The International Steam Pages

Steam and the Railways of Sakhalin Island

Sakhalin Island off the north of Japan is part of Russia, but was probably unique in having its railways built to 3'6" gauge as described below. There is almost no mention of it on this website, save in Leslie MacAlister's report on the Bam Steam Express which ran in mid 2000, I have now posted some pictures of the D51 on that tour's special train. See also this Japanese site:, (link dead by July 2020).

Harvey Smith worked Sakhalin Island from December 2003 to December 2005, he has this to say:

From 1905 until 1945 this was Japanese territory. Most of the principal infrastructure including the railway dates from this period. The railways are only just now being converted from Japanese 3ft 6in to Russian 5ft gauge. The original D51 2-8-2 Japanese locomotives were used until 1979. There are narrow gauge line and a 5 ft gauge line somewhere in the north of the island, but I never saw these. I saw a lot of remains of the 3ft 6in system, where it has been taken up and moved and where branches have been removed. (Harvey can detail these and also some of the diesels to anyone with an interest if they get in touch with me (RD), these days I don't put other people's email addresses on the site owing to spam harvesting.).  I also found some derelict stationary engines of Japanese vintage in Vzmorye. 

So what can be found? Just outside the main city Yuzhno Sakhalinsk to the north west on the line to Dalneye, there are 2 D51 2-8-2 locomotives and a coal powered snow clearing machine (less tender). They are all of Japanese vintage, and in scrapyard condition. But a determined Japanese locomotive enthusiast could recover them. 

There is one steam loco (D51.4 2-8-2) that is runner and it is resident at the main station of Yuzhno-Sakhlinsk. Train buffs and travel agents do organise tours, I believe principally organised by Japanese travel agents. But I know of westerners, who have had a ride behind the local steam specials. I tried to get on such a steam special once but failed, despite speaking the language and having a translator. The best source of information are the train drivers who are a friendly bunch. . There is a foot tunnel under the shunting yard and that brings you out near the works department. They drive a number of Russian diesels in 3ft 6 in gauge   Incidentally, for a good view of these at work, book into the Eurasia Hotel next to the station and which overlooks the yard. You do not get much sleep, but at least you have hotel room entertainment with a difference. 

If you ever manage to gain access to the works areas of the main station on the other side of the tracks from the main station building, you can also find another old Japanese snow clearing machine complete with tender. It too is in scrapyard condition.

There is a fine plinthed Japanese D51.22 2-8-2 locomotive outside the main station. It is resplendent in Soviet colours.

Behind it with some difficulty you can find the railway museum. This I never visited on account that it is open Monday to Friday 9.00am until 5.00pm. If you follow the road north of the station (or right as you look at the station fašade) you will find a display of 3ft 6inch rolling stock, including an ancient snow plough and a snow blower. When I was living on the island I saw 2 metres of snow fall in approximately 24 hours, so the snow clearing machinery is needed.

The ceremony of despatching a train from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to the north of the Island should also be observed. A great flag waving and whistle blowing event with stewardesses proudly standing to attention with a flag in their hands in the doorway of each coach. The trains are often mixed passenger and freight.

Rob Dickinson