Reconnecting after Seven Years

Feb. 06.2024

Reconnecting after Seven Years

The Minami-Aso Railway connects Tateno and Takamori in Kumamoto Prefecture, offering a scenic ride of over 17.7 kilometers. Damaged by the Kumamoto Earthquake in April 2016, it partly suspended operations till it was able to fully recover in July 2023.

Rebuilding the First Shirakawa Bridge was the most difficult part of the recovery work.

The Minami-Aso Railway began in 1985 as a third-sector railway firm, inheriting the operations of the former Japan National Railways and funded by regional governments. Local authorities considered discontinuing rail operations or shifting to bus operations, but the enthusiasm of the local communities made it clear that the railway would continue and thrive.

The earthquake damage was severe, but after three months a section of relatively little damage between Nakamatsu and Takamori, the last station on the line, resumed and business continued, mainly as a tourist attraction. But passenger traffic remained down to 20% of pre-quake levels. To resume operations as primary public transportation for local residents and the businesses along the line, it was essential to reopen the interrupted section. Major recovery work was done, including rebuilding the First Shirakawa Bridge, and after seven years the rails were reconnected from the anchor station at Tateno.

Originally completed in 1927, the First Shirakawa Bridge is the peak scenic point on the railway. The bridge largely evaded a landslide caused by the earthquake, but it was disfigured and partly broken down. So construction began to rebuild it, preserving its original appearance. The bridge spans a gorge 60 meters deep and access from the ground was difficult, so it was hung in the air on cables for the reconstruction, employing many Kito manual chain hoists.

Photos courtesy Minami-Aso Railway Co.