When I was working in a provincial region, the track of a rail line along the Sea of Japan
coastline collapsed due to scouring. It happened as the ground under the track had been cut
away by years of wave action, falling into the sea along with the track. A line of power poles on
the ocean side of the track and the overhead contact line supported by those poles fell into the
sea first, and a train that passed through afterward lost power and eventually came to a stop.
The cause of the power loss was not clear because it was night, and maintenance engineers
who arrived later at the scene found that the track had already been sucked into the sea. If the
train had passed just a little later, it would have been engulfed along with its passengers by
the raging night sea. By luck, a major accident was avoided by a hairbreadth. But it still took
3 months to restore service.
Aerial photographs show that the railway line runs parallel to a prefectural highway at the
accident site, with the two crossing back and forth to repeatedly come close to the shoreline.
Looking closer at the photographs, wave-dissipating tetrapods can be seen on the shore
where the highway runs close by. But coastal reinforcement is not visible where the railway
runs along the shore. From this, one can see absurdity in the great disparity of operators
bearing the burden of protecting lives from natural disasters for railways but taxes being used
for that role in the case of roads.
Roads are built and maintained by taxes, and there are even systems whereby automobile
users receive a substantial amount of money when purchasing an automobile, such as
subsidies to help cover the costs of introducing clean energy vehicles (CEV). Railways are
built and maintained by the funds of railway operators themselves. There are no fare subsidies
for passengers using hybrid railcars, so modes of transport cannot be said to be treated
equally. I cannot help but think that such unequal competitive conditions are behind the
situation of unending closures of railway lines in Japan.