Quake-hit bullet train line to fully resume before Golden Week

East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) said it expects to resume full operations on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line around April 20 in time to meet demand for the peak Golden Week travel season following the derailment of a 17-car bullet train in an earthquake last week.

More than 100 workers were dispatched to the derailment site in Shiroishi, Miyagi Prefecture, using jacks to lift each car weighing more than 40 tons.

The derailment was triggered by a magnitude-7.4 quake that struck off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture in northeastern Japan on March 16. 

As of March 21, operations along the section between Nasushiobara and Morioka were suspended.

But JR East said that bullet train services between Nasushiobara and Koriyama stations were expected to resume from March 22, allowing passengers traveling from Tokyo to reach Koriyama.

Services between Ichinoseki and Morioka were also projected to resume the same day.

Shinkansen services remain suspended in the section between Koriyama and Ichinoseki.

But local train services were laid on for the section between Sendai and Ichinoseki to partially make up for the disruption in services.

The company decided not to provide temporary local train services for the section between Koriyama and Sendai due to earthquake damage to a bridge.

JR East said March 21 it expects to resume Tohoku Shinkansen services between Koriyama and Fukushima around April 2, and have the section between Sendai and Ichinoseki restored by around April 4.

The section between Fukushima and Sendai, which sustained the most damage and where the derailment occurred, will be the last to be fully restored.

As a result, bullet train services between Tokyo and Sendai, the most popular section of the Tohoku Shinkansen Line, are expected to resume around April 20, the company said.

JR East said its focus is on restoring normal bullet train services ahead of the holiday period that starts in late April and continues into early May.

Damage was detected at around 1,000 locations, including power poles and elevated bridges, in the suspended section between Nasushiobara and Morioka.

Tohoku Shinkansen facilities were heavily damaged at about 1,200 locations in the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, that generated devastating tsunami in coastal areas.

The latest damage is considered second only to the disruptions caused by the 2011 disaster.

The suspended section involves about 350 kilometers of track.

JR East said 79 power poles were damaged, along with about 60 civil engineering facilities, such as elevated bridges that suffered cracks. Other damage, including buckled rails, was found at about 300 locations.

JR East said 10 percent of the damaged 79 power poles were reinforced against earthquakes after the 2011 disaster.

Even so, these poles were damaged in the latest quake.

JR East will try to determine the cause to see if further strengthening work is needed for the poles that carry power to keep bullet trains moving, a company representative said.

The Yamabiko No. 223 bullet train came off the track at about 2 kilometers southwest of Shiroishi-Zao Station in Shiroishi.

Of the 1,000-or-so locations where damage occurred in the latest earthquake, most were located between Fukushima and Sendai that sandwich Shiroishi-Zao Station.

Some facilities at Fukushima Station in Fukushima and Shiroishi-Zao Station were also damaged.

JR East said it will take at least two weeks to put the derailed train cars back on the rail tracks and ultimately transfer them to a repair facility in Rifu, Miyagi Prefecture, for emergency safety inspections.

It took 49 days for the Tohoku Shinkansen Line to resume full operations after the 3/11 disaster.

A powerful earthquake off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture in February 2021 caused damage to Tohoku Shinkansen facilities at about 940 locations that took 11 days to fix.

JR East also disclosed that three passengers on the derailed bullet train said they suffered mild injuries in the March 16 incident. The train was carrying 78 passengers and crew members at the time.

(This article was written by Takashi Uematsu and Takashi Ogawa.)


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