Photo/IllutrationA Joban Line train travels further inland on Dec. 10 after operations resumed along that section for the first time in five years and nine months. (Yosuke Fukudome)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A massive project to move a section of track of the JR Joban Line from coastal areas, which involved building three new stations, is finally up and running nearly six years after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Operations for the new route further inland resumed Dec. 10.

The section that is back in business runs from Hamayoshida Station in Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, to Soma Station in Soma, Fukushima Prefecture.

The latest work means that all coastal sections traversing hard-hit Miyagi Prefecture are again connected by the lines operated by East Japan Railway Co.

However, parts of coastal sections in Iwate and Fukushima prefectures still remain impassable. Those sections will not be back in operation until 2020.

The new route involved moving a section covering 14.6 kilometers as much as 1.1 km inland, building three stations and constructing elevated tracks. The total cost came to 40 billion yen ($350 million).

When the tsunami struck the coast of the Tohoku region in northeast Japan, Joban Line trains were in operation. While one train was mangled beyond repair and stations were also destroyed, all passengers and train employees managed to flee to safety.

The writer Maru Ayase, 30, was a passenger on a train that departed Sendai and was headed for Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, on the day of the disaster.

The train she was on was delayed and forced to stop at Shinchi Station in Fukushima Prefecture when the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake struck.

Ayase recalled that the train car swung violently and she experienced whiplash. The woman sitting next to her grabbed on to her. The unnerving swaying seemed to last for 10 minutes.

Ayase and the woman sitting next to her decided to leg it to the next town. Walking along a road about a kilometer from the coast, Ayase saw a huge wave approaching and panicked.

Running for her life toward higher ground, Ayase managed to reach safety. Two young police officers who happened to be on the same train guided the 40 or so other passengers to a town government building further inland.

The driver and other workers on the train evacuated to a bridge over the rail lines at Shinchi Station.

The tsunami that struck the train cars and demolished the train station left only the bridge standing.

Recalling that day, Ayase said, "I feel a certain loneliness when I think that I was there to see Shinchi Station as it existed before the tsunami."