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Railway fans bid JR Sanko Line in western Japan farewell as red ink forces closure

Railway fans are seen at Kuchiba Station on the JR Sanko Line in Onan, Shimane Prefecture, at 6:45 a.m. on March 31, 2018, the line's last day in operation. (Mainichi)

The JR Sanko Line connecting the Shimane Prefecture city of Gotsu with the city of Miyoshi in Hiroshima Prefecture marked its final day of operations on March 31, with the entire line closing down due to a lack of passengers.

About 150 people including railway fans from around Japan crowded onto the day's first train at Gotsu Station early in the morning. An announcement rang out on the station platform, telling passengers, "Today is the last day for the Sanko Line. Thank you for your patronage," and the nearly full three-carriage train departed at 5:53 a.m. On the platform, fans waved, took photographs and made their farewells.

The Sanko Line runs 108.1 kilometers. The closure of the line marks the first time since the split and privatization of Japanese National Railways in 1987 for an entire line measuring over 100 kilometers to be shut down on Japan's main island of Honshu.

Part of the Sanko Line opened in 1930, but the line was not fully completed until 1975. However, due to depopulation along the train route and an increase in car ownership, the average number of passengers transported per kilometer declined, dropping to just 58 by fiscal 2015 -- less than one-fifth of the number in fiscal 1992 -- and the line was in the red.

Among those who boarded the train at Gotsu Station on March 31 was Hirokazu Shimaoka, a 38-year-old office worker from Osaka.

"The appeal (of the train) is that it runs slowly," he said.

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