MORIOKA–A scenic section of a JR line that hugs the Sanriku coastline and was all but torn apart in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami will be transferred to a local railway, with the aim of speeding up the area’s revitalization.
Under the plan proposed by East Japan Railway Co. (JR East), local operator Sanriku Railway Co. will take over running a 55.4-kilometer section of the Yamada Line that connected Iwate Prefecture’s Miyako and Kamaishi to the south.
The transfer will be formally decided at a Dec. 24 meeting in Morioka of heads of 12 coastal municipalities and Iwate Prefecture.
Though no date has been set for resuming operations on the section, the move is expected to facilitate reconstruction in the area that was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and the towering tsunami that were generated.
Sanriku Railway resumed full service on its disaster-hit lines in April. The transfer of Yamada Line operations will reconnect the railway’s South and North Rias lines, which start from Kamaishi and Miyako, respectively.
JR East has provided bus service on the route along the Yamada Line following the tsunami, which inundated station buildings and destroyed sections of track.
In January, the company submitted a draft plan to transfer authority of the line to Sanriku Railway, under which it would provide railway track for free to municipalities concerned after the line was restored at a cost of 14 billion yen ($117 million).
At the time, the towns of Otsuchi and Yamada, where Sanriku Railway is not running, opposed the plan, arguing it could impose new burdens.
However, the towns agreed after JR East in November offered to pay a total of 3 billion yen, up from an original 500 million yen, to the local municipalities to offset the burden. They also accepted the proposal so as not to prolong negotiations, which could affect reconstruction.
JR East plans to replace more than 90 percent of railway tracks on the section in question with higher-standard models, and ties with those made of concrete.
It will also provide train carriages for free, and provide employee training and other forms of support.
Sanriku Railway was thrust into the spotlight as the model for a railway operator in the popular 2013 Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) drama “Amachan.”
(This article was written by Toru Saito and Shiori Tabuchi.)