Japan’s scenic railway line fully reopens after 11 years

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A local railway line straddling Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, renowned for its breathtaking natural views, fully reopened on Saturday, more than 11 years after a 27.6-kilometre stretch of track was rendered unusable by torrential rain.

Many gathered to ride or view the packed trains on the scenic JR Tadami Line, which has been using replacement bus services between Aizu-Kawaguchi and Tadami stations since three metal bridges that cross the Tadami River were washed away by the downpour of July 2011.

A composite photo taken from a Kyodo News helicopter shows a bridge on the Tadami Line that collapsed (top) in torrential rain on July 30, 2011, and the newly restored bridge (bottom) on the first day of full operation in 11 years in Kaneyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on October 1, 2022. (Kyodo)

The 135.2-kilometer line connecting Aizu-Wakamatsu in Fukushima Prefecture and Koide Station in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture winds through the mountains and rivers of rural Japan, offering stunning views of the countryside.

The restoration was carried out in part due to local requests, with JR East initially calling for continued use of the buses.

The approximately 9 billion yen ($62 million) of restoration expenditure was partly subsidized by the national government, with JR East and prefectural and local governments also bearing the costs. Although it is hoped that the full return of the line will encourage tourism, it comes as concerns grow over how to support loss-making local trains.

On the day of the reopening, a crowded 7:11 a.m. service from Koide Station to Aizu-Wakamatsu Station managed to cover the entire route, but the morning train heading in the opposite direction stopped after activation of the emergency brake, and around 210 passengers had to resort to replacement bus services.

People greet a Tadami line train as it arrives at Aizu-Kawaguchi station on the first day services were restored to a section of the line after 11 years of disruption, in Kaneyama, Fukushima prefecture, on October 1, 2022. (Kyodo)

Service was disrupted for about four hours, prompting an apology from East Japan Railway Co. president Yuji Fukasawa, who attended an event to commemorate the reopening in Tadami City.

Despite the disruptions, the revival of the railway was a day of celebration for many. At Aizu-Shiozawa Station, one of the stations along the newly restored section, postman Teiko Kanke said, “When I think it’s finally moving, I feel so full of emotion.”

A Tadami Line train crosses one of the restored bridges along the service, on the first day in 11 years that the entire line has been operational, in Kaneyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on October 1, 2022. (Kyodo)

Shinichi Nagai, visiting from Sapporo in Hokkaido’s northernmost prefecture, was among the passengers on a memorial train that arrived about two hours late at Tadami Station from Aizu-Wakamatsu. His enthusiasm intact, he said, “The dynamic Tadami River is really pretty, and it was so nice to see the locals waving at the train.

But some locals were less excited about the return of the train, which only offers three end-to-end services on either side of the line per day, with some telling Kyodo News they don’t really use it and the cars are more practical.


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