The Red List of Trains in Japan

JNR KiHa 181 series

Data (as of 27 Nov 2021)

Status:  Extinct 
Constructed in: 1968-72
Number built: 158
Retired in: 2011


The KiHa 181 series was a type of limited express diesel train developed by Japanese National Railways. At the time of introduction, diesel trains in Japan were not as powerful as those of today, while many major lines had been left unelectrified. The series was designed for those lines with steep gradients, such as Ou, Chuo Main, Hakubi and Dosan Lines. There were not only standard class coaches but also Green Cars (first class) and dining cars.

However, the series was not always successful, mainly because of powerful engines and radiators. Radiators relied only on the wind, as engineers concluded that motor-powered radiators are not suitable because of vibrations, noise and costs. However, when the train was climbing the mountain, the radiators did not work while engines were producing massive heat. Therefore, when the KiHa 181 series was used on Limited Express Tsubasa services (Ueno - Akita via Yamagata on Ou Main Line), they required electric locomotives to help climbing mountains.

The KiHa 181 series trains were introduced first to Limited Express Shinano (Nagoya - Nagano) and then Tsubasa. In 1972, more were delivered to Limited Express Yakumo (Okayama - Izumoshi), Nampu (Takamatsu - Nakamura via Kochi) and Shiokaze (Takamatsu - Uwajima via Matsuyama). When Chuo Main and Ou Main Lines were electrified in the mid-1970s, they were reallocated to San-in Main Line and Shikoku. When Hakubi Line was electrified in 1982, they were reallocated to Limited Express Asashio (Kyoto - Yonago), Matsukaze (Osaka - Hakata via Fukuchiyama and San-in Main Lines) and Hamakaze (Osaka - Kurayoshi via Bantan Line). All dining cars were disposed of by 1986.

When JNR was privatised in 1987, JR West and JR Shikoku succeeded them. JR Shikoku allocated them to limited express services to and from Okayama when Great Seto Bridge was opened, but all carriages were withdrawn by 1993. On the other hand, JR West retained them for northern Chugoku Region, and they gradually declined in the 1990s, but those on Hamakaze remained until 2010. They were used for several more months on rail tours, and then exported to Myanmar.


The original livery.

(Updated: 27 Nov 2021)

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