Kamaishi-sen 釜石線

A rapid train at Miyamori, between Hanamaki and Tôno. The three cars are KIHA 110-3, KIHA 112-3, KIHA 111-1. (2013)

The Steam train "SL GALAXY" with loco C58 239 and the diesel car set entering Kamaishi (the 4 coaches are, from right to left, KIHA143-701, KISAHA144-701, KISAHA144-702, KIHA 142-701).(2019)

The Kamaishi-sen is one of the branch lines off the Tôhoku Honsen (the principal north-south transport artery of northern Honshû) connecting central Tôhoku with the Pacific Coast. It is 90, 2 km long and diesel operated. On its way from the town of Hanamaki it traverses the central plateau of Iwate Prefecture into the Tôno region and then passes through the wild mountain range which separates central Iwate from the coastal region. To get down to the coast the Hanamaki-sen needs to tackle the very steep incline between the Tôno area and the Kamaishi area.

The section from Hanamaki to the Tôno area is rural, with relatively small farming villages dotting the countryside. Tôno is a small town known for the preservation of ancient traditions, folktales and legends. After passing through Ashigase at the eastern rim of the Tôno area (61, 2 km from Hanamaki) the train descends steeply through numerous tunnels and across the "Red Bridge" (Onigasawa Bridge) high up on the mountain side, eventually entering the long 180° spiral tunnel leading into Rikuchû Ôhashi station (73, 7 km from Hanamaki). In the Rikuchû Ôhashi area we can see the remains of what used to be an important location for mining iron ore. From the remote Rikuchû Ôhashi the line continues its descent down the valley to Kamaishi.

Kamaishi has been known since 1857 for its blast furnaces, iron works and steel mills. Today, the city is dominated by a large factory producing, among other things, coils, machine parts and wires.

The Kamaishi-sen has seen a number of special tourist trains, and since 2014 the reactivated steam locomotive C58 239 regularly hauls the "SL Galaxy" train over the line. (The reference to the Galaxy we find in many parts of Iwate Prefecture stems from the fascinating tale "Fantasy Railroad to the Stars" by Miyazawa Kenji, written around 1924, first published 1934). The SL Galaxy train is composed of 4 coaches which used to form a diesel car set on Hokkaidô; the two end cars are motorised and help the steam locomotive up the steep gradients.


The construction of the Kamaishi-sen took place over a long period, at first in the form of a light railway with 762 mm gauge (Iwate Keibin Tetsudô). However, the steep incline between the Tôno plateau and the valley at Rikuchû Ôhashi was not completed until 1950. The earliest railway operations in the Kamaishi area began as far back as 1880, and transformation of the 762 mm lines to 1067 mm gauge took place 1944-1950. In 1936 the then existing network was taken over by the state. Freight services ended in 1999.

Kamaishi has repeatedly been hit by serious earthquakes and, in their wake, devastating tsunami. Particularly the harbour area has suffered enormous damage, and the railway was only gradually reopened after the 2011 disaster (the line from Kamaishi along the coast to the north remained closed 2011-2019). Also, the destruction of Kamaishi through bombing in 1945 should be mentioned.

Services over the Kamaishi-sen are fairly regular; most trains run to and from Morioka (a further 35, 3 km) and change direction at Hanamaki. There are – in both directions - 7 stopping trains (operated by the smaller class 100 diesel cars) and 3 rapid trains (operated by the larger class 110/111/112 sets) with comfortable reservable seats. One train works Tôno-Kamaishi.

Early in the morning at Morioka a 3-car diesel set prepares for the run to Kamaishi. It will change direction at Hanamaki, before getting on the Kamaishi-sen proper. The three cars are KIHA 100-22, KIHA 100-17, KIHA 100-16. (2013)

Rice fields seen from a Kamaishi bound train near Nitanai, the first stop after leaving Hanamaki. (2019)

Approaching the Shinkansen station Shin Hanamaki, the exchange station for passengers to and from Tokyo and the Tôhoku Shinkansen. (2013)

On the way to Tsuchizawa, the fourth stop on the Kamaishi-sen. (2013)

Sunset near Haruyama, the fifth stop on the Kamaishi-sen. (2019)

KIHA 100-28 at Miyamori, a regular crossing point between Hanamaki and Tôno. (2013)

KIHA 100-16 at Miyamori. (2019)

KIHA 100-16 after leaving Miyamori for Hanamaki. (2019)

The SL GALAXY with locomotive C58 239 crossing Miyamori bridge on its way up to Hanamaki. (2019)

A two-car train (KIHA 100 22 + KIHA 100 13) crossing Miyamori bridge on their way down to Tôno and Kamaishi. (2019)

Kashiwagidaira, between Miyamori and Masuzawa. (2013)

Masuzawa halt, with KIHA 100-16 in the mirror. (2013)

Masuzawa halt, with KIHA 100-16 crossing. (2019)

Ayaori halt, with KIHA 100-16 in the mirror. (2013)

The sun setting near Ayaori. (2019)

KIHA 100-28 in Tôno. (2013)

KIHA 100-19 and KIHA 100-17 at Tôno station. (2019)

The writer Miyazawa Kenji was fascinated with the concept of Esperanto. In honour to him all stations on the Kamaishi-sen carry names in Esperanto, here Iwate Kamigô halt, referring to the famous local shishiodori (dance of the deer). (2019)

Ashigase crossing point at the edge of the very steep descent / ascent to and from Rikuchû Ôhashi. (2019)

At Aozasa, the first stop after Tôno. (2013)

Hirakura halt, nearing the mountain range that separates the coastal region from the Tôno plateau. (2013)

KIHA 100-19 at Hirakura. (2019)

Ashigase, at the rim of the Tôno plateau before commencing the steep descent down to the coastal region. Waiting for a crossing rapid service is 3-car train KIHA 100-16, KIHA 100-17 and KIHA 100-22. (2013)

Ashigase, with a rapid service coming up from Kamaishi. The 3-car train consists of KIHA 112-1, KIHA 111-1, and KIHA 110-2. (2019)

On the descent from Ashigase to Rikuchû Ôhashi deer are crossing the line. (2013)

Crossing the Red Bridge - from a train climbing up to Ashigase.

Looking towards the lower entrance of the long and steep spiral 180° tunnel from the station of Rikuchû Ôhashi. The remains of former iron ore mining facilities can be seen. (2019)

As the train now heads down the valley the Red Bridge (Onigasawa Bridge) can been seen up on the hillside. (2019)

Climbing down the valley from Rikuchû Ôhashi to Dôsen. (2019)

Matsukura halt, with KIHA 100-16 in the mirror. (2013)

The graveyard at Matsukura, seen from the train. (2013)

From a train climbing out of Kamaishi towards Rikuchû Ôhashi. Passing through the last houses of Kamaishi town, after Kosano. (2019)

Kamaishi station, with a stopping train (KIHA 100-26 and KIHA 100-20) on the left, and the rapid train (KIHA 111-1, KIHA 112-3, KIHA 110-138) on the right. Taken from the platform of the Sanriku Tetsudô, whose southern line at the time ended here. (2010)

Train set KIHA 100-16, KIHA 100-27, KIHA 100-22 has arrived at Kamaishi from Morioka. (2013)

KIHA 100-16 at Kamaishi, with the iron works in the background. (2013)

C58 239 has worked down from Morioka to Kamaishi und is now setting back to the turntable (for tomorrow's return journey) and its special shed. (2019)

Rapid train (from right to left) KIHA 110-2, KIHA111-1, KIHA 112-1 arriving at Kamaishi from Morioka. (2019)

Setting out from Kamaishi back up to Hanamaki and Morioka. On the right is the special shed housing the steam locomotive C58 239. (2019)