Nagasaki Honsen    長崎本線

Nagasaki, at the western edge of the Japanese main islands, is far from Japan's important population centres. In 1973 a journey to Nagasaki from Tôkyô by sleeping car took around 19 1/2 hours, in 1988 around 18 hours. From 1975 onwards, many people used the Shinkansen to Hakata (in Fukuoka) and there switched to the express train for Nagasaki. Today, this journey takes 5 hours from Tôkyô to Hakata and another approx. 2 hours on to Nagasaki. However, many people prefer to fly. Since the opening of the northern section of the Kyûshû Shinkansen in 2011, through Shinkansen trains for Ôsaka can be taken to or from Shin Tosu on the Nagasaki Honsen.

The future of the connection to Nagasaki is still uncertain; a new Shinkansen line from Hizen Yamaguchi to Isahaya is under construction since 2008, the continuation from there to Nagasaki since 2012. How the line east of Hizen Yamaguchi will be connected to Saga, Tosu and Hakata is not yet clear.

The Nagasaki Honsen is 125, 3 km in length from Tosu to Nagasaki, but trains run to and from Hakata station (a further 28, 6 km). From Tosu westward the lines passes through the Saga plain to Hizen Yamaguchi. After branching off to the south the single line winds its way in an endless succession of tight curves along the Ariake Sea to Isahaya. Shortly after Isahaya trains enter the new direct line (built 1972) to Nagasaki via Utsutsugawa. This line runs mainly through tunnels.

The two intercity express train types on the Nagasaki Honsen at Hizen Kashima: (Left) Class 787 (last coach KUMORO 787-1), (Right) Class 885 (first coach KUROHA 884-5). (2013)

Class 885 (no. 8) at the crossing station between Tara and Hizen Ôura alongside the Ariake Sea. (2013)

The sections from Tosu to Hizen Yamaguchi (and on to Haiki), as well as the short section from Nagayo (on the old line) to Nagasaki were built in 1897/8, but the line along the Ariake Sea from Hizen Yamaguchi to Isahaya was not completed until 1930 – 1934. The Nagasaki Honsen was electrified (alternating current, 20 kV/60 Hz) in 1976. Freight trains still operate from Tosu into the Saga region, but no further.

Intercity express trains from Hakata to Nagasaki run approximately every half hour, with additional trains (continuing in the direction of Sasebo) as far as Hizen Yamaguchi. Stopping trains beyond Hizen Yamaguchi to the west are relatively sparse.

Approaching Hizen Yamaguchi from the southwest. (2018)

Most local services on the Nagasaki Honsen from Hizen Yamaguchi to the west are worked by class 817 sets. As the Nagasaki Honsen is only single-track, trains (here local service class 817 no.21) need to wait relatively long at crossing points, here at Hizen Shiroishi between Hizen Yamaguchi and Hizen Kashima. (2018)

Class 787 (no. KUMOHA 786-14) leaving Hizen Kashima. (2013)

From the train between Hizen Iida and Tara, looking towards the mountains. (2018)

Taken in 1981 from an intercity express near Tara with the Ariake Sea at low tide. The difference between the ebb and flow of the tides in the Ariake Sea can be from 4 to 6 meters.

South of Tara. The Ariake Sea is famous for its edible seaweed and nori production; all along the coast seaweed plantations can be seen. (2018)

Express train set class 885 no.5 has just passed the crossing point at Sato and its heading towards Isahaya and Nagasaki. (2018)

As the Nagasaki Honsen is only single-track local trains often need to wait at crossing points for expresses to overtake. Here class 885 no.1 heading for Hakata passes on the right of a waiting local service at Doizaki. (2018)

As the train rounds the bend towards Isahaya, Shimabara Peninsula with its active volcano Unzen can be made out in the distance. (2018)

An express service for Nagasaki (class 787, no.8) waits at Konagai (about 18 km east of Isahaya) for the oncoming local train. (2018)

From the train near Oe, not far to the east of Isahaya. (2018)

Between tunnels a glimpse of the landscape on the new end section (opened 1972) near Utsutsugawa. (2013)

Sleeping car OHANE 15 34 at Nagasaki terminal in 1981.