Shinkansen “Tsuyuharai” of ordinary trains … JR East operates in cooperative play

At the border between Fukushima and Yamagata prefectures on the JR Ou Line, there were a series of troubles last month when the wheels slipped due to fallen leaves on the railroad track and the train could not climb the slope and got stuck. JR East runs the Yamagata Shinkansen, which has a large driving force, to fly the fallen leaves, and immediately after that, it surpasses the measures of passing a regular train, but the delay of the train is inevitable. There is no other way to do it because it costs a huge amount of money to solve it drastically by constructing a tunnel. (Tatsuhiro Ishizawa)

The stalling occurred on November 8th and 22nd. At around 7:40 am on the 22nd, the regular train from Fukushima to Yonezawa stopped for about 2 hours in Ozaso, Fukushima City. I returned to Niwasaka Station and dropped off the passengers, and the following Yamagata Shinkansen departed about 3 hours later. The regular train on that day was completely suspended, affecting about 1,000 people.

According to JR East, the down line from Fukushima to Yonezawa is the steepest point, with a steep uphill slope near Itaya Station (Yonezawa City) and Toge Station (same) ahead of the prefectural border “Itaya Pass”. There is a height difference of 38 meters per 1000 meters.

Because of the mountainous area, the amount of fallen leaves is large, and the oil content of the leaves mashed on the railroad tracks and the water content of the morning dew induce the wheels to slip. According to “Toge no Chaya” in front of Toge Station, which is known as “Toge no Rikimochi,” leaf fall began in early November, about two weeks earlier than usual, and the impact seems to be prolonged.

Therefore, from November 23, JR East started operation by “cooperative play” of the Shinkansen and ordinary trains. Compared to a regular train with a 2-car train and 1 motor, the Shinkansen has a 7-car train with 6 motors. The powerful Shinkansen has blown away the fallen leaves and is no longer stuck, but there are problems.

There are 6 regular trains going down between Niwasaka and Yonezawa a day. Due to “cooperative play”, 4 to 5 trains are waiting for the Shinkansen to pass, and the departure of Niwasaka Station is delayed by about 20 to 50 minutes from the scheduled time. Still, a company representative said, “It’s better than not being able to drive all day.”

In the first place, 4 stations near the prefectural border, such as Toge Station, are so steep that there used to be a switchback that turns back steep slopes. Switchback was abolished with the opening of the Yamagata Shinkansen, but it remains one of the most difficult points in Japan.

According to Yamagata Prefecture, about 40% of the delays and suspensions of the Yamagata Shinkansen due to meteorological phenomena such as rain and snow that have occurred in the past five years are concentrated between Fukushima and Yonezawa. In recent years, heavy rain disasters have caused damage such as track spills nationwide, and fundamental measures are required to reduce the risk of disasters in this section as well.

In 2017, JR East presented the prefecture with a plan to lay a tunnel (about 23 km) in the same section. The project cost was about 150 billion yen, and the plan was to ask the prefecture to bear the burden, but from the viewpoint of cost effectiveness, there is no prospect of starting the project.

The measures this time will end on the 13th, but it is said that similar measures may be required again due to the influence of snow in winter. The company says, “We apologize for the inconvenience, but we would like to deal with it with that skill.”

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