A test ride of a locomotive takes place on Kurobe Gorge Railway in Kurobe, Toyama Prefecture. (Video by Mamoru Takatsu)

KUROBE, Toyama Prefecture--A rare narrow-gauge rail line here is offering an opportunity for rail buffs to test-drive a diesel locomotive during its off-season.

Kurobe Gorge Railway Co. started demonstration rides of its trolley train last winter, as the railway is not in service during the season.

A total of 113 people from across Japan made the trip last season, and fans are jumping on the golden opportunity this winter as well.

On Jan. 6 during a snowfall, a locomotive test ride took place at Unazuki Station of Kurobe Gorge Railway.

Seizaburo Ono, 50, a company employee from Kyoto, put on the driver's cap he was given by staff and headed for the DD25 diesel locomotive, which runs on nonelectric branch lines and the electrified main line during winter, when electricity is not supplied from overhead cables.

Under the program, participants are provided driving guidance and allowed to operate a train with a veteran driver. The professional driver shows them how to manipulate the locomotive, and the participant makes two round trips on a 150-meter course on the station grounds.

The train is only 165 centimeters wide.

“It’s very small,” said Ono with a grin, while squeezing himself into the narrow cab.

The Kurobe Gorge Railway, along which magnificent landscapes in deep mountains and valleys can be enjoyed, is also famous among rail buffs as one of few special narrow-gauge railroads in Japan.

Most local lines of Japan Railway (JR) companies and other railways in the country have narrow gauges measuring 1,067 millimeters.

Light railways built at mines and construction sites have even narrower gauges. Such special narrow-gauge lines were also installed before the end of World War II across Japan.

As the Kurobe Gorge Railway loops up and down sheer gorges, a specially narrow gauge of 762 mm was adopted.

Most of the special narrow-gauge lines were abolished by the 1970s. While some of the railroads are preserved for display purposes only, the Kurobe Gorge Railway still continues operations.

After checking the brake pressure indicator in the driver’s cab and confirming that there were no obstacles ahead, Ono shouted, “The signal is green.”

When the accelerator lever was slowly rotated, the train started moving while making growling sounds.

After finishing the two round trips in 20 minutes, Ono smiled and said the test ride was “a great experience.”

The demonstration ride is held at the station on Saturdays, Sundays and national holidays through March 17, excluding Feb. 23 and 24. The charge is 10,000 yen ($91.20).

The service is available for eight people aged 10 or older daily. Elementary and junior high school students need to participate with their guardians, while senior high school students require the consent of their guardians.

Participants should apply to the Kurobe Gorge Railway’s driving experience section at 0765-62-1800 at least five days before their rides. For program availability on certain dates, check the website at (http://www.kurotetu.co.jp/).