KUSHIRO, HOKKAIDO – The only dedicated coal-carrying railroad still running in Japan will cease operations at the end of this month, ending its 94-year mission to support the country’s industrial development.
The railroad, operated these days by Taiheiyo Coal Services & Transportation Co., runs entirely within the city of Kushiro, Hokkaido, connecting a loading point and a storage yard.
In Japan’s past, many railroads were established to transport coal, mainly in Hokkaido and Kyushu, where there were abundant coal deposits.
But all have been scrapped except the Taiheiyo Coal Line, nicknamed the Rinko-sen (Harbor Line), reflecting the domestic coal industry’s decline brought on by cheap imports and a shift in the government’s energy policy.
Coal trains have been running on the 4-km-long line since 1925. During peak production at the Taiheiyo mine, a diesel locomotive pulled hopper cars hauling a total of 720 tons of coal from the loading point six times a day.
After the mine was shut down in 2002, the mining business was taken over by another local company, while Taiheiyo Coal continued the train operation. But since coal output has shrunk to one-fifth the peak level of 2.6 million tons a year, there are days when no trains run at all.
Ahead of the abolition of the railroad, many local people and rail fans are calling for its preservation as a legacy of Japan’s once-booming coal mining industry.
“The railroad made us feel that the coal industry was still alive here in Kushiro,” said Takaori Ishikawa, a coal industry researcher and curator at the Kushiro City Museum.
“Records and memories of the railroad should be preserved,” he stressed.