• REUTERS, JIJI

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It's a bus, it's a train, it's a DMV! The world's first dual-mode vehicle, equally at home on road and rail, made its public debut on Saturday in the town of Kaiyo in Tokushima Prefecture.

Local residents expect that the new service by Asa Coast Railway Co., which improves accessibility to tourist spots, will attract railway enthusists and others to the town.

At a ceremony to mark the launch of the service, Tokushima Gov. Kamon Iizumi said he wants to "send dreams and hopes to the world" from the prefecture through the DMV.

"It took as long as about 10 years to launch (the DMV service). I'm full of emotion," said Kaiyo Mayor Shigeki Miura, who doubles as president of Asa Coast Railway. The company's railway service links Tokushima and neighboring Kochi Prefecture.

The dual-mode vehicle looks like a minibus and runs on normal rubber tires on the road. But when it arrives at an interchange, steel wheels descend from the vehicle's underbelly onto the rail track, effectively turning it into a train carriage.

The train wheels lift the front tires off the track while the rear wheels stay down to propel the DMV onto the railway.

Its road and railway modes can be switched in only about 15 seconds.

Miura said the vehicles could help small towns like Kaiyo with an aging and shrinking population, where local transport companies struggle to make a profit.

"This (DMV) can reach the locals (as a bus), and carry them onto the railway as well," he said Friday. "Especially in rural areas with an aging population, we expect it to be a very good form of public transport."

The DMV can carry up to 21 passengers and runs at a speed of 60 kph (37 mph) on rail and can go as fast as around 100 kph on public roads, Asa Coast Railway said.

Powered by diesel fuel, the small fleet of vehicles, which come in different colors, will run along part of the coast of Shikoku island, connecting several small towns and offering passengers attractive seaside scenery.

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