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Local Japan train line tests dual-mode minibus for running on road, rail

The new dual-mode vehicle set to go into use on the ASA Seaside Railway is seen after its mode change, with additional wheels appearing under the mini bus, during a test-run held at Awa-Kainan Station in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, on Dec. 15, 2020. (Mainichi/Sakura Iwamoto)
The new dual-mode vehicle set for use on the ASA Seaside Railway is seen before its mode change, during a test-run held at Awa-Kainan Station in the town of Kaiyo, Tokushima Prefecture, on Dec. 15, 2020. (Mainichi/Sakura Iwamoto)

KAIYO, Tokushima -- A dual-mode vehicle (DMV) capable of driving on roads and moving along rail tracks and planned for inclusion on the ASA Seaside Railway, a local line run by a third-sector railway firm in this west Japan prefecture, was tested on the line for the first time on Dec. 15.

    To confirm how the public transit vehicle will perform on the track, the DMV was tested on the line between Awa-Kainan Station and Kaifu Station. The vehicle, a minibus, arrived at a special "mode interchange" area set up at Awa-Kainan Station.

    There, the driver "mode changed" the DMV over to the train line. Special wheels appeared from the vehicle's underside, and within around 15 seconds it was ready to travel along the track. To confirm whether there were any issues when in operation, the DMV was also driven slowly around the neighborhood.

    Toyoki Ihara, executive director of ASA Seaside Railway Corp. which manages the line, watched on as the test was done, and later said, "I feel reassured that we've first confirmed it runs without issues. We very much want people to come and try it."

    It's hoped the DMV could encourage tourism to the area, as well as help older residents by ensuring they can travel without having to switch over between buses and trains when traveling around. Additionally, because there is currently no company running DMV services, the use of the vehicles on the ASA Seaside Railway could be a world first.

    ASA Seaside Railway Corp. intends to have the service running between Awa-Kainan Station and Kannoura Station, in the Kochi Prefecture town of Toyo, within fiscal 2020.

    (Japanese original by Sakura Iwamoto, Tokushima Bureau)

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