Photo/IllutrationThe emerald-green Lake Kurobeko is a reservoir behind the Kurobe Dam in Tateyama, Toyama Prefecture. (Kazuhiro Takeda)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
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KUROBE, Toyama Prefecture--Officials here plan to expand the availability of an industrial tour featuring an underground access tunnel, areas of once-deadly heat and an infrastructure project whose construction left more than 170 people dead.

The Kurobe Route, which is managed by Kansai Electric Power Co., connects Keyakidaira Station on a trolley line in Kurobe and the Kurobe Dam in Tateyama.

Under an agreement between the prefectural government and the utility in October, additional tours of the 18-kilometer route will be offered to the public starting in fiscal 2024.

A tour for media representatives was recently held to promote the charms of the route.

After arriving at the start of the Kurobe Route from Keyakidaira Station, the tour group took a mine shaft elevator and ascended for 200 meters. They then boarded a battery-operated exclusive train that runs through a 6.5-km tunnel.

One highlight of the tour is the “Konetsu Zuido” (high-temperature tunnel), which passes through a section that came to the surface during excavation work about 80 years ago.

The temperature of the rock mass reached 160 degrees along a 500-meter stretch, causing explosives used to dig the tunnel to catch fire.

Currently, water running under the tunnel cools the section to about 40 degrees.

The smell of sulfur immediately filled the air. The cold air was quickly replaced with a blast of hot air containing moisture similar to that of a low temperature sauna.

The train raced through the section, drawing groans from passengers who wanted to feel the rock surface and get a closer look at its changing colors.

After the train exited the tunnel, it arrived at Kuroyon, the nickname given to the Kurobegawa No. 4 Power Station.

The tour group was ushered into an incline railcar normally used to carry construction materials and other supplies. The funicular slowly climbed a 34-degree slope with a height difference of 456 meters.

After running through the Kurobe Tunnel, the group was finally taken to the Kurobe Dam on a bus.

At 186 meters, it is the tallest dam in Japan. It was quite spine-tingling just looking at the bottom of the dam.

It took seven years and 51.3 billion yen ($475.1 million) to build the dam, which was completed in 1963. The project required the labor of 10 million workers, and 171 people died during construction.

The tour starts either from Keyakidaira Station or the Kurobe Dam.

A smaller scale tour has been offered since 1996 but for only 2,000 people a year and limited to weekdays.

Under the agreement between the Toyama prefectural government and Kansai Electric to promote the route for tourism, 8,000 to 10,000 people a year will be able to take the tours starting in fiscal 2024.

The operators need around five years to ensure safety measures are in place for the increase in traffic.

The tours, to be offered until Nov. 13, will be available on some weekends and holidays, specifically Aug. 11 and 25 and Sept. 8, for the first time.

Kansai Electric Power is already recruiting participants.

The tours will be available for children of fifth-grade age or older who have no difficulty entering and exiting transportation vehicles and walking up and down stairs.

Participants must pay for their own lunches and travel expenses to get to the route.

Reservations can be made through a postcard attached to a pamphlet available at websites managed by the utility, the prefectural government and other entities. If there are a large number of applications, participants will be selected by lottery.

For more information, visit the utility’s website at (https://www.kepco.co.jp/corporate/profile/community/hokuriku/koubo/index.html).