JAPAN: Part of the storm-damaged Tadami Line in central Honshu has been transferred from JR East ownership to management by the local prefecture, the Tohoku Transport Office within the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport & Tourism announced on November 30.

The move is the first example to make use of regulatory changes in the transport sector to transfer a passenger route from First Sector to Second Sector status, vertically separating ownership of the infrastructure from train operations. JR East will continue to provide the passenger services, paying access charges to the infrastructure manager, as JR Freight already does to run its trains across the country.


Storm damage

Serving 36 stations, the 135 km Tadami Line runs southwest from Aizu-Wakamatsu to Koide, where it meets the Joetsu Main Line from Takasaki to Miyauchi. In July 2011, the railway was severely damaged by floodwater and landslides after torrential rainstorms, and substitute bus services had to be provided.

Sections at each end of the line were reopened within a month, while the 21 km from Oshirakawa to Tadami reopened on October 1 2012 following repairs. However, reconstruction of the 28 km central section between Aizu-Kawaguchi and Tadami presented a far greater challenge, because the piers of three major bridges over the Tadami River had been swept away by floodwater. Doubts were expressed whether this section should even reopen; JR East had previously incurred costs repairing damage to the line from the Niigata Chuetsu earthquake in October 2004 and a major landslide the following March, and was still reeling from the cost of repairing other railways after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.


To compound matters, the Tadami Line traverses a sparsely populated rural area, with a declining population leading to a fall in passenger traffic. In 2010 the six-station section between Aizu-Kawaguchi and Tadami was used by an average of just 370 passengers per day, and generated ¥192m in fare revenue. JR East had already been preparing plans for a substitute bus service.

Prefecture agreement

Following discussions with Fukushima Prefecture, JR East reached agreement in 2017 to reinstate the damaged section. Work to rebuild the line began the following June at an estimated cost of around ¥8·1bn. Reopening of the through route is now anticipated before the end of 2022.


Following the transfer of ownership, JR East will continue to provide through passenger services between Aizu-Wakamatsu and Kiode, but it revoked its powers to act as a First Sector operator between Aizu-Kawaguchi and Tadami on June 30 2021. Fukushima Prefecture assumed ownership of the infrastructure assets and track on this section on November 30, becoming a Third Sector railway manager under the provisions of the government’s Rail Infrastructure Improvement Act of June 2018.

This is thought to be the first instance of the legislation being used in this manner, to ensure adequate support for services underwritten by a track access charge model.