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Defunct railway reborn as tourist attraction

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Passengers ride a “super-kart” over the Takachiho railway bridge in October last year in Takachiho, Miyazaki Prefecture.

By Takafumi Fujimoto / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterTAKACHIHO, Miyazaki — The tracks of the now-defunct Takachiho Railway in Miyazaki Prefecture — discontinued due to damage caused by Typhoon No. 14 in 2005 — have been revived as a popular tourist attraction that carried 26,000 passengers in fiscal 2015.

Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park Inc., the new operator of the line, runs a seven-meter-long “super-kart” it converted from a mini-truck on the old tracks. The service had to be temporarily suspended due to the series of earthquakes that hit neighboring Kumamoto Prefecture in April last year, but it subsequently reopened and has been attracting passengers since the summer.

The company plans to introduce a new type of train car in March in an effort to bring in even more tourists.

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    The new train to be introduced in March

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

Takachiho Railway began operating in 1989 as a so-called third-sector company, a business entity jointly capitalized by the public and private sectors, to take over the Takachiho Line, once operated by the now-defunct Japan National Railways.

Takachiho Railway, however, found it difficult to attract passengers due to a declining population along the line and improved road conditions. The damage caused by the 2005 typhoon eventually forced the company to abandon the route’s operation.

Nevertheless, residents in the town of Takachiho established a company the following year in the hopes of reviving the local line. When Takachiho Railway officially decided to completely discontinue operations in 2008, the new company took over, overhauling management and giving the firm its current name: Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park. Its goals were to preserve the railway and transform it into a park.

Since then, the new firm has been seeking to establish its railway as a tourist attraction. Its first effort was to install a manually operated wooden trolley to take passengers along the scenic route.

The sightseeing service initially attracted only about 100 passengers a year, as its availability was limited to periods such as the Golden Week holidays.

However, the service eventually became popular, thanks to its providing passengers the chance to enjoy panoramic views of superb natural beauty from the old tracks and feel inspired by the subtle joy of travel. The firm turned a profit in 2013, with the number of passengers exceeding 10,000.

Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park currently provides 10 runs a day, and usually operates every day except Thursdays and the year-end and New Year’s holidays. The super-kart runs on a 5.1-kilometer round-trip course, starting from Takachiho Station and looping back at the Takachiho railway bridge, a 105-meter-high, 352-meter-long platform that lets passengers enjoy magnificent views of the mountains and a crisp breeze blowing from the valley.

When the main shock of the Kumamoto Earthquake occurred on April 16, an upper 5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 was measured in Takachiho, the maximum level registered in Miyazaki Prefecture. The tracks and other facilities were undamaged, but safety checks took time, and it was not until May 5 that the company was able to resume operations on a section just before the bridge.

Full-length service resumed on July 23 after the safety of the bridge was confirmed. A record 7,200 passengers took the super-kart during the summer holiday season until the end of August.

The operator has found the two-car super-kart unable to keep up with demand, as it can carry only 18 passengers, leaving some tourists unable to find a seat on weekends. The super-kart has also been prone to malfunctions. In one case, the vehicle had to be pulled by local high school students when it broke down along the way. The company therefore has decided to introduce a new three-car train capable of accommodating 30 passengers.

Asahi Tec, a company manufacturing cars for amusement parks and other attractions in Tokushima Prefecture, was asked to produce the 15-meter-long train. Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park secured bank loans to cover the manufacturing cost of about ¥30 million.

“To our joy, we were again able to attract a number of passengers after fully resuming our services following the Kumamoto Earthquake,” said Fumihiko Takayama, 58, Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park’s president and a writer originally from Takachiho. “The town is famous for boat rides on the Takachiho Gorge, but I hope [rides on our tracks] will become the next major hands-on tourist attraction.”

The train fare is ¥1,300 for high school students and older, ¥800 for elementary and junior high school students and ¥400 for preschoolers. For inquiries, call Takachiho Amaterasu Rail Park at (0982) 72-3216.

To find out more about Japan’s attractions, visit http://the-japan-news.com/news/d&d

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