Celebrations mark opening of Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen Line

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Celebrations mark opening of Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen Line

Despite various unresolved problems, celebratory events were held on September 23 to mark the opening of the Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen Line, the shortest bullet train line in Japan.

The 66 kilometer long route operated by Kyushu Railway Co. connects Takeo-Onsen Station in Takeo, Saga Prefecture and Nagasaki Station in Nagasaki Prefecture.

The train travel time between Hakata Station in Fukuoka Prefecture and Nagasaki Station is reduced by 30 minutes to 80 minutes.

On Sept. 23 there was a ceremony called Kamome No. by the first Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen. 2, a N 700 S series bullet train, left Nagasaki Station with all reserved seats taken.

Three hours earlier, at around 3: 30 a.m. train fans had already formed a 200 meter line at the west exit of the station to board the train.

Teruhiko Kashino, 55, who was standing at the front of the queue, had traveled by bus from his home in Yokohama to Hakata for 15 hours. He started lining up at 3 a.m.

An opening ceremony for the new line was held at the station at 5 a.m. Neru Nagahama, an actress and former member of a girl idol group Keyakizaka 46, now called Sakurazaka 46, joined the celebration.

The enthusiastic passengers, most of whom carried phones and cameras, boarded the Kamome No at around 6 a.m. The red- and white train left the platform smoothly, and the red- and white train left it.

A departure ceremony was also held around 5: 30 a.m. at the newly built Ureshino-Onsen Station in Saga Prefecture, which was joined by Reina Matsui, an actress known as a Shinkansen fan.

The first Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen running in the opposite direction was the Kamome No. 1, which left Takeo-Onsen Station at 7: 03 a.m.

A total of 44 Shinkansen will connect Takeo-Onsen Station and Nagasaki Station daily. If trains run at the maximum speed, the journey will take only 23 minutes.

The service will stop at Shin-Omura Station and Isahaya Station in Nagasaki Prefecture, in addition to the Ureshino-Onsen Station.

Local authorities and businesses in the Kyushu region are banking on the new Shinkansen line to bring in more tourists and lead to an economic recovery.

Tourism in the Kyushu region has had a hard time with various events being canceled due to the Pandemic, an official at travel agency JTB Corp. said. Even on a short route, the opening of the Shinkansen will stimulate demand for travel. The planning for the new Shinkansen line has not been smooth.

The estimated cost of construction has reached 619.7 billion yen, or $4.36 billion, more than 20 percent more than the initial estimate of 500 billion yen in 2012, when the project was approved.

A plan to use gauge-changeable carriages would allow bullet trains to run on narrower conventional tracks, including a 50 km section in Saga Prefecture.

That plan was scrapped, upsetting the governor and businesses in Saga Prefecture.

It is not known when the Nishi-Kyushu Shinkansen Line will be connected to the existing Kagoshima route on the Kyushu Shinkansen Line.