Diesel car KIHA 120 no.4 has come down from the switchback and is waiting at Izumo Sakane to leave for Kisuki and Shinji. (2015)
This interesting line once formed part of a link across the central mountain range of Western Japan from the Inland Sea over to the Japan Sea. Until 1990 an express service ran from Hiroshima to Matsue via the Geibi- and Kisuki-sen. For a long time the Kisuki-sen still remained vital as there was no good road access from the Matsue region up into the rural villages in the Izumo Mountains, particularly during the winter months with very heavy snow fall. Then the central highway was completed (2013) and express bus services between the Inland Sea and the Japan Sea were introduced. Moreover, after electrification and modernisation of the Hakubi-sen (1982) all important rail services now took this route across the mountain range. Thus the Kisuki-sen almost completely lost its importance.
The diesel operated Kisuki-sen is 81, 9 km long and climbs up steeply from Shinji (alongside Lake Shinji /Shinji-ko) through the hills of Shimane Prefecture and into the Bingo Ochiai basin deep in the mountains of Hiroshima Prefecture. Bingo Ochiai is a junction, from where today small Geibi-sen rail buses run to the east to Niimi in Okayama Prefecture, and to the west through the interior of Hiroshima Prefecture as far as Miyoshi. In many parts the gradient of the line is 25 ~ 30 o/oo, and speeds do not exceed 25 to 30 km/h.
From Shinji to Kisuki (21, 1 km) traffic through the farming villages is moderate, while from there over some severe gradients and very tight curves to Izumo Yokota (52, 3 km from Shinji) there is only little traffic. In Izumo Yokota begins the mountain section of the line up to Bingo Ochiai, and this includes the famous switchback to gain height above Izumo Sakane (63, 3 km from Shinji). The line's highest point is at 727 m above sea-level at Miinohara (69, 7 km from Shinji), JR West Japan's highest station.
The region is noted for very heavy snowfall in winter, and storms and flooding in summer. Avalanche danger in winter is considerable; in 2005 the line between Izumo Yokota and Bingo Ochiai was closed from Dec. 22 to March 29, 2006. Since 2012 this section is closed practically every year between January and March, and passengers to and from the Miinohara area are taken by taxi.
Operation on what is today the Kisuki-sen began in 1916 between Shinji and Kisuki. In 1932 the section to Yakawa (56, 3 km) was opened. Bingo Ochiai was reached in 1937. In 1982 freight services ceased.
The full line from Shinji via Kisuki and Izumo Yokota to Bingo Ochiai (and vice versa) is traversed by 2 trains a day, with one further train between Kisuki and Bingo Ochiai. 3 to 4 trains (depending on the season) operate between Shinji and Izumo Yokota, with another 4 between Shinji and Kisuki. In addition, the very popular tourist train "Izumo Orochi", worked by a diesel locomotive and 2 windowless coaches, operates on weekends from April to November.