The Sagano Scenic Railway was founded in 1990 to operate a tourist train on the old section of the Sagano Line between Saga-Arashiyama and Umahori, originally opened in 1897 with a tortuous alignment following the Oi River valley.
The old section of the line was very popular with railfans and “normal” tourists as well, due to it’s scenic wiews. However, the line had severe limitations for “mainline” services, as it was a single-tracked non-electrified line with numerous tight curves and low speed limits, threfore JNR in the last years of it’s existence before privatization, started works on a completely new straight alignment, wich would’ve bypassed the old section completely.
The works were continued and finished by JR West, wich succeded JNR in 1987, and the new Sagano Line alignment opened in 1989 as a dual-tracked and electrifed line, with the old alignment being abandoned soon after. However, the old section was still very popular, and as such, JR West, sensig a possible source of additional income, began considering running a dedicated tourist trains. Finally, in 1990, the Sagano Scenic Railway company was founded as a direct subsidiary of JR West.
From JR West, the company inherited the line, four stations, a surplus DE10 diesel locomotive intended for the scrapyard and four frieght wagons that were to be converted to “Torokko” (open-side) passenger cars. For some higher-ups within JR West’s management, the Sagano Scenic Railway was a future-less gimmick, in other words “spending money for the sake of spending money”. However, by 1991, just one year after it’s opening, the popularity and subsequent ridership of the line had exceeded even the most favorable prospect, with the Sagano Scenic Railway being forced to add a fifth car to it’s (only) train.
As of today, the Sagano Scenic Railway enjoys it’s status as one of Kyoto’s major tourist attractions, so much so that reservations have to be made one month in advance!
The famous first “course” of the original Densha De GO! game involves driving a KiHa 58 on the old section of the Sagano Line, on what is now the Sagano Scenic Railway. The same scenario is also avaible on newer version up until Densha De GO! Professional (where the choice of rolling stock is broader and includes KiHa 47s, KiHa 40s, KiHa 181s and DD51s) and Densha De GO! 3 Tsukin-Hen, where the line is depicted as in the 1st game but with (relatively) updated graphics.