An Earthquake Casualty: the Japanese National Railway Ōfunato Line

After the 2011 major earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan, many rail lines were compromised, leading to the abandonment of several, especially in rural areas, particularly in the Iwate and Hokkaido prefectures.

One example of this was the Ōfunato Line, where the right of way was destroyed north of the Kesennuma Station. The line was part of the Japanese National Railways system, which was privatized into regional companies after 1987. After privatization, the line was owned by the East Japan Railway.

Image: Otomo Station. 2018 by Yasu, Wikipedia Commons.

Most of the destroyed stations saw less than 200 passengers per day, and thus the rail line was abandoned and converted into a busway in 2013 between Kesennuma and Tamoyama, a distance of about 28 miles.

Here's the line on our Abandoned & Out-of-Service Railroad Lines Map. The orange line to the south, which ran from Kesennuma to Yanaizu, was also abandoned for similar reasons.


The line was originally opened in sections between the 1920's and the 1930's and, at the time of abandonment, typically saw diesel powered units with no locomotive for power.

KiHa 100 DMU at Kesennuma Station, October 2006. Wikipedia Commons

The busway was originally a temporary solution, but the rapid speed of buses proved popular enough to fully replace rail along the right of way, especially in light of the low traffic volumes before the earthquake.


Tsunami-induced damage to cut slope along JR Ofunato line at 89k900m between Wakinosawa and Otomo stations. (Koseki, et. al, 2012)


The cited article also lists the major damage to the East Japan Railway in the earthquake and subsequent tsunami.
Fig. 1. Location of earth structures damaged by (a) earthquake loads and b) tsunami along the network of East Japan Railway. (Koseki, et. al, 2012)

Thanks as always for reading!

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