to perpetuate the memory and history of our dead

8.18 an Operational railway

Once the rails from the two directions met at Konkoita in Thailand in OCT 43, trains began pushing supplies and troops into the Burma Theater.

Unfortunately for the Japanese forces fighting desperately in Burma, the TBR never lived up to expectations. Futamatsu provides a description of the operations of the TBR from OCT 43 to JUN 45. He laments that the initial plan to deliver 3000 tons/day to the Burma Front were never met. At best, they could seemingly only manage 1000 tons/day and with the intermittent bombing that began in earnest in 1944 the eventual rate was down to about 200 tons/day. By comparison, the translator adds that per the report of Gen. Slim in Burma, the supplies the Indian-British troops there flowed in at 600 then 2800 and finally 4400 tons/day by rail via India.

In his post-war assessment, Charles Fisher rode a train the length of the TBR. He notes with disappointment that “never once at an average overall speed of more than about eight miles per hour.” [Pg96]

His overall assessment was that without a major upgrade, the TBR would never be a successful rail line in its own right.

Two anecdotes seem to be oft repeated if not independently verifiable. The first is that the initial train to run the course of the TBR from Ban Pong to Thanbyuzayat carried comfort women to the Burmese front. Second is that at least at Kanchanaburi and likely at Ban Pong, the two railway HQ points, and at the camp near the Hindat hot springs, there were ‘comfort stations’. Interestingly enough, Futamatsu mentions a ‘field hospital recuperative center’ at Hindat, but fails to include any mention of the ‘comfort station’.

The use of the TBR came to an abrupt halt on 24 JUN 45 when an RAF raid dropped the three center spans of the iron bridge and damaged the wooden structure as well.

The TBR had lived just over 600 days (17 OCT 43 – 24 JUN 45). It had taken 13-16 months to build (depending on what date one uses as the start date and had a life span of 20 months.

Locomotive C56-31 has its own side-story to the TBR saga as well as its own FB and WIKI pages:

Nippon Sharyo manufactured in 1936. It was shipped to Thailand in 1942. It was one of 90 Japanese steam locomotives sent south to regions occupied by Japan. It was used in the opening ceremony for the Thai-Burma railway and was the first locomotive to officially run on the railway.

After the war it was used by the State Railway of Thailand and was due to be retired in 1977 when plans were made to return it to Japan by an association of Southern Army Field Railway Corps officials. In 1979, it was returned to Japan. Apparently, in Shizuoka at the Oigawa Railway, you can ride a sister engine, C-5633, manufactured by Mitsubishi also in 1936. 

It has been displayed at the Yūshūkan museum at Yasukuni Shrine since 1979, where there is a volunteer group dedicated to preserving it. The fact that it is displayed without references to the atrocities carried on the Thai-Burma railway has attracted criticism, particularly from people from Australia and the US.

It should be noted that Nippon Sharyo, the company that manufactured Engine C5631, still exists and is active in the U.S. During the war, Nippon Sharyo utilized American POW slave labor at two sites. The company was able to maintain production during the war due to POW slave labor: Nagoya POW Camp #2-B, Narumi; which remains an important manufacturing center for the company. Since 1896, Nippon Sharyo has been Japan’s leading railway rolling stock manufacturer. Today, in the United States, it supplies passenger cars to many US rail road companies. In 2008, the bankrupt Nippon Sharyo was acquired by JR Central to ensure the historic company’s survival.

OTHER C56-class rolling stock

A number of Class C56 locomotives are preserved in Japan and other Asian countries.[2] C56 160 is maintained in operating condition by JR West for use on main line steam specials.[1]

SRT Locomotives # 714 & 744

Somewhat less renowned, SRT steam locomotive number 714 built in Japan, is now on display at Hua Lampong Station,Bangkok. It, too, ran on the TBR.

From :

This steam engine in all her splendor and decay is a survivor together with nine others constructed by different locomotive makers between 1935-1936 for the JNR – Japanese National Railways as type 2-6-0 class C56. Building the notorious Thailand – Burma Railway the Japanese brought a number of these engines with them. After the defeat they were sold include a remained part of the Burma line to the SRT, incorporated and given the numbers: 701-746.

Many years after the happily ran on the SRT network on what was left of the TBR as far as  Nam Tok .

After their life span was finished and the SRT replaced steam by diesel two of them were kept in running condition (Nº 713 and 715) while others find their way as showcase most in or around a station.
744 is an exception. This steamer has its former JNR number stamped on the joints of some motion parts (rods) not all are the same and this could mean there was an exchange of parts from other locomotives. However on the 744 most stamped numbers read C56.53 so one can assume this is the original engine and not a mixed product from several other earlier scrapped engines. Numbers are deceptive especially running numbers, they are easily painted on the body or painted false in a later stadium and thus a puzzle remains for them who want to know the truth. Locomotive identity is a study on its own. The works number by all means is a starting point and if this can be found on any engine the first step is solved, however, still it doesn’t give 100% security.
Imagine you’re the owner of a railway company, proud of your steam engines and want them to run as long as possible, of course you take all the usable parts of the machines really outworn and use them for the other ones meaning there not the same as when they roll out of the factory.
The dept and consequences of numbering is a theme apart and for me in case of the 744 and other engines of this type not that important. What you see is what you get and by the way most visitors of the new resort will have no clue what so ever when they entering the grounds and be greeted by an old steam engine and coach.

Recovered Japanese and post-war Australian footage:

Nippon Sharyo
 All rights reserved by CTBarey

In the entrance hall of the Yushukan, the war museum on the property of the Yasukuni Shrine, locomotive C5631 greets visitors. You examine the black engine as you ride up the escalator to the main museum. The museum’s entrance hall envelopes its guests in a blinding white.

The C5631 was one of the engines used on the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. This particular engine is said to have been one that opened this infamous Railway, which was the subject of the Academy Award wining movie, Bridge on the River Kwai. The movie immortalized the Allied POWs who slaved to build the railway. PBS hosted a documentary in June 2008 that is truer to the facts of the awful history of building the railway.

Over 240,000 British, Dutch, Australian, Canadian, American, New Zealand, Amonen, Indian, and other civilian and military Allied POWs as well Southeast Asian forced laborers such as Burmese, Malaya, Indonesian (romusha), Thai, and others participated in creating the railroad from the jungle and mountains. As many as 40 percent died in the process from abuse, malnutrition, disease, overwork, and accidents.

More than 600 American POWs slaved to build the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. They were mostly survivors of the USS Houston CA-30, sunk in the Battle of the Sunda Strait in February 1942, and an artillery battalion of the Texas National Guard (2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery) that was taken prisoner on Java after a brief battle in March 1942.

During the war, Nippon Sharyo utilized American POW slave labor at two sites. The largest was at Narumi, which remains an important manufacturing center for the company. Narumi was where Sgt. Sam Moody was tortured (he testified at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal) and one of the POW camps with the greatest number of convicted war criminals. 

Nippon Sharyo manufactured in 1936 the C5631 that now rests at the Yushukan. It was shipped to Thailand in 1942 and is said to have taken part in the opening ceremony of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. After the war, it was used in Thailand until it was retired in 1977. Japanese veteran groups raised funds to return the locomotive to Japan in 1979, restore it, and place it on the grounds of the Yasukuni Shrine. Apparently, in Shizuoka at the Oigawa Railway, you can ride a sister engine, C-5633, manufactured by Mitsubishi also in 1936. 

Since 1896, Nippon Sharyo has been Japan’s leading railway rolling stock manufacturer. Today, in the United States, it supplies passenger cars to many US rail road companies. In 2008, the bankrupt Nippon Sharyo was acquired by JR Central to ensure the historic company’s survival.


The railway from Nong Pladuck to Nam Tok has been renovated and acts primarily to carry tourists on day-trips. Most passengers ride the section from the Bridge to Nam Tok and back as part of their visit to the Bridge area. As Charles Fisher predicted, the route to Burma was never going to be commercially viable. Almost immediately post-war IJA POWs were used to destroy the rails in the Thai highlands beyond Hellfire Pass. It takes an expert eye to locate traces of the railway after 75 years.

Translated from a Thai language article:

Post-war the British took control of the entire TBR as reparations from Japan. Immediately post-war, the British had used Japanese EPWs to dismantle the portion of the railway that straddled the border at three Pagodas Pass, thereby severing the Thai-Burma connection. Then in the late 1940s, they sold it to the Thai gov’t for 50M baht (about $2.5M).

The railway was abandoned and unattended until in 1947, Dr M. Luang Kree Dechatiwong, the Minister of Transportation, had an idea that this train line would be reopened for people to use for commuting and transporting goods.

Dr. Luang Kree went to check the route on February 2, 1947. In the middle of the forest a little before reaching Kaeng Khoi Tha (KonKoita) Station, because forest fires had partially burned wooden bridge pillars, his train cars fell into the abyss resulting in his death.

Plans to improve, repair and develop the railway were put on hold. The Thai government considered the railway not worth the maintenance and repair investment and not economically worthwhile. Much of the equipment, especially the railroad tracks, had therefore been dismantled to be used along various other railway routes. But in the late 1950s, work began again and by 1958, the railway that is currently in use from Nong Pla Duk Station to Nam Tok Station was reopened.

As suspected this route never became commercially viable. There was not enough passenger or freight demand. Today it continues to serve mainly tourists who wish to explore the World War 2-era line.


Today, there is some commercial activity on the line. About 42 km west of Nong Pladuk there is a rail to truck transfer station for containerized freight. It is reasonably active if far from over used.


It occurs to me that the TBR may have contributed more to the evacuation of Burma than its invasion. After a short period of consolidation in Thailand, IJA forces invaded Burma in Jan 42. The mostly Indian troops under British officers were pushed into the mountainous border or fully into India. Then came to need to supply that force; hence the TBR. But for a variety of reasons, it never met its expectations in terms of delivered volumes.

After the failed invasion of India in Mar 44 (the Battles at Imphal and Kohima), the IJA steadily lost ground to the British/Indian counter-offensive. By May 45, the allies had recaptured Rangoon and the IJA were in full withdrawal.

I do not have any direct evidence but it would seem to me that the TBR would have proved crucial to that withdrawal. We know that the returning supply trains often carried IJA wounded. There are also accounts that in 1944-45 there were upwards of 80,000 IJA combat troops in the vicinity of Ban Pong TH. These could only have been Burma evacuees. We know that the TBR was severed by the destruction of the two Mae Klong bridges in JUN 45. But the IJA could have resorted to ferrying troops across the river. Then again using the rails to get to Ban Pong.

The two other roadway projects in the south: the Mergui and Kra Isthmus Roads were also major routes of retreat. Although they apparently contributed little if anything to effort, the POW-built airfields at Petchburi and Ubon were apparently intended to provide air cover for the withdrawal.

Hence I suspect that the Allied and romusha efforts helped the IJA salvage its army after their defeat in Burma. There are also reports that they were constructing defensive positions in the area of Thong Pha Poon in anticipation that the British might follow the IJ into Thailand. No incursion ever took place. I am not aware that there were any significant ground operations by any of the Allies on Thai soil beyond an aborted incursion by Chinese Nationalist forces in the far north.

Just about everything we know about the TBR comes from Allied survivor accounts. It is entirely possible that they would have been largely unaware of such retrograde troop movements.

I went back to check what IJA Engineer Futamatsu had to say on this topic. He barely touches the subject but echoes that soldiers were brought from Burma by train.

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