San’in Honsen (Kyôto – Kinosaki Onsen) 山陰本線 (京都―城崎温泉)

Hozukyô, high above the Katsura river gorge between Kyôto and Kameoka. The leadinb 2-car train (class 223, no.5515) will continue beyond Sonobe, while the main train (class 221, no.74) runs as far as Sonobe. (2015)

The name "San'in Honsen" actually refers to 673, 8 km of railway line that is not traversed by any train in its full length. "San'in" 山陰means "the shady side," or the "cold side" of the mountain range that makes up western Japan's main island Honshû. San'in is the region along the Japan Sea coast, and it is often symbolised by the setting sun; photographs of the setting sun over the Japan Sea or Lake Shinji in the Matsue - Izumo region are often used to draw attention to this part of Japan. By contrast, the other side of the central mountain range of western Japan is called the San'yô 山陽, that is "the sunny side," or the "warm side" of the mountain range, extending from the Bay of Ôsaka all along the Inland Sea down to Shimonoseki.

The San'in Honsen can be divided into several segments, with trains operating either within one segment, or linking two segments.

Segment 1: Kyôto – Kinosaki Onsen. Starting at the eastern end of the line electric trains (DC 1500 V) depart from Kyôto station and run north-westward through the wild and dense forests towards Fukuchiyama, located in a basin surrounded by the Tamba Mountains. Still within Kyôto prefecture the train continues from here, again through forests and mountains. It crosses into Hyôgo prefecture near Wadayama, the junction with the Bantan-sen. From here the line runs up to the Japan Sea. Electric services end in the hot spring resort of Kinosaki Onsen, situated on the estuary of the Maruyama river, a short distance from the open sea. From Kyôto to Kinosaki Onsen the train covers a distance of 158 km.

The old line out of Kyôto used to meander along the Katsuragawa river in a deep ravine cutting through the mountains. Since 1989 trains use a new direct double-track line through long tunnels. Some trains stop between two of the tunnels at Hozukyô, giving access down into the gorge. From Hozukyô the non-electrified old line can be seen below alongside the river; it has been retained as a tourist railway (the Sagano Tourist Railway, Sagano Kankô Tetsudô).

After emerging from the tunnels, San'in Honsen trains serve the towns of Kameoka and Sonobe (34, 2 km from Kyôto). This far local services form part of the Kyôto urban network, and trains are frequent, though the line is only partly double-track. With few exceptions passengers usually need to change at Sonobe into short two-car sets for the onward journey through the lonely rural villages in the Tamba mountains. The Fukuchiyama basin is reached at Ayabe (76, 2 km from Kyôto), where the line to Maizuru branches off. From here to Fukuchiyama the line is again double-track.

As there are relatively frequent express trains over the line, apart from one local train per hour northwest of Sonobe, the lack of double-track means often several long waits at crossing points.

Fukuchiyama (88, 5 km from Kyôto) forms the junction both with the Fukuchiyama-sen from Ôsaka and the Kyôto Tango Railway's Miyazu-sen. Certain JR express trains from Kyôto continue from here over the KTR to Miyazu and Ama no Hashidate on the west coast of the Tango peninsula.

From Fukuchiyama onwards the San'in Honsen returns into sparsely populated mountain valleys, and after crossing the border into Hyôgo prefecture runs through Wadayama to Toyooka. At Toyooka is the terminus of the Kyôto Tango Railway KTR, which has crossed the Tango Peninsula from Miyazu and followed the Japan Sea coast westward. At Toyooka, JR has an important shed and servicing point, which is also reached by diesel trains both from the Bantan-sen in the south and from the non-electrified San'in Honsen section from Tottori and Hamasaka in the northwest.

Local trains beyond Fukuchiyama to Toyooka, and partly to Kinosaki Onsen (some of these are diesel trains from Toyooka working beyond Kinosaki Onsen) run roughly every hour. There are also local trains between Higashi Maizuru – Ayabe and Fukuchiyama (several in the morning, then around every two hours).

Apart from the local services the whole line from Kyôto to the end of the electrified section at Kinosaki Onsen also sees a fair number of express trains. To mention only the regular services, these are: 2 trains from Fukuchiyama to Kyôto, which are joined at Ayabe by a portion from Higashi Maizuru, 2 further trains Fukuchiyama – Kyôto, 1 train from Toyooka to Kyôto, joined by a portion from Higashi Maizuru, 3 trains from Kinosaki Onsen through to Kyôto, 3 trains from Ama no Hashidate (on the KTR) to Kyôto, of which 1 is joined by a portion from Higashi Maizuru, 5 trains Kinosaki Onsen – Fukuchiyama-sen - Shin Ôsaka via Ôsaka, 1 diesel express each Tottori – Ôsaka, Hamasaka –Ôsaka, and Kasumi - Ôsaka via Toyooka and the Bantan-sen (more similar services are offered on certain days). Moreover, also the KTR run diesel express trains through to Kyôto, namely 2 trains from Toyooka via Kumihama (KTR) and Fukuchiyama; these are joined by an additional KTR 2-car set from Higashi Maizuru at Ayabe. Finally, mention should also be made of the KTR express 3-car sets which ran through to Shin Ôsaka via the Fukuchiyama-sen from 1999 to 2011. All these services have corresponding services in the opposite direction. (Details given are according to the winter timetable 2017).

Electric running has taken place Fukuchiyama - Kinosaki Onsen since 1986, Kyôto - Sonobe since 1990, and Sonobe - Fukuchiyama since 1996. In the Kyôto city area sections of line were transferred to elevated position in 1976, followed by important realignments in 2008-2011. Freight services ended in 1987.

Construction of the line originally focused on military transport Ôsaka – Fukuchiyama – Ayabe - Maizuru; here work was mainly undertaken in 1904. The other sections of line took shape 1897 in the Kyôto area, 1899 from Kyôto through to Sonobe, and 1910 to Ayabe. In 1908/9 the line from Wadayama to Kinosaki Onsen opened, and in 1911 finally the section Fukuchiyama - Wadayama.

Hanazono station, in the northwest of the city of Kyôto. (2011)

Coming down from the mountains into Kyôto city, most of the line is now elevated. Between Uzumasa and Hanazono. (2018)

Looking down from Hozukyô station. Below the old San'in Honsen line - and present-day Sagano Kankô Tetsudô (Sagano Tourist Railway) line - can be seen. (2015)

A class 221 urban network train at Hozukyô. (2018)

Hozukyô stop, with a class 221 urban network train. (2018)

A Kyôto urban network train (class 221, no.79) at Kameoka. (2011)

An express train (class 183, no.710) crosses the waiting local 2-car set (class 223, no.5504) at Aseri, between Sonobe and Ayabe. (2011)

An express train runs through Tachiki, in the mountains between Sonobe and Ayabe. The leading car is kumoha287-6. (2011)

Fukuchiyama Castle from a train leaving Fukuchiyama in the direction of Ayabe and Maizuru. (2016)

From the train between Kami Kawaguchi and Shimo Yakuno, on the section Fukuchiyama - Wadayama. (2016)

Local train class 223 (no.5507) waits for a class 289 Ôsaka bound express to cross (leading coach kumoha289-3513). Shimo Yakuno, between Fukuchiyama and Wadayama. (2016)

From the train in the region of Kami Yakuno, entering Kyôto prefecture from Wadayama. (2016)

A local train leaving Wadayama. The two car set is class 223, no.5502. (2016)

Through the mountains near Yôka, between Wadayama and Toyooka. (2016)

At the crossing point Shukunami on the single-track section between Wadayama and Toyooka. (2016)

Along the estuary just south of Kinosaki Onsen. From a diesel car set (class 47) returning from Hamasaka to Toyooka. (2016)

Kinosaki Onsen with an express train set class 289 (north side end coach kuro288-2011) and a local train (class 223, no.5507). (2016)

Very early on a rainy morning two Kyôto Tango Railway (KTR) express train sets (class 8000) head for Toyooka, from where they will return via the KTR to Kyôto. At Kyôtango Ômiya, between Miyazu and Kumihama. (2016)

The Kyôto Tango Railway (KTR) is electrified from Fukuchiyama through Miyazu to Ama no Hashidate, so that JR trains can run through. Here we see Ama no Hashidate station with two JR trains, on the left a new class 287, on the right an elder class 183. (2011)

The electrified section of the KTR just south of Ama no Hashidate. (2016)