Fans mourn closure of 'hidden' train station in mountains(「秘境駅」廃止、惜しむ声 赤岩駅ルポ)

A Yamagata Shinkansen bullet train passes JR Akaiwa Station in Fukushima on March 9.(赤岩駅のホーム横を通過する山形新幹線=3月9日)

 A train station that was well-known among train buffs as a "hidden station" in the mountains in Fukushima City has closed, 111 years after it opened.
In recent years, no train has stopped at JR Akaiwa Station on the JR Ou Line. When I visited the station on March 9, three days before it closed, I heard residents already lamenting the loss of the station that once helped them get around. The station was also famous for having a switchback system, which allowed a train to climb steep hills.


  I started my journey from the city's center and drove up a mountain for about 50 minutes. As if to prevent cars from going any further, the road narrowed. So, I pulled over and walked for about 20 minutes.
 When the path opened up, I looked down and saw railroad tracks and the station platform. As I approached the station, I saw that it was covered with rust and weeds. It was obvious that it had not been used for quite some time. Then a Yamagata Shinkansen bullet train rushed past the station.


 According to East Japan Railway Co., or JR East, the station opened in October 1910. To climb over a steep mountain, a switchback system was adopted. This involved trains zigzagging up by repeatedly going forward and backward without turning the train around. Each of the four consecutive stations, including Akaiwa, used the system. When the Yamagata Shinkansen bullet train started operating in 1992, the switchback system was no longer used.
 In 2017, all the Ou Line trains started passing the station because fewer and fewer people were using it.


 When JR East made the announcement in January that the station would close on March 12, train fans started bemoaning the decision on the internet, saying things like: "It's so sad that Akaiwa Station is going to close" and "It's a shame if the station closes permanently."
 "I'm glad I got to get close to the station one last time," said Toshikazu Suzuki, 42, a company employee from the town of Hirono in the prefecture. Suzuki decided to go see the station after learning about its closure online.
 As the building was off-limits to the public, he looked at the station from afar and took it all in.


 The station was once essential to the lives of those in the area.
 "I used to get on the train once a week to go to Fukushima Station to shop or buy groceries at the Nakago department store and other shops," said a 78-year-old woman.
 The woman has lived in the Odaira district, which is about a 30-minute walk from Akaiwa Station, for almost 40 years. The district was once home to nearly 30 households. During winter, when heavy snow made it impossible to drive, some residents would load their vegetables and milk on the train to town to sell them, she said.


 Over time, the number of passengers dwindled and there are now only three households in the district.
  "It's a pity, but perhaps it can't be helped," the woman said, looking sad. "Speaking of the switchback, it reminds me of the majestic degoichi [a nickname for the D51 steam locomotive] puffing smoke, and it makes me so proud."
 Even though the station is gone, it will forever remain in the hearts and minds of the residents.

( Translated by The Japan News )


 【 福島民友新聞 】