|Japan Railway & Transport Review No. 54 (pp.34–40)
A Short History on Training Railway Engineers in Meiji Japan
This article describes the training of railway engineers from a
human resources development (HRD) perspective, especially
foreign railway engineers hired as instructors and Japanese
trainees who learned railway construction and rolling-stock
manufacturing in rail’s early days in Japan. It also mentions
Japanese railway engineers who received special overseas
education and training. First, we look at railway engineers
involved in the manufacture of rolling stock and how they were
trained. Then, we cover foreign railway engineers who were
active in the Japanese Imperial Government Railways during
the early Meiji era (1868–82) as well as Japanese railway
engineers who trained at government works to develop their
|Figure 1: 100-passenger, Four-wheel Bogie, Third-Class, Wooden Coach Built by IGR Kobe Works in 1876.
Photo: First domestically manufactured compound engine No. 221 built by IGR Kobe Works in 1892 (The Railway Museum)
Training Railway Rolling Stock Engineers
When railway lines were first built in Japan from 1870, foreign
railway engineers were hired to give direct instruction to
government and private railways. British engineers provided
instruction for government railways in Honshu, Americans for
government railways in Hokkaido (Horonai Railway under the
control of the Hokkaido Colonization Office), and Germans for
the private Kyushu Railway and Sanuki Railway in Kyushu and
Shikoku, respectively. The number of these foreign advisors
who were referred to as oyatoi gaikokujin (officially hired
foreigners) peaked at 119 in 1874 and then dropped as they
gradually returned to their homes when their contracts with
the Japanese government expired. Many resumed working
as railway engineers in their own countries.
When Japan began modernizing in the early Meiji era,
Japanese railway engineers were trained by two methods.
The first method used mostly in the pre-Meiji Edo era (1603–
1868) and into the early Meiji era was to send handpicked men
to study abroad where they could gain a technical education
and experience before returning to Japan. These returnees
included railway engineers who entered the Ministry of Public
Works established in 1870 as technical officials involved in
railway policymaking and construction and in rolling-stock
manufacture. The second method was to enter the Vocational
Training School for Training Japanese Railway Engineers
established at Osaka Station in 1877 by the Railway Bureau.
Here trainees acquired railway knowledge and skills on the
job to become railway engineers and instructors involved
in construction and rolling stock manufacture at railways.
The Vocational Training School gradually lost its mission as
graduates of the Imperial College of Engineering, an institute
of higher learning affiliated with the Ministry of Public Works,
entered the Railway Bureau but it succeeded in producing 24
graduates by the time it closed in 1882.
Five of the many foreign instructors in railway rolling stock
manufacturing are described below; four were British and
one was German.
Foreign Railway Engineers at Government
The Locomotive Superintendent and Chief Mechanical
Engineer (CME) for Japanese Government Railways was
Walter Mackersie Smith. Born in Scotland, Smith was
apprenticed as a machinist and machine installer after leaving
school in 1858. After gaining experience working in a factory,
he joined Neilson & Co., a steam locomotive manufacturer
in Glasgow. In 1866, Smith became engineer in charge of
rolling stock design for the Great Eastern Railway (GER).
Smith arrived in Japan in 1874 and was appointed the first
CME of Kobe Works of Imperial Government Railways (IGR).
He imported many machine tools from England to build
factories that could manufacture rolling stock and various
railway items, installing the machines at the works in Kobe
and Shimbashi. Under his instruction, a 100-passenger,
four-wheel bogie, third-class, wooden coach was built in
1876 (Fig. 1). He also instructed Japanese engineering
trainees in techniques to convert freight steam locomotives
into passenger train locomotives to solve the problem of a
shortage of steam locomotives for passenger trains on the
Kyoto section of the Osaka–Kobe line opened in 1874.
In 1883, Smith returned to England, where he was in
charge of optimizing the rolling stock production line at the
Gateshead Railway Works of North Eastern Railway (NER).
The works built many famous British steam locomotives,
such as the NER 4-4-0 tender locomotive No.1619 in 1885
based on his experience and ability. He also made great
contributions in technical areas such as inventing a driving
mechanism for steam locomotives.
While a great railway engineer, Smith suffered from
various chronic illnesses and died in 1906. His grave is at St.
Andrews Cemetery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Frederic Wright (?–1888)
The second Locomotive Superintendent and CME of the
Kobe Works was B. Frederic Wright. He was commissioned
as CME of the IGR Shimbashi Works in 1878, and transferred
to Kobe Works in 1883 where he worked for 5 years before
dying in Japan in 1888. There are few records about Wright,
but the following anecdote about Japanese engineering
trainees provides valuable information on their progress.
He wrote, ‘The improvement in skills of Japanese engineer
trainees is remarkable. All of the work currently being done at
Kobe Works, except that for one foreign assembly engineer,
is performed by Japanese engineer trainees. At the start in
1878, there was a foreign painter and a passenger carriages
assembly engineer/boiler engineer and six foreign assembly
engineers. But now, two foreign foremen oversee all work.
This year (1878), all passenger, goods, and other cars were
assembled under the supervision of the Japanese foreman
in charge of the factory. Japanese trainees who received
training from foreign supervisors perform all assembly and
disassembly along with iron beam manufacture and forging.
Japanese assembly engineers have also been in charge of
major repair of locomotives for some time.’
Richard Francis Trevithick (1845–1913)
The third Locomotive Superintendent and CME of Kobe
Works was Richard Francis Trevithick, a grandson of Richard
Trevithick (1771–1833) the inventor of the high-pressure steam
engine and a steam locomotive incorporating a smaller version
of that engine on a bogie. Trevithick was born in Crewe where
there was a factory of the London and North Western Railway
(LNWR). After completing his apprenticeship, he started
work at the LNWR Crewe Works where he improved his skills
before moving on to take charge as CME of construction at
the Central Argentine Railway and Ceylon National Railway.
When he took up his post at Kobe Works in 1888,
Trevithick first instructed Japanese engineer trainees on
converting freight steam engines to passenger locomotives.
In 1892, he instructed trainees in the manufacture of a two-cylinder,
compound engine of his own design. Completed
in June 1893, this was the first domestically manufactured
steam locomotive built by Japanese. Initially named No.
221, the locomotive series was renamed No. 137, which was
subsequently changed to class 860 by the Railway Agency
in 1909 (photo below). The wheels were arranged in the Meiji
2-4-2 standard. Some springs, boiler injectors, pressure
gauges, vacuum gauges, ejectors, and main-frame steel
plates were imported from England, but the left and right
cylinders, wheel sets, boiler, and other major components
were manufactured at Kobe Works.
Francis Henry Trevithick (1850–1931)
Francis Henry Trevithick came to Japan in 1876 before
his brother Richard. He worked as boiler superintendent
at Kobe Works, and after a stint as Assistant Locomotive
Superintendent CME at Shimbashi Works, was appointed
CME in 1878. Some Abt rack-and-pinion steam locomotives
built by Esslingen in Germany had been imported for the
Usui Pass section on the Naoetsu Line (now Shin’etsu main
line and Shinano Railway) in 1893, and Trevithick confirmed
the safety of these locomotives (later class 3900 with 0-6-0
arrangement) on the steep pass.
Hermann Rumschöttel (1844–1932)
Hermann Rumschöttel was born in Trier, Germany, near
Luxembourg. After graduating from the Prussian Technical
University, he worked for the Berlin City Railway Department,
German Railway Construction Company, and Prussian
National Railway where he was CME.
Training Master Japanese Railway Engineers at Government Works
Who were the Japanese engineer trainees who contributed to
the improvement in technical levels in the Meiji era when Japan
was just starting to develop its own railway engineering? The
principle men were Hikozo Mori and Kichimatsu Ota of Kobe
Works and Hiroshi Hiraoka of Shimbashi Works. They were
instructed by Richard Francis Trevithick and Francis Henry
Trevithick, and are famous names in the history of Japanese
Hikozo Mori (1867–1958)
Hikozo Mori was born in Okayama Prefecture. After graduating
from the Imperial College of Engineering in 1881 he joined
IGR. In 1888, when Richard Francis Trevithick became third
Locomotive Superintendent and CME at Kobe Works, Mori
studied rolling stock engineering and mechanical engineering
under Trevithick, participating in and completing the work to
convert two 0-6-0 tender class 7010 freight locomotives
to 4-4-0 tender passenger locomotives. In 1893, he was
part of the team with Kichimatsu Ota building Japan’s first
domestically manufactured two-cylinder, compound, tank
locomotive No. 221 (later renamed 2-4-2 class 860) making
his mark in history in 1894 when running tests proved No.
221 had comparable performance and economy to the 2-4-
2 tank locomotive imported from Great Britain at the time.
Mori was appointed CME of the Railway Works
Department at Kobe Works in 1900, later becoming plant
manager for Shimbashi Works in 1904. He moved as CME
to the South Manchurian Railway in 1912 teaching rolling
stock design and manufacturing. In 1920, he became
Professor and Head of Nagoya Technical College (now
Nagoya Institute of Technology) where he taught engineering
students. His magnum opus is the three-volume Steam
Locomotive Engineering co-authored with Chikatsu Matsuno
(9th Shimbashi Works factory manager who succeeded
Mori in 1912). This work incorporated much English steam
locomotive design and manufacturing engineering learned
from Trevithick. Mori died in 1958 and his grave is at Kodaira
Cemetery in Kodaira City, Tokyo.
Kichimatsu Ota (?–1927)
Kichimatsu Ota was from Hyogo Prefecture. During his days
as a trainee, he honed his skills under Trevithick along with
Mori, improving to a level where he could stand on his own
asa mechanical engineer through activities such as building
locomotive No. 221. In 1904, he transferred to the Railway
Works Department of Shimbashi Works where he assisted
Mori. Next he transferred as an engineer to the Rolling Stock
Manufacturing Division of Kawasaki Shipyard Company in
1910 where he designed and manufactured the class 6700 4-
4-0 passenger steam locomotive along with Railway Agency
Rolling Stock and Mechanical Engineering Department Chief
Engineer Yasujiro Shima (1870–1946) and Engineer Kiichi
Asakura (1883–1978). The class 6700 was manufactured to
replace aging 4-4-0 tender passenger locomotives imported
from Great Britain and elsewhere at the start of Japanese
railways. It was a standard saturated boiler (high-temperature
steam generated in boiler collected in steam reservoir and
fed directly to cylinders), using Walschaerts’ valve gear for
the first time on the tender type locomotive in Japan. He built
a total of 46 locomotives at Kisha Seizo Company in Osaka
founded by Masaru Inoue (1843–1910) the former head of
the Railway Bureau and at Kawasaki Shipyard. In 1913, the
class 6700 evolved into the class 6750 with superheated
boiler (high-temperature steam generated in boiler collected
in steam reservoir, fed through super heater tubes in boiler
tubes where reheated, and supplied to cylinders). Six class
6750s were manufactured by Kawasaki Shipyard and were
eventually improved to become the superheated-boiler class
6760. Ota became CME at Kawasaki Shipyard in 1916, taking
on a key role in steam locomotive design and manufacturing
to specifications by the Railway Agency.
At the Railway Agency, Rolling Stock and Mechanical
Engineering Department Chief Engineer Yasujiro Shima’s
policy was for railway rolling stock repairs to be done at
railway works and rolling stock manufacturing to be done at
private railway rolling stock manufacturers. This policy was
introduced directly from the Prussian National Railway where
Shima studied at his own expense from 1903 to 1904. It was
a measure to improve private sector industrial capabilities.
The president of BMAG when Shima was studying there, was
none other than the famous Hermann Rumschöttel.
In 1912, Ota and Kiichi Asakura designed the class 9550
2-8-0 tender freight steam locomotive. Ota also worked
on the design for the class 9580 with the same wheel
arrangement using a superheated boiler and the mass
produced class 9600 (photo above). Those designs were
based on tender steam locomotives delivered by European
and American builders to Railway Agency specifications.
Famous locomotives are the 4-6-0 class 8800 from BMAG
in 1911 and the 4-6-0 class 8850 from Borsig. Both models
were superheated by a Schmitt superheater. The main driving
wheels of locomotives with six wheels are normally the
second wheels (sometimes flangeless), but the class 8850
locomotive used the first wheels for driving. The astounding
ability to build a class 8850 in just 2 months from order to
delivery was talked about for generations.
The first class 9600 was completed in 1913. This 2-8-0
superheated boiler locomotive has a wide fire box located
over the driving wheels, effectively making the height of the
boiler centre 102.1 inches (2594 mm) above the rails, the
largest ever for narrow gauge. With narrow gauge, a higher
locomotive centre of gravity leads to easy derailment, but
this locomotive cleared the issue without problems. The
origin of the design was the class 8850 tender locomotive
imported from Germany. The class 9600 tender locomotive
was mass produced by Kawasaki Shipbuilding and others for the next 13 years, with a total of 770 built. It was the mainstay freight locomotive until the mid-20th century. The design was
packed with the fruit of Ota’s years of locomotive design and
manufacturing engineering, and it was the pinnacle of his
career. Ota died in 1927.
|Photo: Four-wheel, third-class wooden coach built by Kyushu Railway’s Kokura Works in 1897 (Author)
Photo: Class 9600 mass-produced tender locomotive for freight transport (Author)
Hiroshi Hiraoka (1856–1934)
Hiroshi Hiraoka was born in Edo (now Tokyo) as the eldest
son of the Tayasu clan chief retainer Shoshichi Hiraoka.
He went to the USA in 1871 where he interned at Baldwin
Locomotive Works and elsewhere, returning to Japan in
1874. In 1876, Hiraoka started to work in railway rolling
stock manufacturing as a third-class assistant engineer at
the Shimbashi Works under Francis Henry Trevithick. He
was in charge of four-wheel bogie passenger carriage and
wagon design and manufacturing, learning hands-on English
passenger carriage and wagon engineering techniques from
Trevithick. Based on that experience, he established his
unique Japanese rolling stock manufacturing engineering,
completing the first four-wheel third-class wooden coach
at Shimbashi Works in 1879. Imported steel was processed
for the running gear, the body was built by woodworking
methods in use since the Edo era (highly refined skills related
to building, furniture, and Japanese boat manufacturing),
and was assembled on-site.
Notes on Locomotive Designs and Technical Terms
Steam locomotive wheel arrangement is expressed as
the number of leading wheels, driving wheels, and trailing
wheels in that order from the front of the locomotive. Wheel
arrangement is used in this article, but another method is axle
arrangement. Axle arrangement is expressed as the number
of leading axles, driving axles, and trailing axles in that order
from the front. For example, a 2-4-0 wheel arrangement is
a 1-2-0 axle arrangement. Steam locomotives are either
tank or tender type. Tank locomotives have a water tank
and coal bunker in the locomotive body, with the water tank
on both sides of the boiler (side tank), on top of the boiler
(saddle tank, pannier tank), between the main frames (well
tank, bottom tank), or behind the cab (rear tank). Some
locomotives have combinations. The coal bunker is on both
sides of the boiler or behind the cab. Tender locomotives
have a tender for water and coal behind the locomotive.
Ichiro Tsutsumi, Railway, An Ensign of Japanese Modernization, Yamakawa
Dr Tsutsumi is a Senior Researcher at the Institute of Vocational Training, Polytechnic University of Japan. Prior to his current position, he was a Senior Researcher at the Japan Institute of Labour (JIL). He earned a doctorate degree in the history of technology from Ashikaga Institute of Technology in 2009. His major publications include: Railway, An Ensign of Japanese Modernization, Yamakawa Publishing, 2001, JSHIT, Cyclopaedia of History of Japanese Industrial Technology, Shibunkaku Publishing Co. 2007, and Wooden Carriage Manufacture of Japanese Imperial Government Railway Works and Japanese Railway Engineer Cultivation in the Meiji Period, Transactions of the JSME (C),Vol.74, No.746, (2008).