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Hidden Wonders | Steam Train 'SL Hitoyoshi' Makes Its Final Journey

The Class 8620 steam locomotive of the "SL Hitoyoshi" was built in 1914. On its retirement day, many railway fans gathered along its route to say goodbye.



JR Kyushu's excursion train the "SL Hitoyoshi" on its retirement day on March 23. (©Kyodo)

In the distance, a deep whistle echoed through the air, signaling the approach of a jet-black steam locomotive. It emerged, emitting billows of white and black smoke, roaring like a mighty beast. On March 23, the iconic SL Hitoyoshi completed its final journey and retired.

After the closure ceremony of the "SL Hitoyoshi" excursion train service, engineers (right) and other staff pose in front of the Class 8620 steam locomotive No 58654 on March 24 at JR Yatsushiro Station in Kumamoto Prefecture. (©Kyodo)

Operated by JR Kyushu, the steam-hauled excursion train SL Hitoyoshi held the prestigious title of Japan's oldest operating steam train. Its carriages were pulled by Class 8620 steam locomotive No 58654.

Class 8620 locomotives, also known as Hachiroku, began production in 1914. No 58654 was manufactured in 1922 and had been active throughout Kyushu until its first retirement in 1975. It was then preserved in Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, until 1988 when it was revived as SL Aso Boy.

The "SL Hitoyoshi" leaves Tamana Station on March 3. (©Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

Starting in 2009, it ran as the SL Hitoyoshi on the Hisatsu Line. However, in 2020, the Kyushu floods inflicted severe damage to both tracks and bridges, leading to the suspension of operations between Yatsushiro Station (Kumamoto Prefecture) and Yoshimatsu Station (Kagoshima). 

As a result, from 2021, the SL Hitoyoshi ran from Kumamoto Station to Tosu Station (Saga Prefecture) on the Kagoshima Main Line.

"SL Hitoyoshi" on its way to Tosu Station on March 2 in Kita Ward, Kumamoto City. (©Sankei by Takumi Kamoshida)

Fans Say Goodbye

When the SL Hitoyoshi's retirement was announced, many railway fans gathered along its route and stations. Yukio Ota, the president of a construction company, erected a huge signboard in Kita Ward, Kumamoto. It read, "Thank you SL Hitoyoshi, goodbye." 

Ota said, "I've been watching this train for a very long time, so I wanted to give it a proper farewell." 

The "SL Hitoyoshi" departs from JR Kumamoto Station on its last day of service. (©Kyodo)

Regarding the future of the locomotive after its last run, a JR Kyushu spokesperson stated, "It's undecided at this point."

On March 23, Hachiroku surged forward energetically, its gleaming black body pulling the heavy carriages. It seemed to be saying, "I still have plenty left in me. I won't be beaten by the youngsters!"

On its retirement day, signs with messages such as "Thank you SL Hitoyoshi" were placed along its route. (©Kyodo)


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Takumi Kamoshida, The Sankei Shimbun


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