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

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.


 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.


 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.


 "[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.


 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.


 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.


 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 )


 【 2019年2月6日付・福島民友新聞掲載 】


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