Ban’etsu Tô-sen 磐越東線
2585 KIHA 111/112-107 leaving Miharu for Kôriyama. (2022)
Ban-etsu Tô-sen (Ban-etsu East Line) 磐越東線
Located in southern Tôhoku this line connects the Coast Route northwards (Hamadôri) with the Inland Route northwards (Nakadôri), at the same time linking the Tôhoku Honsen (the Main Line to the North-East, Japan’s principal railway line northwards, which runs along the Inland Route) and the Jôban coast line. The Ban-etsu Tô-sen is entirely within Fukushima Prefecture. Starting inland in the basin of Kôriyama with its large railway junction it crosses the Abukuma mountain range to reach the Pacific Coast at Iwaki (Iwaki carried the name of Taira until 1994). The line is not electrified and has a length of 85,6 km.
The name of the line derives from the characters 磐 (ban) and 越 (etsu), ban being the first character of the place name “Iwaki” (written 磐城). Iwaki is the general name for Fukushima’s coast line, the southern part of the Inland Route within Fukushima Prefecture (Nakadôri), and the southern part of Miyagi Prefecture.
etsu stands for the Japan Sea coast, here for Echigo (written 越後), i.e. the Prefecture of Niigata. Thus Ban-etsu indicates that the line links the Pacific Coast and the Japan Sea from Iwaki to Niigata. The full Ban-etsu Line actually consists of three sections: 1) The Ban-etsu Sai-sen (West Line), which starts at Kôriyama and runs up steeply into the mountains in the area around Mount Bandai and the City of Aizu Wakamatsu. 2) Carrying the same name Ban-etsu Sai-sen the line continues from Aizu Wakamatsu down into Niigata Prefecture and the City of Niitsu. 3) The line from Kôriyama to the east and the City of Iwaki. This line carries the distinct name of Ban-etsu Tô-sen (Ban-etsu East Line).
In 1995 the Ban-etsu Highway was inaugurated and almost all through traffic to and from the coast switched to highway bus services. Since then, the Ban-etsu Tô-sen is mainly used by some local inhabitants and school children. Building of the line commenced in 1914 from Kôriyama and 1915 from Iwaki (Taira) and was completed in 1917. 1968 saw the end of steam traffic, and in 1987 freight traffic from Iwaki to Ôgoe (54,3 km from Iwaki) ceased. The mountains surrounding the central part of the line provided huge limestone quarries, and cement trains thus continued to operate from Ôgoe to Kôriyama until 2000. Remains of former shunting yards can still be seen there today. Mention must still be made of the period October 12 to November 16, 2019, while heavy repairs to the line took place after enormous storm damage.
Services today (2022) are all stopping trains, 14 trains through the rural villages from Ono Niimachi to Kôriyama and 15 in the other direction. However, only 6 trains operate the wild eastern section through the mountains between Ono Niimachi and Iwaki, mainly in the morning and evening, with no services after the first morning trains until the early afternoon. One train in the morning and one in the evening runs the short distance from Iwaki to Ogawa-gô (10, 3 km).