Sankô-sen Part I     三江線

6943 The two diesel cars KIHA 120-314 and KIHA 120-309 crossing the Gônokawa River at Ozekiyama near Miyoshi. (2017)

click on the small pictures to enlarge

On April 1, 2018, the Sankô-sen closed completely. The line could be seen as part of a connection between the Japan Sea (the San'in region) and the Inland Sea (the San'yô region), but in fact it did not link the centres of the San'in (Matsue, Izumo or Hamada) with the centres of the San'yô (Okayama, Fukuyama, Hiroshima) in an attractive way.

The Sankô-sen provided a regional service from the plateau of Miyoshi in the mountains of Hiroshima prefecture (157 metres above sea level) all along the river Gô-no-kawa down to the Japan Sea coast and the Gô-no-kawa estuary at Gôtsu (9 m.a.s.l.). On its way, it crossed the border between the Hiroshima and Shimane prefectures. The total length of the line was 108, 1 km, which is considerably longer than the direct distance of around 60 km between Miyoshi and Gôtsu.

Before closure there were only few services on the Sankô-sen, and these stopped at all stations, which made the full journey very slow. The line was not electrified. There was one through train in both directions in the morning, starting before 6 o'clock, and one more through service in the mid-afternoon. Three more services linked Gôtsu with Hamahara, 50, 1 km up the line; one of these ran to and from Hamada on the Japan Sea coast, where the diesel cars were serviced. There were two additional services both ways between Hamahara and Miyoshi in the very early morning and in the evening, and one train ran between Kuchiba (79, 7 km up the line) and Miyoshi and return in the afternoon.

Construction of the northern part of the Sankô-sen up the valley commenced in 1930 and reached Hamahara from Gôtsu in 1937. The southern part from Miyoshi down the valley as far as Kuchiba opened between 1955 and 1963. These two sections can be termed the "old line", which sees a maximum speed of 65 km/h. Work on the link between Kuchiba and Hamahara (the "new line", with a maximum speed of 85 km/h) began in 1966 and was completed in 1975. Through running between Miyoshi and Gôtsu became possible as from 1978. In 1982 freight services ceased. In spite of the maximum speeds possible (65 and 85 km/h), there were many sections which could only be traversed at speeds of between 15 and 30 km/h, depending on the weather conditions.

Torrential rain, landslides, flooding and fallen trees affected operation of the line from the outset. In recent years the line has been interrupted

- from July 11, 1972 to December 29, 1974 (Akatsuka to Hamahara closed)

- from July 23, to September 12, 1983

- from July 19, 2006 to June 16, 2007 (at first complete closure; December 15, 2006 Hamahara – Miyoshi reopened),

- from August 1 to 12, 2013 (Iwami Kawamoto – Hamahara),

- from August 24, 2013 to July 19, 2014 (at first complete closure; September 1, 2013, Hamahara-Miyoshi reopened).

Due to heavy snowfall and fallen trees the line was closed as from January 19, 2018, between Iwami Kawamoto and Miyoshi, but reopened up the valley as far as Hamahara on February 2.

The population along the line is dwindling continuously, and with increased motorisation we see a fall of passengers carried from an average of 458 persons per day in 1987 to 44 per day in 2013. Since then there has been a slight rise due to visitors to the line in view of closure.

In 2015, local organisations began to do their best to market the line, and indeed there have been all kinds of innovative plans to attract and welcome visitors. However, JR West saw no future for the railway, and the re-occurring natural disasters leading to partial or complete closure of the line for long periods led to the decision to abandon the Sankô-sen. There are various plans to re-use some of the infrastructure as monuments or to create a railway park "Gô-no-kawa Tetsudô" ("Gô-no-kawa Railway") in and around Kuchiba / Uzui.

At present (2022) short runs can be made in little tourist railway trucks from Kuchiba station upwards, and visits to the elevated Uzui station are also possible.

The name of the line derives from its two endpoints, Miyoshi (written 三次 ) and Gôtsu (written 江津 ). The two characters 三 and 江 together are read "Sankô").



5039 Miyoshi station in Hiroshima Prefecture. On the left is kiha 120 326 on a Geibi-sen service to Bingo Ochiai, on the right are kiha 120 357 + kiha 120 316 waiting to depart on a Sankô-sen service down to Gôtsu. (2017)

0208 In 2009 the Sankô-sen had its own platform (called "Platform 0"). kiha 120 309 is waiting there for departure to Gôtsu, a journey that will take it around three and a half hours. (2009)

0216 Inside kiha 120 309 on the Sankô-sen. (2009)

5049 A last look into the mirror before setting off for Gôtsu. In kiha 120 357. (2017)

5007 A Sankô-sen train entering Miyoshi from Gôtsu. Two-car train consisting of KIHA 120-316 and KIHA 120-357. (2017)

5056 Leaving Miyoshi, kiha 120 357 crosses the Gônokawa River. (2017)

0221 Ozekiyama, the first stop after leaving Miyoshi. kiha 120 309 in the mirror. (2009)

5069 Crossing the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5073 Above Awaya. (2017)

5075 On its way down to Awaya. (2017)

5079 Looking across the valley, near Awaya. (2017)

5083 Awaya. Note the graves next to the farmhouse. (2017)

5086 Awaya halt, with kiha 120 357 in the mirror. (2017)

5090 After leaving Awaya halt. (2017)

5092 Continuing down towards Nagatani. (2017)

5095 Above Nagatani. (2017)

0232 At Nagatani. (2009)

5104 Just before Nagatani halt. (2017)

5106 Nagatani halt. (2017)

5108 Alongside the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5114 On the way down to Funasa. (2017)

5121 Many of the settlements are on the other side of the river. (2017)

5131 The two diesel cars kiha 120 357 + kiha 120 316 at Funasa. (2017)

0243 Abandoned farmhouse at Funasa. The original thatched roof can be seen beneath the broken metal roof plating. (2009)

0245 Between Funasa and Tokorogi (2009)

0249 Entering Tokorogi. (2009)

5148 Tokorogi halt, with kiha 120 357 in the mirror. (2017)

0251 Between Tokorogi and Nobuki. (2009)

5158 On the upper section of the line: Tokorogi. Abandoned farmhouse. Note the graves behind the house. (2017)

5161 Nobuki halt. (2017)

0253 On the way from Nobuki to Shikijiki. (2009)

0255 Renshôji Temple at Shikijiki. (2009)

5176 Once trains used to cross here at Shikijiki. (2017)

5186 Crossing the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5189 Between Shikijiki and Kôyodo. (2017)

5209 The two cars kiha 120 357 and 316 at Kôyodo. (2017)

0260 Crossing the river after Kôyodo. (2009)

0262 Between Kôyodo and Sakukiguchi. (2009)

0268 Following the river. (2009)

5227 Between Kôyodo and Sakugiguchi. (2017)

0273 Sakugiguchi. (2009)

5238 Sakugiguchi halt. (2017)

5252 After Sakugiguchi, looking across the river. Many of the settlements in the valley are on the right hand side of the river, whereas the railway line runs mostly on the left . (2017)

5258 Gôbira. (2017)

5261 At Gôbira. In the mirror KIHA 120-357 and KIHA 120-316. (2017)

0281 Leaving Gôbira. (2009)

5270 Between Gôbira and Kuchiba. (2017)

5273 Along the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5280 Between Gôbira and Kuchiba. (2017)

0286 Entering Kuchiba. (2009)

5292 At Kuchiba. (2017)

5295 Between Kuchiba and Ikawashi. (2017)

5300 Ikawashi halt. (2017)

0294 Leaving Ikawashi. (2009)

0296 On the "new" middle section of the line, completed in 1975: Near Ikawashi. (2009)

0298 On the "new" line between Ikawashi and Uzui. (2009)

0299 Crossing the river again. (2009)

5310 Between Ikawashi and Uzui. (2017)

0300 Entering the spectacular site of Uzui halt. (2009)

5317 Looking down from Uzui halt. (2017)

5323 On the "new" middle section of the line, completed in 1975: Uzui halt. KIHA 120-357 and KIHA 120-316. (2017)

5327 The new section of railway is characterised by long straight stretches of track that cut through the hills on bridges and in tunnels. Also, the track itself is of a far more modern design. Here between Uzui and Iwami Tsuga. (2017)

5329 In a straight line the railway crosses the river from tunnel to tunnel. (2017)

0306 Approaching Iwami Tsuga. (2009)

0313 Iwami Tsuga, with kiha 120 309 in the mirror. "Iwami" before the place name indicates that we are now in Shimane Prefecture. (2009)

0317 A few minutes after leaving Iwami Tsuga. (2009)

0318 In a fairly straight line with only light curves the railway speeds towards Iwami Matsubara. (2009)

5356 Between Iwami Tsuga and Iwami Matsubara. (2017)

5362 Iwami Matsubara. (2017)

0324 Between Iwami Matsubara and Ushio. (2009)

0326 Along the Gônokawa River. (2009)

5380 Approaching Ushio. (2017)

5388 On the "new" middle section of the line, completed in 1975: Ushio halt. In the mirror KIHA 120-357. (2017)

5391 Continuing from Ushio to Sawadani. In the background Hamahara Dam can be seen. (2017)

5399 Approaching Sawadani. (2017)

5403 At Sawadani. An average of 1 passenger per day uses this halt. (2017)

0333  Taking care of the graves alongside the railway line. (2009)

5407 Between Sawadani and Hamahara. On the "new" line the train no longer follows the river all the way but cuts through the mountains in tunnels. (2017)

5413 Hamahara is one of the more important stations along the line and often sees two trains cross. The length of the platform shows that the line once expected much longer trains. (2017)

0334 Leaving Hamahara. (2009)

5421 Entering Kasubuchi. (2017)

5425 The two-car train kiha 120 357 and kiha 120 316 in the mirror at Kasubuchi. (2017)

5427 Crossing the river again. Soon after leaving Kasubuchi. (2017)

0337 Severe speed restrictions everywhere along the Sankô-sen, here between Kasubuchi and Akatsuka. (2009)

5434 Tight curves along the river. (2017)

5442 Following the Gônokawa River between Kasubuchi and Akatsuka. (2017)

5450 Spring is more advanced here, entering Akatsuka halt. (2017)

5453 kiha 120 357 and 316 in the mirror at Akatsuka halt. (2017)

5467 The blue bridge between Akatsuka and Iwami Yanaze. (2017)

5471 Iwami Yanaze, with kiha 120 357 + 316 in the mirror. (2017)

5478 Soon after leaving Iwami Yanaze towards Onbara. (2017)

5481 Between Iwami Yanaze and Onbara. (2017)

5482 Passing through farming villages. (2017)

5486 Between Iwami Yanaze and Onbara. Many of the larger settlements are on the other side of the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5491 From the train at Onbara, about 7 km upstream from Iwami Kawamoto. (2017)

5492 Onbara halt. (2017)

5502 Graveyards along the line soon after Onbara. (2017)

5505 Villages between Onbara and Take. (2017)

5510 Calling people to use the Sankô-sen. At Take halt. (2017)

5514 From Take to Kirohara. (2017)

0351 Entering Kirohara, past Ryûanji Temple. (2009)

5530 Kirohara halt. (2017)

0356 On the lower section of the line: At Kirohara halt. In the mirror KIHA 120-309. (2009)

5541 Just before Iwami Kawamoto. There has been terrible flooding in the past, so the train runs behind high dams. (2017)

5542 Entering Iwami Kawamoto. (2017)

0359 Iwami Kawamoto. kiha 120 309 has reached its destination, according to the indicator above the front right-hand window. It will now stay here for about one and a half hours, before continuing its journey to Gôtsu. (2009)

0364 Iwami Kawamoto was laid out for much more traffic. kiha 120 309 is "taking a sleep" at the platform for one and a half hours. (2009)

0368 kiha 120 309 at Iwami Kawamoto. (2009)

0411 kiha 120 311 arrives at Iwami Kawamoto from Gôtsu. It will not run up the whole line to Miyoshi but terminate at Hamahara. (2009)

5575 Maintenance and snowplough tractor JR West Japan no. 1641 at Iwami Kawamoto. Another snowplough is stationed up at Kuchiba. (2017)

5549 Iwami Kawamoto, with kiha 120 357 and 316. Because of increased traffic mainly by railway fans in view of the approaching closure of the line the train is unusually formed with two cars. (2017)

5602 Arrival at Iwami Kawamoto of kiha 120 307 from Gôtsu to Hamahara. Now the two-car train (kiha 120 357 and 316) continues its journey after a stop of one and a half hours. (2017)

5564 The activities for "revitalisation of the Sankô-sen" include the sale of hot noodles at Iwami Kawamoto and propagating the links to ancient mythological figures and performances. (2017)

5595 On the lower section of the line: At Iwami Kawamoto. KIHA 120-307 entering from Gôtsu. (2017)

5605 Soon after leaving Iwami Kawamoto towards Inbara. (2017)

5609 Between Iwami Kawamoto and Inbara. (2017)

5615 Larger settlements lie on the other side of the river. (2017)

5620 Inbara halt. (2017)

0422 After leaving Inbara the train heads for a cut-through in the dam built to check the repeated occurrence of disastrous flooding. (2009)

5625 On the lower section of the line: At Inbara. High dams now protect the settlements from severe flooding. Passing through such a protective dam the train crosses the river on a fragile bridge, in rainy weather at a speed of 15 km/h. (2017)

5635 Between Inbara and Shikaga. (2017)

5639 Shikaga halt, in the background the dam along the Gônokawa River. (2017)

5644 Again cutting through a river dam. After Shikaga. (2017)

5646 Between Shikaga and Iwami Kawagoe. (2017)

5653 Through another dam on the way to Iwami Kawagoe. (2017)

5654 Between Shikaga and Iwami Kawagoe. (2017)

0428 Heading towards Iwami Kawagoe. (2009)

5658 Passing a little Hachiman Shrine. (2017)

5665 Iwami Kawagoe halt. (2017)

5672 Between Iwami Kawagoe and Tazu. (2017)

0432 Entering Tazu halt. (2009)

5680 Two-car train kiha 120 357 and kiha 120 316 in the mirror at Tazu halt. (2017)

5683 Shortly after leaving Tazu. (2017)

5687 Between Tazu and Kawado. (2017)

5691 Nearing Kawado. (2017)

5693 Entering Kawado. Once there were two tracks here, in view of crossing trains. (2017)

5703 Cutting through the dam after Kawado. (2017)

0449 Crossing the Yatogawa before it flows into the Gônokawa. (2009)

5708 Between Kawado and Kawahira. (2017)

0451 Graveyards in the fields. (2009)

5719 Between Kawado and Kawahira. This farmhouse seems abandoned. (2017)

5729 Entering Kawahira. (2017)

0458 At Kawahira. (2009)

5731 Leaving Kawahira. (2017)

0459 Looking up the river between Kawahira and Chigane. (2009)

5736 Along the river between Kawahira and Chigane. (2017)

0460 Still a last tunnel before arriving at Chigane. (2009)

5744 Chigane halt. (2017)

5741 Chigane halt, with kiha 120 357 in the mirror. (2017)

5748 The town of Gôtsu at the Gônokawa estuary comes into sight. (2017)

5750 Fisherboats indicate that the sea is not far. (2017)

0465 Nearing Gôtsu Honmachi halt. (2009)

0467 Gôtsu Honmachi halt. (2009)

6875 On the upper section of the line: At Awaya. In the mirror KIHA 120-309. (2017)

6667 On the upper section of the line: Up the valley from Kuchiba. (2017)

6617 On the "new" middle section of the line, completed in 1975: Looking down from Uzui halt. (2017)

6586 On the "new" middle section of the line, completed in 1975: Climbing up the valley near Iwami Tsuga. (2017)

6498 On the lower section of the line: Hamahara station with KIHA 120-317. (2017) .

6357 On the lower section of the line: Iwami Kawamoto station with a train composed of KIHA 120-357 and KIHA 120-316. To the left is a snowplough. (2017)

6315 On the lower section of the line: Climbing up the valley above Shikaga. (2017)

6256 On the lower section of the line: A maximum speed of 30 km/h. Between Kawado and Tazu. (2017)

6250 On the lower section of the line: Kawado station. KIHA 120-309 in the mirror. (2017)

0467 On the lower section of the line: Gôtsu Honmachi, the last stop before Gôtsu terminus. View towards the Japan Sea and the San'in railway and road bridges. (2009)