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Friday, May 2, 2008

Train museum on track for 2 million visitors

Staff writer

Japan's biggest museum devoted to all things locomotive, the Railway Museum in Saitama City, welcomed its millionth visitor at the end of March. Amazingly, it has only been open since October.

If this trainspotter trap maintains its current pace it is likely to keep toot, toot, tooting right on up to the 2 million mark in its first year — a feat superior even to that of the illustrious Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, which usually runs out of steam each year at the paltry 1.7 million mark or thereabouts.

Keen to see what all the fuss is about? Well, in addition to their usual permanent displays of trains, trains and more trains, the museum is currently hosting a temporary exhibition (through June 23) devoted to that "aorta" of the Tokyo public transport system, the Chuo Line.

Timed to coincide with the retiring of the iconic westerly route's familiar orange trains, the 201 Class that have been in service since 1979, the exhibition examines the history of the Chuo Line, with destination plates and other paraphernalia from the first steam locomotives that ran the route way back in the 19th century. Every other train that has followed in its tracks will be represented too, in either photographs or models. Those in the know are likely to get a shiver down the spine at the very mention of their names: 963, 6110, 40, 51, 73, 101 and E233! The exhibition will also include photographs showing the changing views of Tokyo as seen by those aboard the Chuo Line.

And if all that just leaves you crying for more, then the museum's popular permanent displays also feature more than 30 real carriages, a train-driving simulator and, last but not least, a model train set that measures a whopping 8 × 25 meters. With 20 trains racing around 1,400 meters of track, it is the largest model of its kind in Japan.

Admission to the museum is ¥1,000 for adults, which includes entrance to the Chuo Line exhibition. The museum is open 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. every day except Tuesdays. Further information available at www.railway-museum.jp

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