Saitama Gov. Kiyoshi Ueda and other local leaders are making their case to Seibu Holdings Inc. to keep the Seibu Chichibu Line open as rumors swirl that the firm’s biggest shareholder is demanding that the unprofitable railway section be abandoned.

“It would severely damage the Chichibu area” if the line is abolished, Ueda told reporters Monday after he and other leaders of municipalities along the line met in Tokyo with Takashi Goto, the president of Seibu Holdings.

Operated by group firm Seibu Railway Co., the 19-km Seibu Chichibu Line in southwest Saitama Prefecture connects Agano Station in Hanno with Seibu Chichibu Station in Chichibu. The six-station line, which opened in 1969, is used by about 10,000 people daily.

In an apparent move to increase its influence over the management of Seibu Holdings, which plans to re-list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange soon, U.S. investment firm Cerberus Capital Management LP is attempting to raise its stake from the current 32.4 percent.

Seibu’s business and social standing went into steep decline in 2005, when its leader, Yoshiaki Tsutsumi, once touted as the world’s richest man during Japan’s economic bubble years of the late 1980s, was convicted of falsifying official documents. Since then, Seibu has been trying to rebuild by cutting ties to the founding family and seeking outside financial help.

The Seibu Chichibu Line connects major cities in Saitama, including Hanno and Tokorozawa, and gives passengers access to Ikebukuro in the heart of Tokyo, Ueda said in a statement submitted to the Seibu group. The line branches off the Seibu Ikebukuro Line.

“It is an essential train line for people living in the Chichibu area and plays a significant role for the development of the area,” the statement said.

According to Ueda, Seibu said it realizes the importance of the line and doesn’t take its closure lightly.

Chichibu Railway Co. runs another line in the area, but it is less convenient than the Seibu Chichibu Line to get to central Tokyo.

The U.S. investment firm wants Seibu to streamline its operations to raise share value.

Seibu Railway Co.’s spokesman said the firm does not disclose figures on the profitability of its rail lines.

Information from Kyodo added

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