JR Ou Line's switchback stations gaining new popularity(人気じわり「奥羽線」)

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Itaya Station in snow, at a time when few passengers get on and off trains there(雪に包まれた板谷駅。乗降客は少なく、秘境駅としても人気だ)

 The JR Ou Line, which runs through the Tohoku region, is enjoying renewed popularity among railway fans largely due to an unusual feature -- a series of switchbacks along which trains used to zigzag as they made their way through the steep mountains between four consecutive stations along its route.
 Nowadays, railway enthusiasts visit these stations to photograph them, sharing the pictures via social media. The erstwhile switchback stations are attracting renewed attention as tourism resources for people who enjoy leisurely travel.
 After the start of services on the Yamagata Shinkansen line in 1992, the Ou Line took a backseat as the backbone of transportation in the region.

 鉄道ファンの中でJR奥羽線の人気が再燃している。1992(平成4)年の山形新幹線開業以降、旅客運送の主役の座を譲ったが、全国的にも珍しい連続するスイッチバック駅があった路線だ。鉄道ファンが山間の駅に降り、会員制交流サイト(SNS)に写真を投稿する姿も見られ、途中下車して楽しむ「スローな旅」の観光資源として再注目されている。

 The Ou Line is known among railway fans as the first railway in Japan to pass through the Ou mountain range, which runs north-south in the Tohoku region. May will mark the 120th anniversary of the start of operations between Fukushima and Yonezawa stations, once known as a hard area to pass through.

 奥羽線は、東北地方を南北に縦断する「奥羽山脈」を日本で初めて越えた鉄道としてファンに知られる。5月には、その山脈を越える難所だった福島―米沢駅間の開通120年の節目を迎える。

 Railway fans are particularly drawn to the four consecutive stations of Akaiwa, Itaya, Toge and Osawa -- a stretch that lies between Fukushima and Yonezawa stations, straddling the border of Fukushama and Yamagata prefectures. The switchback method was used along these stations to cover a route with extremely steep slopes. The stations enjoy popularity as "unexplored stations" used only by a few people. Akaiwa Station, located in Fukushima Prefecture, is an entirely disused station at which no train stops.

 特にファンの心を熱くするのが福島―米沢駅間にあり、県境をまたぐ「赤岩―板谷―峠―大沢」の4駅。かつては全国屈指の急勾配を越えるため設けられた全国でも珍しいスイッチバック駅だった。今も乗降者の少ない秘境駅として人気で、このうち本県側にある赤岩駅は列車が止まらない完全な通過駅となっている。

 "[The Ou Line] is an unusual route in the country where it can be seen that switchbacks [were once] used at four consecutive stations. Railway fans are often seen visiting them and posting photos on blogs or elsewhere," said Hiroshi Awano, 64, an assistant professor at the Yamagata University Graduate School of Organic Materials Science, an Ou Line history expert.

 奥羽線の歴史に詳しい山形大大学院有機材料システム研究科助教の粟野宏さん(64)は「4駅連続でスイッチバックが行われていた駅を確認できる路線は、全国でも珍しい。鉄道ファンが訪れ、写真をブログやネットに投稿するのをよく目にする」と話す。

 At Itaya Station, located in Yamagata Prefecture and the closest to the prefectural border among the four stations, visitors can enjoy seeing a stone building that was used as a station storehouse for oil and other materials as well as the former station building. There is also a tunnel that was used for switchbacks near the station. Many fans visit the station in spring and summer. The station is covered with snow in winter, and only one or two local residents get on and off trains there. However, a train running with its lights on along the Ou Line at night is a fantastic sight.

 山形県側で県境に最も近い板谷駅では、旧駅舎をはじめ、かつて列車の潤滑油などを保管していた石造りの倉庫などを見て楽しむことができる。近くにはスイッチバックに使われたトンネルも残る。ファンが数多く訪れるのは春や夏。冬の時期は深い雪に閉ざされており、同駅は普段、乗降する人は近所の住民1、2人ほどだが、夜間はライトを照らしながら走行する奥羽線が幻想的な姿を見せる。

 The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry designated the switchback mechanisms at the four stations as a Heritage of Industrial Modernization in 2009, as attested by a certificate displayed in a waiting room at Itaya station.
 "Time is said to be precious when speed is called for. But this line is precious as it allows us to stop the passage of time and see things," a Japan Railways employee said.
 It is about 25 minutes by train from Fukushima Station to Itaya Station.

 4駅は「スイッチバック遺構」として09年、経済産業省により近代化産業遺産にも認定された。板谷駅の待合室にはその認定書も飾られている。あるJR社員は「スピードを求める時代で時間が貴重とされているが、時を止めて見ることができる貴重な路線だ」と話す。板谷駅にはJR福島駅から乗車して約25分程度で到着する。貴重な旅は、身近にあるのかもしれない。

 switchback:A switchback is a section of railway track on which a train can reverse direction in the process repeating a back-and-forth zigzagging procession up and down steep slopes. The Ou Line used the method until 1990.

( Translated by The Japan News )

 スイッチバック:列車が急斜面を前進と後進を繰り返しながらジグザグに上り下りするためなどつくられた鉄道路線。奥羽線では、1990(平成2)年の廃止まで使用された。

 【 2019年2月6日付・福島民友新聞掲載 】