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East Japan city, model railroad maker to build park featuring running locomotives

This artist's rendition provided by the city government of Tsurugashima, Saitama Prefecture, shows the garden park to be created by the municipality and Sekisui Kinzoku Co. The large building in the center is a planned Sekisui Kinzoku factory.

KAWAGOE, Saitama -- The city of Tsurugashima, north of Tokyo, is teaming up with a famed model railroad maker to build a park boasting a mini-railroad that will ferry passengers around its green expanses on special days, the municipal government has announced.

    The tentatively named "N-gauge and garden park," a joint project between Tsurugashima in Saitama Prefecture and Tokyo-based Sekisui Kinzoku Co., is set to cover 7,400 square meters and be designed in the British garden style. It will be created by combining 5,000 square meters of greenspace by a new factory Sekisui Kinzoku is building in the city, with a preexisting municipal children's park next door, and will feature 620 meters of narrow-gauge railway tracks carrying small passenger trains several times a year. Work will begin in fiscal 2022 for the park's planned opening in the first half of fiscal 2024, coinciding with the new factory's launch.

    Sekisui Kinzoku, makers of the "Kato" brand of railroad models, has apparently already collected locomotives and passenger cars for the park railway line, including a Belgian steam locomotive that was used in sugarcane fields in Taiwan, and a diesel locomotive that was used by a steel manufacturer in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo. The company is also planning tours of the model railroad manufacturing line at the new factory.

    A steam locomotive, left, and a diesel locomotive planned to run in the new park are seen at Tsurugashima City Hall in Saitama Prefecture. (Photo courtesy of the Tsurugashima Municipal Government)

    The project is based on an October 2019 comprehensive partnership agreement between the city and the company, and the city has earmarked 5 million yen (about $43,000) for design costs in its fiscal 2022 budget bill. The firm already runs plants in Tsurugashima and in neighboring Sakado.

    Tsurugashima Mayor Yoshihisa Saito commented, "We'd like to create the 'factory in the city' that is open to the community as a hub of city development and where people can enjoy the charms of the railway and a natural British-style garden."

    Sekisui Kinzoku's railroad models have been the centerpiece of Tsurugashima's thank-you gifts for Japan's "hometown tax donations," in which people can make donations to any municipality in exchange for a tax break. The city had 227 million yen (approx. $1.97 million) in "hometown tax" revenue in 2021, and donors accounting for 192 million yen (roughly $1.67 million) of that total selected Sekisui Kinzoku products as their thank-you gift.

    (Japanese original by Takashi Nakamura, Saitama Nishi Bureau)

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