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For more than half a century, the Tadami Line has been a means of transportation for local residents, connecting the prefectures of Fukushima and neighboring Niigata.

The 135.2-kilometer line between Fukushima Prefecture’s Aizuwakamatsu Station and Koide Station in Niigata Prefecture started operations in August 1971. But the line was partially suspended between Tadami and Aizukawaguchi stations in July 2011 due to damage from heavy rain. More than a decade later, it is slated to resume operations next year.

Former Tadami Mayor Noboru Onuma, 84, remembers the festive atmosphere on the first day of operations 50 years ago.

It was a dream come true for local residents, who had been campaigning for the railway’s construction since 1920. About 5,000 people gathered at Tadami Station, as well as at the opening ceremony at a local elementary school, to celebrate the historic day.

Onuma was a 34-year-old town official back then and tended to guests arriving for the ceremony. Just after 11:30 a.m., industry minister Kakuei Tanaka, who was also the leader of a group of political and business figures that campaigned for the railway’s construction, stepped off a train at Tadami Station, where music played by an elementary school student band echoed through the air.

Tanaka and Onuma drove to the school together. During those few minutes, Onuma remembers Tanaka saying to him, “It’s a hot day, isn’t it?”

With the opening of the Tadami Line, travel time to Tokyo was shortened drastically. Until then, it took about nine hours to travel to Tokyo Station via Aizuwakamatsu Station. But with the new line, it took only about five hours via Koide Station.

“Tokyo became very close. There was also a rising expectation that it would lead to revitalization of the town with more tourists,” said Onuma.

There was another benefit from the new railway: it allowed people to come and go to the Chuetsu region in Niigata, something that had been thinning for years because of the only paths that connected the two regions were steep mountainous roads.

“Tadami town and the Chuetsu region share a similar culture, and many people were happy that the bond between the two regions resumed,” he said.

At the time, Tanaka, who later became prime minister, had proposed a vision of revitalizing rural areas through an improved transportation and communications network. Onuma considered the Tadami Line to be part of such a strategy.

But as more people began to own cars, fewer people took the train. And with damage from the heavy rain in 2011, the railway business went through tough times.

Still, local government officials see a ray of hope in the Tadami Line’s resumption of operations on the suspended portion.

Tadami town official Yusuke Tsunoda, 41, is planning with local residents to build paths along various spots that are likely to attract photographers.

The neighboring town of Kaneyama, meanwhile, has created a project team to work out ways to increase tourist numbers.

“We want to prepare for the day when more visitors will arrive following the resumption of operations on the suspended section and after the coronavirus pandemic has settled down,” said Kaneyama Mayor Genjiro Oshibe.

Onuma also has hopes that the Tadami Line will once again attract visitors as it did five decades ago.

“When the suspended portion resumes next year, I hope the Tadami Line will attract tourists for its beautiful scenery along the railway.”

This section features topics and issues covered by Fukushima Minpo, the prefecture’s largest newspaper. The original articles were published Aug. 26 and Aug. 28.

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