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JR News: Welcome back SL Ginga! Highlights of the SL Ginga Tohoku DC Musubi Train

JR News: Welcome back SL Ginga! Highlights of the SL Ginga Tohoku DC Musubi Train

NOTE: The SL Ginga permanently ceased operations from spring 2023.


After almost a year of undergoing maintenance works and a complete overhaul, Iwate Prefecture’s iconic steam locomotive (SL) train, the SL Ginga (SL銀河), is finally up and running again! To kick-start the train’s comeback, a special event, the SL Ginga Tohoku DC Musubi Train (SL銀河東北DC結び号), was held on 21 August 2021, running from Morioka Station (盛岡駅) to Kamaishi Station (釜石駅).


Reborn from the love and dreams of the Tohoku people, the SL Ginga doesn’t only connect you to your destination, it also connects the hearts of the people who encounter it. When you ride the train, along the journey you will see and feel the welcoming hospitality of the locals, which will surely bring a smile to your face and warm the cockles of your heart.


SL Ginga undergoing its recent overhaul. (Image credit: JR East 盛岡車両センター / Ika)


The SL Ginga was started in 2014 in order to revitalise and bring back tourism to the disaster-stricken regions in Iwate after the 2011 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami.


It was restored from the C58 239 SL train, which was originally built in 1940.  As the train vehicle is over 80 years old, it regularly requires maintenance to ensure that the parts are in working order. In addition to regular maintenance, complete overhauls, which include detailed inspections and repair of individual parts, are conducted when necessary. This was the SL Ginga’s first complete overhaul since its debut, and took almost a year to complete.


The SL Ginga is an icon of the Kamaishi Line. (Image credit: JR East MaaS・Suica推進本部 / Watanabe)


2021 is a special year, as it marks 10 years after the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and currently the Tohoku Destination Campaign (DC) is being held from April–September 2021.


To celebrate both the SL Ginga’s comeback and the Tohoku DC, the SL Ginga Tohoku DC Musubi Train ran on 21 and 22 August, with the hope that it would be a bridge that "connects" stations and railways with the local people (“musubi” means “connection”).


Did you notice from the picture above? The SL Ginga is currently sporting the Tohoku DC logo as its headmark!


Welcome banners at Hanamaki Station and Tono Station. (Image credit: JR East Morioka Branch)


Due to the large amount of resources required to operate SL trains, the SL Ginga only makes a one-way trip for each day of operation. Usually, the SL Ginga runs between Hanamaki Station and Kamaishi Station, but during the special event on 21 August it departed from Morioka Station, the main train hub in Iwate, made its way to Hanamaki Station, and then went onward to Kamaishi Station.


Along the major stations of the train’s route, you could feel the warmth and welcome from the local people and volunteers, who held up banners welcoming the train.


Clockwise from top left: special events and appearances at Morioka Station, Hanamaki Station, Miyamori Station, Kami-Arisu Station. (Image credit: JR East Morioka Branch / Takahashi)


Other than banners, there were also other special performances and appearances held along the line to welcome the train, such as:

  • send-off by station staff at Morioka Station
  • shishi odori (鹿踊り deer dance) performance at Hanamaki Station
  • taiko drum performance at Miyamori Station
  • welcome by Goyozan Matchlock Rifle Brigade at Kami-Arisu Station


SL Ginga crossing the Miyamorigawa Bridge. (Image credit: JR East Morioka Branch)


One of the highlights of the ride was a viewpoint near the Miyamorigawa Bridge (宮守川橋梁 Miyamorigawa kyо̄ryо̄), which is well-known as a photography spot for train enthusiasts wanting to see the SL Ginga. Just a short 700m walk from JR Miyamori Station (宮守駅), from this viewpoint you can see the train crossing the arched stone bridge, with steam billowing as it passes. From onboard the train, you could see dozens of supporters below, many of whom were locals who came from all over Iwate.


The SL Ginga Tohoku DC Musubi Train at Miyamorigawa Bridge. (Video credit: JR East Morioka Branch)


Check out the video above taken by our colleagues from JR East Morioka Branch, which shows the same scene unfolding from two perspectives: one looking up from the ground, and one looking down from on board the train!


Vintage red booth seats in of the SL Ginga. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


The SL Ginga brings to life Miyazawa Kenji’s beloved classic “Night on the Galactic Railroad” (銀河鉄道の夜 Ginga Tetsudо̄ no Yoru). As you take in the atmosphere of the vintage-style booth seats covered in red velvet, complemented with metallic hardware and stained-glass style windows, you will feel as if you have stepped back in time to the early 20th century, when Miyazawa Kenji lived.


The train also features an optical planetarium onboard, where you can enjoy a short 6-minute show. Due to COVID-19, the planetarium has temporarily stopped operations. For more information about the interior of the SL Ginga and some sightseeing stops along the way, check out this article.


Signboard along the line have special designs. (Image credit: JR East / Carissa Loh)


From 28 August (Saturday), the SL Ginga will run every weekend until 5 December (Sunday). On Saturdays, the train will make a one-way trip from Hanamaki Station to Kamaishi Station. On Sundays, it will make the return trip from Kamaishi Station to Hanamaki Station. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the special signboards at the stations along the line.


When travel restrictions are lifted and travel to Japan is possible again, we hope you can take a ride on the SL Ginga!


Header image credit: JR East Morioka Branch


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