The Allure of Track Maintenance Machinery as Captured by Photographers
Unsung Heroes: The Faces Behind Track Maintenance VOL. 004

Mr. Owl (pseudonym)

A lifelong railroad enthusiast since childhood, he has been honing his photography skills for over a decade, with a dedicated focus on capturing the essence of railway maintenance machines for the past three years. Despite his status as a university student working part-time, he channels the earnings into fueling his passion for photography. Intrigued by the elusive and enigmatic world of "rail line maintenance machines," for which information is scarce, he navigates the tracks of fascination. His preferred mode of transportation is a road bike, embodying the essence of a bird of prey, relentless in seizing every photographic opportunity.

Mr. Peacock (pseudonym)

His current challenge revolves around grappling with the fatigue stemming from extensive night-long photo shoots. Mindful of his physical well-being, he strategically opts to capture nighttime photographs on days preceding his scheduled breaks. Enthralled by the captivating "beauty of railroad maintenance equipment" and fervently passionate about the allure of nocturnal factory landscapes, he has seamlessly integrated his love for railroad maintenance equipment into his professional pursuits, turning his fascination into a career.

Mr. Unicorn (pseudonym)

The visionary behind a database dedicated to images of railroad maintenance equipment, Mr. Unicorn recognized the scarcity of global data on this subject. Driven by an entrepreneurial spirit and a swift capacity for implementing ideas, he established the site to fill the void in information. Displaying nimble mobility, he traverses Japan extensively, employing light footwork in his quest to document railway maintenance equipment from every corner of the country.

Summer 2021 | Tokyo Interview


"Oh, Romeo. How can you be Romeo?" In Shakespeare's renowned tragedy, "Romeo and Juliet," Juliet bemoans the obstacles separating her from Romeo, pouring out her heart in distress.

In the realm of love engineering, it is believed that barriers facilitate the ignition of romantic feelings and contribute to the attainment of love. In this feature, we bring together three "railway maintenance truck photographers" – Mr. Peacock, Mr. Owl, and Mr. Unicorn (pseudonyms) – individuals who have triumphed over diverse barriers, showcasing unwavering passion for their craft.


Thank you for being here today.

I would like to begin by inquiring about my primary areas at the moment.

--What draws you to track maintenance machinery?

Owl : My fascination with track maintenance machinery started when I stumbled upon a roadbed replacement drilling truck seemingly "resting" at a station.

Such machines were entirely foreign to my everyday experiences. Even online, there was scarce information available about them. The machine's mysterious nature ignited my intellectual curiosity. Specifically, the Marutai owned by Totetsu Kogyo captured my interest, and I undertook independent research, piecing together information bit by bit.

Image: 09-16 CSM Differences Per Base, Captured by Mr. Owl
*The photograph includes details of the location and machine number, both specified at the bottom of the image.

Peacock: Mr. Owl's dedication in preparing materials for this interview is truly commendable.

As for myself, the allure of track maintenance machines lies in their intricate mechanical nature. Their cool aesthetics aside, I am captivated by the functional beauty crafted with a specific purpose in mind. Witnessing these machines operate in the darkness even evokes a sense of divinity within me.


Photo: Seibu Railway "Dr.Multi" comprehensive inspection car / photo by Mr. Peacock

-- "I'm a little embarrassed by such a compliment. I don't think he was talking about me.

When contemplating the concept of functional beauty, the "beauty of use" associated with Sori Yanagi, the distinguished Japanese industrial designer, comes to mind. I'm delighted that you share a similar appreciation, particularly in the context of the tamping machine and other machines. Mr. Unicorn manages a database site specifically devoted to track maintenance machines. What inspired the creation of this site?

Unicorn: My interest in track maintenance machinery led me to conduct research on the Internet, but the detailed information I sought was elusive. Faced with these limitations, I embarked on independent research. During this time, I connected with like-minded individuals across Japan who shared a passion for line maintenance machinery. Motivated by a desire to compile a databank of valuable images contributed by enthusiasts, the idea for the site was born.

- The site now boasts an impressive collection of over 3,000 vehicles. While information from the past is gradually fading, thanks to Unicorn, valuable materials are safeguarded. It's a commendable effort and truly wonderful.


Photo: Keihin Electric Express Railway, Tamping Machine
Photograph by Mr. Unicorn

Mr. Unicorn

At first, I was disappointed because it was difficult to photograph the work site in a residential area. I waited and waited for the perfect position to take the picture, and when the machine appeared, I was crazy about capturing it.

Unicorn: I believe one of the captivating aspects of track maintenance machines lies in the varied ways different individuals can derive enjoyment from them. Certainly, witnessing these machines in action at night is undeniably cool. However, the allure persists even during the "day." In daylight, you can relish your journey and observe the rail maintenance machines.

The excitement begins in the trip preparation phase. Initially, I meticulously review the entire route on Google Maps, marking as "favorites" those locations featuring sidetracks where the desired track maintenance machines may be visible. These sidetracks often resemble bases, offering the potential discovery of machines like the tamping machine

It's equally rewarding to confirm your assumptions gradually while aboard the train. "Oh, I knew it was here! Can't contain my excitement."

I adhere to the practice of formulating hypotheses based on the researched information and then acting upon those hypotheses. Unforeseen encounters and the joy of stumbling upon a vehicle after diligent research are truly exceptional.


Owl: If you are going on an expedition, how much useful information can you get in advance to limit the risk of striking out? is key. Each route has its own experts, and we sometimes get live information from them.

For example, "If the light in front of the base at base A is lit, there is a high possibility that a maintenance vehicle will depart from that base that night," or "Work near B is easy to photograph from the C position. You can get valuable information that only locals can understand.

--I had no idea that there could be distinct enjoyment in "day" versus "night." It truly unveils a profound world. While I typically associate photography with the allure of the "nighttime," discovering the unique pleasures of "daytime" is an enlightening experience. What's the key to a successful "daytime" shoot?

Peacock: "Daytime" shooting offers the ideal opportunity to capture the entire machine beautifully, benefitting from natural light. However, caution is necessary as the actual shooting process can present its own challenges during the "daytime."

Identifying the name of a machine solely based on its appearance can be tricky. Hence, we make a concerted effort to photograph the machine's nameplate whenever possible to ensure accurate documentation. In the "daytime," machines are often housed indoors, adding complexity to capturing the nameplate. Successful photography demands the right camera lens, strategic shooting position, and proficient shooting techniques.

Photo: Keihin Electric Express Railway EM30 (already retired) / photo by Unicorn

--Mr. Peacock, I understand that you have valuable tips on locating and photographing elusive rail maintenance vehicles. How can one go about encountering a flaw detector?

Peacock: A flaw detector is a specialized vehicle employing ultrasonic waves to inspect rail damage, and due to its speed of 30 km/h or more, it is considered one of the most challenging rail maintenance machines to capture on camera. To successfully photograph it, it's crucial to position oneself at the section it is slated to pass through.

However, pinpointing the exact location to stand by can be tricky, as it's not feasible to predetermine the starting and ending bases for the inspection car.

In such instances, we resort to checking railroad crossings for wet rails. While ensuring utmost safety, as the flaw detector consistently sprays water to examine rail defects, a wet rail indicates that the tester has already traversed that point.

With this information, the photographer proceeds to the estimated location along the route and patiently awaits the flaw detector. This strategic approach significantly enhances the chances of photographing a small, fast, and otherwise elusive rail maintenance vehicle.


Mr. Peacock's Reflection:

This rail doctor inspects the inner workings of the tracks for potential damage, akin to a medical professional for the railway system. Contemplating the fact that a single vehicle is responsible for inspecting all the rails on operational lines underscores the immense effort involved in this critical task. Their diligence ensures our ability to travel on trains with peace of mind.

--Mr. Peacock, your pursuit resembles that of a hunter tracking wild animals. Your passion is truly overwhelming. Have you ever encountered anything dangerous?

Unicorn: I often find myself mistaken for a trespasser, prompting inquiries about my activities. It appears highly suspicious to observe individuals waiting along the train tracks late at night after the last train has concluded. If I weren't engaged in photography, I wouldn't be eager to approach someone in such circumstances late at night (laughs).

Encounters with inquiries about my activities are less frequent in urban or less populated areas. I've noticed that I'm questioned most frequently when in the midst of both city and countryside or in the heart of a regional city.

After experiencing numerous inquiries, you learn to respond to the authorities with ease.

--Certainly, it's not a scenario typically encountered in everyday life, but it indeed adds a unique dimension to one's life experiences.

As our time together comes to a close, is there anything you'd like to share with us in conclusion?

Owl: I have a request to make. In contrast to the abundance of information available on passenger trains, there is a noticeable dearth of information on line maintenance machinery, with significant gaps not covered on the Internet. I would like to appeal to Nippon Plasser to consider providing more comprehensive information about track maintenance machinery, fostering increased interest and support among fans of track maintenance machinery.


Photo: Union Construction, KSP2002E Photograph by Owl

Mr. Owl's Reflection:

I captured this photo during my initial venture to photograph a railroad maintenance machine. Riding my cherished road bike through the city at night to meet it, I encountered a sudden and heavy downpour along the way. It was a challenging moment for me to capture this picture.

--Thank you for your valuable contributions, and we will continue to showcase our machines through our website and other channels. I realized that two hours have swiftly passed. While I would love to continue our conversation, I would like to conclude our time together. Thank you very much for sharing your insights.


--Editor's Postscript--

In this edition, we delved into "The Appeal of track Maintenance Machinery" from a distinctive standpoint. We explored the functional beauty of these machines, revealed through nocturnal factory landscapes, and learned about the diverse ways they can be enjoyed during both day and night. The narratives shared offered perspectives we hadn't considered before, showcasing a profound affection for the machines and an admirable passion for their pursuits. As we conclude, the timeless tale of Romeo and Juliet echoes in the present day.