction in Ban Pong district of Ratchaburi, 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 privatisation in 1987.

Their engines hauled trains including the limited express sleeper train Hokutosei, which ran between Ueno Station in Tokyo and Sapporo Station in Hokkaido until the end of services in 2015.

After their retirement in Japan, the locomotives were purchased by the Thai company AS Associated Engineering Co in 2018 for double-track railway construction work, after a plan to export them to Myanmar fell through.

Provided with an operation manual only written in Japanese, however, local Thai staff struggled to safely operate the trains.

Receiving some guidance on how to move the locomotives from engineers from Myanmar, which has imported retired Japanese trains and runs them on its national railway network, they managed to start them.

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

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

The team of experts will also offer 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 yen, or 30% of the goal, had been pledged for the project.

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