Tohoku bullet train resumes one month after major quake

SENDAI–The Tohoku Shinkansen’s Yamabiko 340, bound for Tokyo, approached the platform at JR Sendai Station shortly before 6 a.m. on April 14 for the first time in nearly a month. 

“From all staff in the JR East Sendai area, thank you for waiting so long for the entire Tohoku Shinkansen Line to resume,” read a banner East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) employees held up.

Thirteen JR East employees waved flags as they saw off passengers.

Services between Fukushima and Sendai resumed on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line on the morning of April 14, reopening the entire line for the first time in 29 days since a major earthquake.

Urara Shimizu, 54, a university professor from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, boarded the bullet train at the station that morning to get to her office in Chiba Prefecture.

She said she has had to commute by car and bus over the past month.

“I’m truly grateful services resumed because that will save me time and energy,” she said with a smile. “I’m sure the view from the train window will make me appreciate what I’ve taken for granted thus far.”

A government employee in her 50s, who lives in Sendai’s Wakabayashi Ward, said she is traveling to Tokyo to help her son get settled in as he began attending a university there this spring.

“I’m worried about him because he’s living alone for the first time,” she said.

The woman said she initially planned to take an expressway bus, but she bought a ticket for the bullet train late in the afternoon of April 13 after learning the Tohoku Shinkansen Line would fully reopen the day she had scheduled to leave Sendai for Tokyo.

“Traveling on an expressway bus takes time and is draining,” she said. “I was lucky the bullet train services resumed earlier than initially planned.”

JR East will operate the bullet train services at around 80 to 90 percent of normal capacity for the time being as it needs to run the trains at reduced speeds between some sections.

Operations are expected to return to normal after the Golden Week holiday period in May, JR East said.

A Tohoku Shinkansen derailed in the March 16 earthquake that struck off Fukushima Prefecture. The earthquake registered a maximum intensity of upper 6 on the Japanese seismic scale of 7.

The railway operator suspended train operations after damage was detected in about 1,000 places, including utility poles and elevated bridges, between Nasushiobara and Morioka.

JR East reopened services in stages as it restored the areas. It resumed operations between Koriyama and Fukushima on April 2, and between Sendai and Ichinoseki on April 4.

The railway operator initially said it planned to resume services for the particularly damaged section between Fukushima and Sendai on around April 20, but it moved up the date as work to lift the derailed train cars and restore the tracks went more quickly than expected.

(This article was written by Takashi Ogawa, Ryo Ikeda and Fuka Takei.)


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