Hita Hikosan-sen (Part I)       日田彦山線

The Hita Hikosan-sen is a direct north-south line from the industrial North into the heart of Kyûshû, where it meets the Kyûdai Honsen (the east-west connection from Fukuoka and Kurume to Ôita). The line has two distinctly different halves, the upper half serving the industrial hinterland of the large cities of Kokura, Yahata and Moji and the many collieries there (these have now all closed down). The lower half of the Hita Hikosan-sen tackles the steep climb into the Hikosan mountain range, with spectacular views up into the heights and towering peaks rising to over 1200 metres above sea level. The Hikosan area is one of the most famous spots in Japan at which mountain ascetics for centuries have practiced their secret rituals.

The Hita Hikosan-sen (diesel operated, 68,7 km long) branches off from the Nippô Honsen at Jôno, 6,1 km down the line from the city of Kokura. From there it runs through the mountains of the Yobuno – Kawara area, noted for their limestone quarries and, correspondingly, the fearsome scars cut into the rocks. The large cement works at Kawara have been rusting away since closure in 2004.

After emerging from the Yobuno - Kawara valley, the line enters the Tagawa district, which once had a maze of industrial lines serving the collieries. Originally, trains used the Soeda-sen from Kawara down to Soeda (closed in 1985), but now they run through the towns of Tagawa Ita and Tagawa Gotôji, before branching off from there to Soeda.


South of Soeda the line enters the narrow mountain valley leading up to Hikosan station. Beyond, after Shakagatake Tunnel (4379 m long), trains emerge at Chikuzen Iwaya into a quiet rural landscape. Here starts the steep descent that leads down to Yoake, where the main river system flowing into Ariake Bay is reached. At Yoake the Hita Hikosan-sen joins the Kyûdai Honsen for the remaining 8,5 km to the town of Hita.

In the face of the different facets of the Hita Hikosan-sen it is not surprising that its historical development is complex. There is the line from the Jôno region to Kawara, and from there down to Soeda, which was opened in 1915 and integrated into the State Railway network in 1943. As mentioned, the direct Kawara to Soeda section closed 1985. Then there is the line from Tagawa Ita through Tagawa Gotôji and from there down to Soeda, which today forms part of the Hita Hikosan-sen; this went into traffic between 1896 and 1903, becoming part of the national network in 1907. The section from Soeda southwards to Hikosan opened in 1942, while from the south end, Yoake to Daigyôji (9,4 km up the valley) went into service between 1937 and 1946. The line was finally completed in 1956 with the opening of Shakagatake Tunnel and the section from Hikosan to Daigyôji via Chikuzen Iwaya at the southern tunnel portal. Modifications to Jôno junction and the construction of the rail link between Kawara and Tagawa Ita followed in 1957. Now it became possible to introduce through express trains from the cities in the north directly into the centre of Kyûshû.

With the demise of heavy industry and especially the coal traffic, freight services were gradually withdrawn in the 1970s. All freight traffic ceased from the Tagawa region southwards in 1986, and on the Jôno to Kawara line between 1987 and 1999. Up to 2017 there was an hourly stopping service (with some additional trains at peak hours) between Kokura and Tagawa Gotôji and mostly on to Soeda. On the southern section, we find basically 9 trains (of which 6 come through from Kokura) stopping at all stations between Soeda, Yoake and Hita.

The name of the line refers to its southern end point, the city of Hita via the Hikosan mountains.

## The Hita Hikosan-sen was devastated in the torrential rains of July 5, 2017. Serious destruction occurred to the line and the bridges between Soeda and Hikosan, while reinstatement of services on the southern side from Yoake to Chikuzen Iwaya and Shakagatake Tunnel will practically require the building of a new railway; the southern portal of Shakagatake Tunnel is flooded. Nobody can tell for the moment whether finances (including the heavy financial burden on the regional communities too) will permit reconstruction of the Hita Hikosan-sen, which is only lightly used south of Soeda. In addition, services on the Kyûdai Honsen in the Yoake and Hita area are also interrupted, following the destruction of a major bridge near Hita on the same date. ##

## In July 2020 the decision was taken not to restore the line south of Soeda but to introduce a bus service (termed BRT - Bus Rapid Transport). How far this BRT would use the old track bed was not yet clear in 2020). By the end of 2022 the rails had been lifted and the old track bed between Hikosan and Hôshuyama (including the 59 m long tunnel near Fukakura above Hikosan and through Shakagatake Tunnel - 4379 m long, altitude 844 m) asphalted and prepared for the BRT. The new bus service will be operated by JR Kyûshû and is expected to start in the summer of 2023. ##

Kokura 小倉

a Nishi Kokura 西小倉       b Minami Kokura 南小倉

Jôno 城野  1 Ishida 石田  2 Shii Kô'en 志井公園

3 Shii 志井 4 Ishiharamachi 石原町  5 Yobuno 呼野

6 Saidôsho 採銅所  7 Kawara 香春  

8 Ipponmatsu 一本松  Tagawa Ita 田川伊田

Tagawa Gotôji 田川後藤寺  9 Ikejiri 池尻

10 Buzen Kawasaki 豊前川崎  11 Nishi Soeda 西添田

12 Soeda 添田 13 Kanyûsha Hikosan 歓遊舎ひこさん

14 Buzen Masuda 豊前桝田 15 Hikosan 彦山

16 Chikuzen Iwaya 筑前岩屋  17 Daigyôji 大行司

18 Hôshuyama 宝珠山  19 Ôtsuru 大鶴

20 Imayama 今山  Yoake 夜明

Teruoka 光岡  Hita 日田

0742 A Hita Hikosan-sen train waiting for departure from Kokura. It is formed of KIHA 147-1081 in front and KIHA 147-90 behind. (2013)

0744 In KIHA 147-90 of the Hita Hikosan-sen. (2013)

0754 Leaving Kokura, shortly before Nishi Kokura. (2013)

0760 After Minami Kokura. (2013)

0763 At Jôno. (2013)

0765 After branching off the Nippô Honsen at Jôno the Hita Hikosan-sen enters the valley leading in southwesterly direction towards the former coal mining district of Tagawa. (2013)

0767 Near Ishida. (2013)

0769 Looking back towards Ishida, nearing Shii Kô'en. (2013)

0772 After Shii Kô'en. (2013)

0775 Here 2-car train KIHA 147 1081 + KIHA 149 90 are arriving at Shii. (2013)

0781 Two-car train KIHA 147 1081 + KIHA 147 90, headed for Hita, wait at Ishiharamachi. (2013)

0787 At Ishiharamachi. While the station master checks the tickets of those going to board the train a 2-car set (headed by KIHA 147 54) enters from Hita and Soeda. (2013)

0792 Nearing Yobuno. (2013)

0793 Approaching Yobuno. The mountains in the Yobuno – Kawara area were noted for their limestone quarries and, correspondingly, the fearsome scars cut into the rocks. (2013)

0795 The Hita Hikosan-sen at Yobuno. (2013)

0799 Yobuno station. The letters on the board with the station name and the previous / following stops (Ishiharamachi and Saidôsho) have completely faded away. (2013)

0804 Speeding down from the plateau of Yobuno towards the Tagawa region. Seen in typical end of July landscape from car KIHA 147 90 at the rear of the train. (2013)

0807 Towards Saidôsho, looking out backwards. (2013)

0808 Nearing Saidôsho. (2013)

img602 KIHA 147 1043 on a train for Kokura crossing at Saidôsho. (2001)

img612 At Saidôsho. (2001)

0810 On the way down to Kawara. (2013)

0813 Kawara with its cement works is seen in the distance. (2013)

img616 Overgrown station area at Kawara. (2001)

0829 The Hita Hikosan-sen at Kawara. (2013)

0830 At Ipponmatsu halt. (2013)

0834 Nearing the former coal mining centre of Tagawa Ita. (2013)

0840 Tagawa Ita. This once extremely busy station is now rather run-down, with a solitary Heisei Chikuhô Tetsudô car (no. 402) operating between Nôgata and Yukuhashi. (2013)

0852 Summer scene at Tagawa Gotôji station, with KIHA 147 49 at the platform. (2013)

0855 Leaving the junction at Tagawa Gotôji, with a JR Gotôji-sen class 31 and Heisei Chikuhô Tetsudou car 411 in the station. (2013)

0857 Leaving Ikejiri. (2013)

0859 On the way to Buzen Kawasaki. (2013)

0867 Nishi Soeda. The little station is closed and in run-down condition. (2013)

0868 Train KIHA 147-1081 + KIHA 147-90 is nearing Soeda. The former Soeda-sen ran along the foot of the hills in the background. (2013)

img631 Train KIHA 140-2041 + KIHA 147-1044 has set back into the yard at Soeda, ready for the return journey to Kokura. (2001)

img614 KIHA 147-1044 at Soeda station. (2001) Today this is the end of the line.

Since 2017 trains no longer continue from Soeda up to Hikosan, through Shakagatake tunnel and down to Yoake (and on to Hita). An introduction to this section of the line is given in Hita Hikosan-sen Part II.