The Red List of Trains in Japan

JNR Class EF81

The original livery

Data (as of 31 Mar 2024)

Status:  Critically Endangered 
 (JR East, JR Freight)
 (JR West, JR Kyushu)
Constructed in: 1968-79, 1986-92
Number built: 164
Registered: 19


Class EF81 is a type of dual-voltage electric locomotive of Japanese National Railways. It was developed for Hokuriku Main Line, which is electrified in two different ways. More were delivered to other areas where dual-voltage train was necessary, such as Joban, Tohoku Main and Uetsu Main Lines, as well as San-yo Main Line in Kyushu (Kanmon Tunnel). The EF81 is based on Class EF65, but there are many differences not least equipment compatible with all types of electrification: DC 1.5 kV, AC 20 kV 50 Hz and that of 60 Hz.

There are several variants, and nos. 450s and 500s were introduced by JR Freight, after Japanese National Railways was privatised in 1987.

The EF81 locos have been used widely in Honshu and Kyushu islands, both for passenger and freight trains. JNR (and later JRs) used them for various passenger trains, not only Sleeper Limited Express services but also stopping services in Tohoku region and Hokuriku Main Line. Sleeper Limited Express included Hokutosei and Cassiopeia (Ueno - Sapporo), Twilight Express (Osaka - Sapporo via Hokuriku Main Line) and Asakaze (Tokyo - Hakata, partly).

Following the privatisation of JNR in 1987, the EF81 locos were allocated to JR East, JR West, JR Kyushu and JR Freight. Three companies providing passenger services mainly used the locos for sleeper trains, though JR East also used them for stopping services on Ou Main Line. Those for stopping services were replaced with electric multiple units, and sleeper trains were mostly discontinued by the 2000s. Those owned by JR Kyushu were scrapped by 2010, while others by JR West were all withdrawn by 2023.

Meanwhile, considerable number of the locos owned by JR Freight had been operational until the 2010s, such as freight trains between Osaka and Aomori (via Hokuriku Main Line). However, the company is replacing the EF81s with new locomotives like Class EF510.

Current Operations & Future Prospects

JR East uses a few for ad hoc work (mostly engineering work) and empty coaching stock. JR East is going to withdraw all locomotives by 2025, including the EF81.

JR Freight operates a few of them in Kyushu. There are several freight trains hauled by EF81s in Fukuoka and Kumamoto Prefectures. They are also going to be replaced with the Class EF510 by 2025.


Super Express Rainbow livery, which was named after a Joyful Train (in service: 1987-2000).

The newest group of Class EF81, introduced in 1992.

(Updated: 31 Mar 2024)

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