Iwate railroad restored in Japan, 8 yrs after quake

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Operations for the railroad linking Miyako and Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture were restored on Saturday after being suspended for eight years following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011.

The suspended 55.4-kilometre section, which runs along a coastal levee in Iwate, was transferred to Sanriku Railway Co. from the East Japan Railway Co. The section was integrated with two other lines run by Sanriku Railway to form the new 163-kilometer Rias Line, which is now the longest railroad operated through public-private funding.

Throngs of local residents gathered at each station and areas along the railway, waving small flags and fisherman’s banners as they welcomed the resumed operation of the red, white and blue trains.

A memorial train was scheduled to make four round trips between Miyako and Kamaishi on Saturday. A departure ceremony was held in the morning at Kamaishi Station, attracting a crowd of residents and railway enthusiasts ready with their cameras.

The first train departed at 11:40 a.m. to Miyako Station, with about 40 passengers selected through a public process and others onboard.

“I rode this line before the quake, and I want to see how the cityscape has changed while remembering that time,” said an 18-year-old high school student from Ofunato, Iwate Prefecture, who rode the train with a friend.

Population decline in the area accelerated after the quake, and Sanriku Railway reported only 520,000 passengers in fiscal 2017, about 20 per cent of its peak.

The company is planning to launch a special train that serves dishes using local ingredients. The Kamaishi Unosumai Memorial Stadium, located along the railroad line, will also host two games for the Rugby World Cup, which will start in September.

Sanriku Railway will cooperate with municipal governments to attract both domestic and overseas tourists.