The Red List of Trains in Japan

JNR Class DD51

JNR Vermillion

Data (as of 31 Mar 2024)

Status:  Endangered 
 (JR West)
 Critically Endangered 
 (JR East)
 (other JRs)
Constructed in: 1962-78
Number built: 649
Registered: 10


The Class DD51 locomotives were introduced by Japanese National Railways to replace steam locomotives as part of the Modernisation Programme. The Class DD51 was designed for both passenger and freight trains on major lines across the country except Shikoku. It can haul trains double-headed with other diesel locomotives. In the 1960s, the Class DD51 engaged in double or even triple-heading with Class C61 steam locomotive.

As JNR declined because of cars and lorries, as well as unreliable train services caused by industrial actions, the number of trains dropped in the 1970-80s. In addition, many major lines were electrified by the 1980s, diesel locomotives became redundant, and the Class DD51 was no exception. Less than 260 locos were succeeded by JR Hokkaido, JR East, JR Central, JR West, JR Kyushu and JR Freight when JNR was privatised in 1987.

JR Hokkaido was the last company that used them for passenger services. Until 2016, the locos hauled sleeper trains Cassiopeia, Hokutosei (both Ueno - Sapporo), Twilight Express (Osaka - Sapporo) and Hamanasu (Aomori - Sapporo). Those owned by JR East were used for coach trains mainly during peak seasons, so were those owned by JR Central. JR West allocated them to sleeper train Izumo (Tokyo - Izumoshi), while JR Kyushu operated it for stopping services in Fukuoka area.

JR Freight had been using the Class DD51 across the country, hauling various freight trains. They were used in Hokkaido and Nagoya area until recently, before they were replaced with Class DF200 Red Bear by 2021.

Current Operations & Future Prospects

Today, JR East and JR West own very few locos for ad hoc works such as engineering trains and empty coaching stock movement. JR West sometimes uses them on Yamaguchi Line when a steam train goes faulty.

JR East has decided to demolish all locomotives including the Class DD51 by 2025 while JR West has not announced anything about their future.


JR East's DD51 with 24 series coaches as a part of crew training. It is extremely rare since the mid-2000s.

Double headed DD51s hauling sleeper train Hokutosei. JR Hokkaido was the last company to regularly use the DD51 for passenger train.

JR Freight had repainted many of them when refurbished.

(Updated: 31 Mar 2024)

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