Photo/IllutrationAn old steel bridge remaining on the abandoned railway tracks will be repaired before the hiking trail will be open to the pubic this fall. (Provided by Nishinomiya city government)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Prefecture--Straddling the cities of Nishinomiya and Takarazuka, the long-deserted Japanese National Railways rail line of the abandoned Fukuchiyama Line will reopen in October as a public hiking trail.

Stretching 4.7 kilometers along the Mukogawa river, the railway tracks were abandoned in 1986 after the opening of a nearby tunnel. The rails were removed, but the wooden ties, the old tunnel and the steel bridge remain on the tracks.

The rail is currently owned by West Japan Railway Co. (JR West). The 1.5-km portion of the tracks on the north side is managed by the Takarazuka city government as a walking trail after the municipality borrowed it from JR West at no charge.

The 3.2-km portion on the Nishinomiya side is off-limits, but that has not stopped some hikers from venturing in the area, even though a sign warns: “This is not a hiking trail. It is very dangerous to pass through or do other activities because of falling rocks, fallen trees and other possible risks.”

Many an adventuresome hiker has made their way through the dark tunnel with a flashlight to enjoy the picturesque views of the defunct tracks running along a valley abundant with natural scenery. On holidays, the area is often crowded with hikers.

JR West has been concerned about the risks of accidents. In 2008, a man plunged to his death when he fell into the riverbed during hiking.

After the accident, the railway offered to give the Nishinomiya city government the tracks. But city officials turned down the offer, citing concerns over safety, maintenance and management of the facilities.

Since then, the two parties continued consultations and reached an agreement in February to officially open the trail to the public. JR West will be in charge of maintenance and management of railroad-related installations such as the tunnel and the steel bridge, with the city government taking care of the safety fences, trail surface and other facilities. Regular visual inspections will be conducted by a private business operator commissioned by the city government.

Starting May 16, JR West carries out maintenance and repair work on earth retaining fences, and on the steel bridge and other facilities.

The work is scheduled to be completed in October, with the 3.2-km portion of the trail on the Nishinomiya side being designated as off-limits until then. After the work is done, the “Keep Out” signs will be removed, and the trail will be open to hikers.

The railroad ties, weather-beaten steel bridge, bat-dwelling tunnel and the dilapidated tracks will remain intact. But city officials urge hikers to keep safety in mind.

“The fundamental principle is that hikers will be responsible for their own safety when using the trail,” said an official from the city government’s policy bureau. “We want them to understand that and enjoy hiking.”