Sanriku Railway Fully Back on Track for the First Time since 3/11

A local railway operator has reopened its tracks in northeastern Japan, following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011.

Sanriku Railway Co in Iwate Prefecture resumed full operations on its 71-kilometer North Rias Line, the last track segment that had been left disconnected by the disaster.

Operations of the 15-kilometer route between Kamaishi and Yoshihama stations on the 36.6-kilometer South Rias Line coastal route resumed the day before, on April 5, for the first time since the disaster. Most of its lines and stations were wiped out in the tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake two years ago.

Known for its one-car trains that signify the charms of rural life, Sanriku Railway is viewed as a symbol of resilience, despite fears for its future—the company faces an uphill battle to draw in passengers following an exodus of local residents in the wake of the disaster that claimed 16,000 lives.

Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Akihiro Ota hailed the railway as a great example of rebuilding efforts in the Tohoku region.

“The restoration of [the] railroad is a special joy (for local residents), different from other forms of public transport,” Ota said during a commemorative ceremony at Miyako Terminal.

“Sanriku Railway will be a driving force for accelerating reconstruction efforts,” the transport minister said.

Sanriku Railway President Masahiko Mochizuki said, “Thanks to support, we would say today is the second inaugural day for Santetsu (the local name of the company).”

“But we will be in a rather more severe situation from now due to declining population,” he added.

While local residents welcomed the restoration of train services, the railway operator faces a tough road ahead in the face of depopulation as well as the spread of private transport.

In fiscal 2013, while the company was still recuperating in the aftermath of the disaster, only 500,000 people used the train service—less than 60 percent of pre-disaster levels. The company said they cannot expect a sharp rise in passengers in the coming years.

By Maesie Bertumen

Image: “小本駅” by Eiichi Kimura/Flickr

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