From left to right: JNR livery, JR Hokkaido DE15-2510 in the red-black livery, DE15-2516 (Naebo works internal shunting locomotive), “Royal Express” livery (DE15-1545 and 1542), “Norokko” livery (DE15-2527), JR West “Okizumo Orochi” livery DE15-2558 and DE15-1525 in both the Tokachi Railway and Akita Rinkai Railway versions.
All the necessary dependencies are either included in this package or are avaible on the DLS.
The DE15 was built as a specialized variant of the standard DE10s, intended to haul snow-ploughs. JNR already had it’s own fleet of dedicated snow-removal locomotives, the DD15s, wich were basically DD13s fitted with snow wedges at both fronts, wich however suffered from the same “too high” axle-load problem as their “regular siblings”, wich meant that their usage was rather limited, being restricted to mostly mainlines, and some “adequately”-tracked branchlines. For the rest of the network, JNR had to still rely on steam locomotive pushing “russel cars”.
With the introduction of the DE10s in the mid-1960s, JNR finally managed to solve the axle-loading issue and thus set forth to develop an entirely new snowplough locomotive suitable for branchlines.
One of the main design improvements, compared to earlier locomotives, was in the snowploughs themselves: whereas on earlier DD15s the wedges were fixed on both sides of the body of the locomotive itself, wich was a considerable source of trouble as the locomotive couldn’t be repurposed for regular service during the “warm” seasons, and furthemore the presence of wedges on both sides made shunting difficult, the new locomotives were instead designed to run coupled with dedicated semi-independent 2-axle “wedge” wagons, easily detachable to leave the locomotive “free” for shunting or other non snow-removal services.
Therefore, the new locomotives ended up looking exactly like “standard” DE10s, with the only noticeable external difference being the fitting of a “coupler-looking-thingy” between the headlights, cutting the front numberplates in half. The “thingy” was actually indeed an additional coupler for use with the special snowplough cars: togheter with the standard knuckle coupler, wich did “most of the job”, the additional coupler was used to keep the snowploughs stable and in-line, so that they wouldn’t climb up when pushed (an issue often encountered with conventional “russel cars”).
Designated as “DE15s”, the first batch of the new snowplough locomotives began to be built in 1967, jointly by Nippon Sharyo and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, with the first units entering service later that year. Production of the DE15s carried on, inbetween other more “pressing” orders recieved by the manufacturers, and was eventually in 1981, with a total of 85 units having been built in a 14-year span.
Like their “conventional” DE10 siblings, the DE15s were subdivided into several subserieses:
The -0 Subseries where the first six units made between 1967 and 1969. These were essentially identical to DE10-0s, and as such were also fitted with steam boilers for passenger cars’ heating, owning to the “amphibious” nature of the class.
The -1000 Subseries were a further six units made between 1971 and 1973, with the same improved engine and increased power (930 to 1010Kw or 1250 to 1350Hp) output of the DE10-1000 subseries.
The -1500 Subseries was an initial batch of 18 units built from 1971 onwards, essentially identical to DE15-1000s, but without the steam heating boiler, wich was replaced by a block of concrete acting as a dead weight to increase adherence.
These were also initially fitted with a snowplough car at one end only, with some of them being designed specifically to clear double-track lines. In 1976 a second batch of DE15-1500s was delivered, this time with snowplough cars at both ends.
The -2050 Subseries was formed by two units wich had their double-track-type snowplough cars on both ends converted to the single-track type.
The -2500 Subseries was built between 1976 and 1979 and was essentially identical to the -1500 Subseries, except that all units in this subseries were fitted with single-track type snowplough cars at both ends.
Finally, the -2550 Subseries was formed of five “single-ended” DE15-1500 units wich had been retrofitted with a second snowplough car on their other “naked” end.
Upon their entrance in service, most DE15s (for well obvious reasons) were assigned to Hokkaido and Aomori, with a few units gradually finding their way southwards to Niigata, Tokyo, the Hokuriku area and even the Chubu area.
With the privatization of JNR, in 1987, the entire fleet of 85 units was inherited by JR Group and was split as follows: 36 units went to JR Hokkaido, 33 went to JR East, 13 went to JR Weast and two units only went to JR Central.
The “amphibious” capabilities of the DE15s were already well known and used by both JNR and the JR Group, with these locomotives being also used on mainline freight services and occasionally even express passenger trains. It was however with the introduction of “self-contained” snowploughs such as the ENR-1000 or by lighter “draisine-like” snowploughs like the HTR600, that the DE15s began to increasily stray further from their original “intended purpose”: replaced by the newer snowplough types, by the mid-2000s many surplus units were being used interchangeably with standard DE10s on mainline freight or shunting duties. In 2009, JR East sold 14 DE15 units (almost half of it’s fleet) to JR Freight wich had them converted to DE10-3000 and -3500 subserieses locomotives for usage on standard freight services elsewhere in Japan.
Among the most notable “surplus” units, JR Hokkaido’s DE15-2510 was repainted in a red and black livery for usage as an helper locomotive with the “SL Fuyu no shitsugen” steam-hauled tourist train, while unit DE15-2527 was repainted in the same “Norokko” livery of DE10-1660 and DE10-1661 to use on JR Hokkaido’s “Norokko” tourist trains.
Another notable unit is DE15-2516 wich was repainted in a yellow and dark grey livery (inspired by JR Hokkaido’s “DMV” dual-mode vehicle – a rail-road bus that the company has been developing for an awful lot of time) to replace DE10-1741 as the Naebo Works’ internal shunting locomotive.
Finally, the most recent development for Hokkaido’s DE15 came in 2020, with JR Hokkaido loaning the “ROYAL EXPRESS” tourist train from Izukyuko Railway, part of a joint effort with JR East, JR Freight and Tokyu Corporation as well (Izukyu’s parent company) to revitalize eastern Hokkaido after the 2018 earthquake (and also in an attempt to somewheat help JR Hokkaido’s notoriously difficult financial situation).
To haul the 5-car 2100 Series set and a MaNI 50 generator car to provide electricity to the EMU, as the designated “cruise” route is mostly unelectrified (and even if it was, it would be still useless as the 2100 Series is a 1500v DC-only train and evry single one of JR Hokkaido’s electrified lines uses 20Kv 50Hz AC current) two locomotives were designated: DE15-1545 and DE15-1542, both of wich have been repainted in an all-over strong yellow livery (roof equipment included as well).
The only other notable development with DE15s outside Hokkaido came from JR West, with DE15-2558 having been painted in the white and blue livery of the “Okuizumo Orochi” tourist train, as it is intended to haul the latter when the “usual” DE10 1161, wich is fitted in the same livery.
Finally, DE15s (well, just one unit only) saw services with second-hand buyers as well: in 2004 the Tokachi Railway in Hokkaido acquired DE15-1525 (togheter with DE10-1543) from JR East, for use on it’s 5,4Km-long line. When the Tokachi Railway was closed in 2012, DE15-1525 was acquired by the Akita Rinkai Railway, where it has been in service ever since.
As of now, JR Hokkaido still has 12 DE15s , JR West still has four and JR East has only one (wich is not even in service – it’s stored as a “reserve” locomotive) for a total of 17 units in service with the JR Group (JR Central retired its’ two units in 2012). Adding to those in the JR Group, the Ainozake Toyama Railway in Toyama prefecture owns two more DE15s (inherited by JR West when ownership of the line was transferred) and finally, there’s unit DE15-1525 on the Akita Rinkai Railway, but as the company has announced plans for closure, the fate of the latter is still uncertain.
To sum up, as of now there are only 20 units in service (less than a quarter of the original fleet), the vast majority of them in use by JR Hokkaido, wich however has already announced plans for a large-size snowplough replacement, soon to be produced. With the fleet of the other companies being next to zero, it’ll be only a matter of years before DE15s completely disappear.