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Train buffs join forces online to save Japan’s fading railway assets

Railroad enthusiasts across Japan are pooling resources to make financial contributions via the internet to preserve abandoned rail facilities and support financially struggling local railways.

Some of these sites have turned into tourist destinations, where railway buffs gather for exchange events, with locals hoping the trend will help revitalize regional economies.

(A human-powered railway turntable and a C11-type steam locomotive on display in Shibetsu, Hokkaido)

A human-powered railway turntable remains in the town of Shibetsu at the former Nemuroshibetsu terminal station of Hokkaido Railway Co.’s Shibetsu Line, scrapped in 1989, and a C11-type steam locomotive was on display near a community center several hundred meters away from the site.

Both the railway turntable and steam engine showed degradation from aging. Last year, a local construction company and others launched a turntable preservation society aimed at creating new tourist attractions combining the device and rolling stock.

«It became popular among children and we started to see some of them who came to events many times,» said Shizuo Shinoda, 65, who heads the preservation society.

The society has raised money through crowdfunding to cover part of the 8 million yen ($ 71,000) expense for tasks such as hoisting the locomotive onto the railway turntable, which is about 14 meters in diameter, by crane and removing rust.

In June and July last year, around 1.11 million yen was collected and used for preservation activities.

The society has held various events, such as manually turning the turntable with the steam locomotive on top, and some 100 railroad fans participated in an event held on Oct. 7 during which they enjoyed a tour of the vehicle.

Koichi Wada, a 66-year-old resident of Toyonaka, Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, made a financial contribution to the society and visited the town with his family.

«I felt their enthusiasm. I would like to support their activities that utilize their local heritage,» Wada said after spending time with Shinoda and others.

Meanwhile, Kyushu Railway Co. is advancing a plan to remodel the stationmaster’s former lodgings at Yatake Station in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, southwestern Japan. The time-honored building on the Hisatsu Line was built in the Meiji Era (1868-1912).

As of October, the operator of the facility had collected about 3 million yen via crowdfunding to cover part of the refurbishing costs.

Crowdfunding appears to be the method of choice for raising funds in the recent trend of railroad preservation and supporting struggling local railways.

In Choshi, Chiba Prefecture, near Tokyo, students of Choshi Commercial Senior High School collected nearly 5 million yen in 2014 to aid repairs of train cars of Choshi Electric Railway Co.

Other crowdfunding cases include efforts by Shinano Railway Co. in Nagano Prefecture, central Japan, and Yuri Kogen Railway in Akita Prefecture, northeastern Japan.

According to Japanese crowdfunding platform Readyfor Inc., there have been about 50 projects related to railways since 2011, one of them being to preserve compartment coaches from the limited express sleeper train Hokutosei, which had linked Tokyo’s Ueno Station and Hokkaido’s Sapporo Station until ending its service in 2015.

«Many people seem to be interested in visible efforts like the maintenance and preservation of train cars and station buildings,» a Readyfor official said in analyzing the trend.

«(The projects) also provide financial contributors an opportunity to visit related sites as tourists,» the official said.

All — Kyodo News+

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