In Thailand, the train is not the most popular mode of transportation. It tends to smell, is slow and hardly ever arrives at its destination on time. In Japan, it’s a very different story. As we wait in line to buy our tickets for the SCMaglev and Railway Park in Nagoya, Central Japan, we look back in amazement at the crowd of train buffs who are braving an ever-growing queue for the new train exhibition.
“The Japanese can’t go anywhere without the train. They can’t live apart,” says Phum, our guide in Nagoya. “The kids take it to school; salary men ride it between their homes and offices. They even make AV movies on the trains.”
The SCMaglev and Railway Park is a railway museum owned by Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central). It opened in March last year and quickly gained popularity both among families and train enthusiasts.
The museum features 39 full-size railway vehicles and one bus exhibit, train cab simulators, and railway model dioramas that can keep train fans exhilarated all day.
There is many fascinating trains on display across the huge exhibition hall of SCMaglev and Railway Park. Shinkansen, locomotives, electric railcars, diesel railcars, steam railcars, passenger carriages, you name it.
“I think we have found our future train here,” says one of my travel companions, as he wanders around the 300X Shinkansen, a Japanese high-speed train. When running at top speed, says the sign, the train can whisk you away at 300 kilometres per hour and even faster. Imagine travelling between Bangkok and Nakhon Sawan in one hour. This is the train we want in Thailand.
“Yes, but it was built to test the technology so it’s been retired to the museum,” says the guide, in a deadpan voice.
I am astounded I am and so are the rest of the Thais in the group. Back home, our trains stink – literally and economically. The Thai train, a money-losing machine, rarely sees any improvements. It’s so bad that even the dog barks when you return home from a train trip. You smell like train yourself.
Rail was introduced to Japan in 1872 – which is 24 years earlier than the initial rail service between Bangkok to Ayutthaya. While we’re still hoping for our first hi-speed train, the Japanese have already put a few of them in a museum.
There are interactive display everywhere, offering a chance for kids of all ages to play and learn about their train culture. The dioramas of train lines, for example, are popular with families, as they are designed with models of Nagoya Castle and the Tokyo Sky Tree. Every time the train models get close, the kids stand up and wave at the small running models.
The museum also features an N700 bullet train simulator that has the same cockpit as a real shinkansen. The simulator lets guests operate the accelerator and brake pedals while its large video screen shows scenery changing as if viewed from the windows of the real thing.
“The park will only allow 30 people a day to use the simulator to prevent crowding at the museum,” says a cute-looking Japanese lady, who shows us around the museum.
And you can see the impressive collection of locomotives, electric railcars, diesel railcars and steam railcars. Elderly Japanese, most of wearing “nobody-builds-train-like-the-Japanese” expressions, hang around the locomotives. Every train has a story to tell.
My favourite is the C57139 steam locomotive that stretches out across the exhibition hall. The locomotive was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in 1940, restored by Japan Rail and loaded into Nagoya’s new railway museum. Black and serious-looking, this iron horse makes Shinkansen look like a bar of white chocolate.
If you go
Thai Airways International operates direct flight between Bangkok and Nagoya. Admission to SCMaglev and Railway Park is ¥200 (Bt80) for children over three, ¥500 for elementary, junior high and high school students and ¥1,000 for adults.