FUKUSHIMA, Japan (Kyodo) -- East Japan Railway Co. on Saturday partially reopened a section of the Joban Line in Fukushima Prefecture that had been suspended since the March 2011 earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Train services resumed on a 6.9-kilometer stretch between Tomioka Station in the town of Tomioka and Tatsuta Station in Naraha, both in the northeastern Japan prefecture. But the remaining 20.8 km of the Joban Line remains unconnected and JR East aims to reopen it by March 2020.
Around 30 people boarded the first train of the day that left Tatsuta Station at 6:05 a.m. "It must have been really difficult to recover to this phase. It is a happy development," said Atsuko Kusano, 60, who took the train.
Kusano, who returned to Naraha in July last year from Iwaki city in the prefecture where she had been seeking shelter, nostalgically added, "The tunnel looks the same as it was in old days."
At the reopening section, the train was seen running close to a temporary storage place where a number of plastic bags containing waste materials from demolition works are stacked.
At a ceremony held to mark the restart of the train services, Tomioka Mayor Koichi Miyamoto said, "Many residents were looking forward to the resumption of operation. We hope this will give a boost to the recovery of the town."
JR East began restoration work in June 2016 in the area -- where railway tracks were damaged by the magnitude-9.0 quake and Tomioka Station was washed out by the subsequent tsunami -- followed by test runs in September.
Local trains will make 11 round trips in a day on the reopened section.
The Japanese government had issued an evacuation order for the whole town of Tomioka following the nuclear accident, but lifted the order from the majority of the town, including around the station.
The halted 20.8-km section runs through an area near the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.